When buying hay for livestock, there are several factors that must be considered besides the price per ton/bale and type of hay (legume, grass or a mix of grass and legumes). Two of the most important considerations are quality (nutritional make-up) and whether the hay is healthy and safe for the animals. A certain batch of hay may have excellent protein levels, for instance, but is still a poor choice if it is dusty or contains patches of mold.
We had experimented with unrolling the bales the year before and had decided to make a device that would let us move them with the horses and then unroll them. I used square tubing to make a simple frame with two arms attached to a cross piece which connected to a tongue. Small diagonal braces made the arrangement rigid and the arms had a right angle piece of square tubing on their ends which allowed a pin to be driven into the middle of the round bale from each side.
For the last ten years, I have made hay mostly with a single horse. This has not necessarily been out of choice, as at one time I had hoped to be farming on a larger scale with more horses. Anyway, it does little good to dwell on ‘what if ’. The reality is that I am able to make hay, and through making and modifying machinery, I probably have a better understanding of hay making and the mechanics of draught.
From reading the Small Farmers Journal, I knew that some people are equally happy with either model, but because McCormick Deering had gone to the trouble of developing the No. 9, it suggests they could see that there were improvements to be made on the No. 7. Even if the improvement was small, with a single horse any improvement was likely to increase my chance of success.
In parallel with making hay on the ground, nearly every year I have also made some hay on tripods. The attraction of this method is that it only needs one day of good weather to dry the grass sufficiently before it is put on the tripods, and then the hay takes very little harm no matter what the weather, usually coming out green, dry and smelling of hay two weeks later when it can be baled or stacked.
Over the last few years of making hay, the mowing, turning and making tripods has settled into a fairly comfortable pattern, but the process of getting it all together for the winter is still developing. In the beginning I did what everyone else around here does and got it baled, but one year I decided to try one small stack. The success of this first stack encouraged me to do more, and now most of my hay is stacked loose.
Haying season started in early June and just seemed to last all summer in the 1940s and 1950s on the Scheckel farm outside Seneca in the heart of Crawford County. In between first crop and second crop, we cut and shocked oats. After the second crop of hay, threshing was done. After threshing, we often put up a third crop of hay. There was no hay baler on the Scheckel farm. Hay was cut with a No. 9 McCormick-Deering Enclosed Steel Gear Mower with a five-foot sickle and pulled by two horses. Let it cure for a few days, then bring in the siderake to windrow the hay, then the hay loader pulled behind a hay wagon. It was hard, dirty, back breaking work, often in hot and humid weather.
If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.
One can readily learn to recognize many of the grasses, both cultivated and wild. It is not necessary to have any elaborate instruments for examining them or to acquire any detailed knowledge of their structure. Nearly every grass is so distinctive that once a person has noted its obvious characteristics he will easily recognize it again. Though there are probably 6,000 distinct species of grasses in the world, only about 60 are important cultivated plants, and not more than 20 wild species are abundant or valuable in any one locality.
Farming never fails to dish up one lesson in humility after another. Despite having all the weather knowledge the information-age has to offer, farmers will still lose hay to the rain, apple blossoms to frost, winter wheat to drought… If we are slow to learn humility in Nature’s presence we can be sure that another lesson is never far off.
I take my hat off to catch a bit of the welcome breeze which has just come up and wipe my dripping forehead with the sleeve of my already sweat-soaked shirt. I lean down, stretch out as far as possible, grope around until I find the end of the trip rope, give a firm tug, and hear the satisfying sound of the hay loader hitch fall to the ground signaling a successful disengagement. I holler out, “To the barn!” Way down below and out of sight, beneath a mountain of hay, I hear Nathan say, “Let’s go, kids,” and the wagon begins to lurch across the hayfield in the direction of the barn.
Over the Independence Day weekend Marvin and Pam Brisk, of Oak Tree Ranch, Halfway, Oregon, hosted a gathering of animal traction professionals and enthusiasts to explore the process of putting up loose hay. While putting up loose hay may be viewed as somewhat anachronistic, even by draft animal enthusiasts, we came seeking knowledge of how haying this way could fit into our lives. And of course, to have fun! Mowing, raking, use of a hay loader, and loading hay into the barn with a trolley system were all demonstrated and many tried out the various facets of the process. With the use of Marvin and Pam’s well maintained machinery and seasoned horses, this little ranch in Halfway served as an inspiration to all who cared to marvel at the elegant simplicity of a job well done using appropriate technology and a bit of help from their friends.
The difference between safe, high quality hay and low quality questionable hay (containing molds and dust) is primarily in the harvesting. The plants in a certain field will make some difference, of course — whether it’s a good stand of alfalfa, palatable grasses or has gone mostly to weeds — but poor harvesting conditions/methods can reduce a good hay crop to poor or even unsafe feed for horses.
Baled hay requires about 400 cubic feet to store a ton. A draft horse can easily eat 5000 pounds or about 1000 cubic feet of hay in a year, even if pasture is available in the summer. This would fill a 12 foot by 12 foot room seven feet deep. Weight of hay is also a consideration as anyone who has stacked square bales on a wagon behind a baler knows. Confronted with these big volumes of heavy stuff we recently converted most of our hay making from square bales to round bales. This greatly reduced the labor to get the hay bales, but left us with new questions about hay handling and feeding.
This summer, Kristi Gilman-Miller took half a hundred photos of partner Ed Joseph and I using McCormick-Deering #9 mowers to cut down Triticale grass mix hay. The crop would have been much better if we hadn’t been visited night-time by as many as 300 Elk looking for water and green feed. We planted in seven acre lands a quarter of a mile wide as we were recording variables in plantings for our research into the best future crop rotations. We were very impressed by the Triticale, a cross between Rye and Wheat, which makes a grain hay the cattle and horses love.
Our friend, Mark Schwarzburg came by the office with an old wooden box he inherited from his great great great grandfather, Henry Schwarzburg. In it is a lovely, very old working wooden model of the stationary baler Henry helped to invent. Also were found, on old oil-skin paper, beautiful original engineer’s drawings for patent registry; and a brochure for the actual resulting manufactured implement.
I have no doubt that when the time comes we are going to need to know how to make hay this way, whether it be this Proctor Tripod method, or the French rack method illustrated in André Voisin’s great book “Grass Productivity” or the Scandinavian “Swedish Rider” method of tightly strung wire “fences” for hay to dry on. Each method has its pros and cons, and it’s my belief that the “Swedish Riders” is the easiest to learn and the Proctor Method may be the most difficult.
What could be more delicious than a fresh scone topped with jam and clotted cream of your own making with a steaming cup of tea, especially after working out in the cold and wet all afternoon? Coming up with the skills to make good tea and gorgeous scones and jam surely requires attention and practice, and learning to make clotted cream does as well.