I think I’ve finally recovered from last weekend. As predicted, they were the hottest days of the year so far, with humidity that felt too much like monsoon season in the desert southwest. For two days (Saturday and Monday) we sweated in a field, dodged barn swallows and wasps and worked on our tans and our muscles as we harvested the first cutting of hay this summer. We know it will all be worth it come winter. Heck, when we’re using this hay in the middle of a frigid cold night we’ll be thinking pleasantly back to the heat of these days. It’s all relative, isn’t it? Although we often speak of dreading the hay harvest, the truth is we have many good memories we wouldn’t trade. It’s a time when a group of people who like each other works together and accomplishes a goal. At the end, we cool off in air conditioning, cook some burgers and tell tall tales about harvest days of years past. We drive home in the cool of the evening with the windows down. We experience the pleasure of washing off all that dirt in a refreshing shower back at the house and slipping into a clean bed under cool sheets to ease our aching muscles when we finally go horizontal for the night. In the end, it’s all good.
Here’s a brand new short video of how we use machines to harvest these square hay bales. It’s about 2 minutes long, with text narration. This will either bring back memories or show you something maybe you’ve never seen before.
Oh and this year we found a live snake in a bale! I was about to grab a bale to send up the hay elevator in the barn when I noticed something wiggling. It was a small snake but the incident reminded me to always wear gloves.
Do you harvest hay this way, too?
Tomorrow is supposed to be the hottest day of the year so far and you know what that means? Time to harvest hay. You’ve probably read about our hay harvesting escapades before. The overwhelming theme is how hot it is when we’re doing it. You can pretty much pick the hottest, most humid and miserable day of the year and that’s when the hay is coming in. Here’s a handy chart you can use to predict the likelihood of the hay being ready based on temperature:
I’m speaking specifically of square bales. We don’t use a lot of them this time of year but they’re a staple in winter when the horses spend more time inside the barn. Our own barn can only hold about 80 bales but there is a barn in the hay field that can probably hold 1,000 or more. That’s where we’ll be tomorrow, pulling square bales from the field into a hay wagon and then transferring them to a loft in the big barn. There we’ll battle stifling heat, wasps, dive-bombing barn swallows and the occasional snake to store up hay for the winter. It’s worth it. We have a deal with our provider that gives us discounted pricing in exchange for help harvesting. Some icy cold winter day we’ll look back in envy of this warm day I dread as I type this.
I think I’m recycling this video but just in case you don’t know what square bale harvesting looks like, here’s a short video from a few years ago.
Do you help harvest hay where you live? Does this chart relate to your experience as well?
A few weeks ago we helped out bringing in the first cutting of hay for this year. It’s been 20 years since I helped “put up hay” and since I don’t have to do it for a living, it seemed like a fun idea at the time. I’m here to tell you, putting up hay is HARD WORK and I have a whole new respect for those who do it for a living. Here’s the square bale harvesting process in a nutshell:
- At harvest time, a tractor pulls a hay cutter over the field being harvested.
- Although not required, these days many farmers choose to use what’s called a hay tedder (some spell it “hay tetter”). A tractor implement, the hay tedder has circular rakes that spin as the tedder is pulled through the cut hay. This effectively fluffs and spreads it the cut hay to speed up and more thoroughly dry it. It’s important that hay be dry prior to bailing or else bacteria and mold will grow in the moist warm hay. I like to call the hay tedder a “hay fluffer”, much to the amusement of hay farmers.
- After drying, the hay is raked into rows for the baler (using a tractor with a hay rake).
- A tractor drives over the rows with a hay baler (some spell it “bailer”) implement. The hay is fed into the baler which compacts the hay into neat bales of a specific size (although somewhat changeable, we stuck with 50 lb. bales), cuts each bale into slices and then ties each bale with hay twine before spitting it out the back onto a hay wagon or onto the field, depending on what’s happening in step 5. There are lots of things that will stop a baler from working properly. This is the one single machine that seems to cause the most headache, as it’s in need of frequent maintenance, repair and kicking.
- Up until this step, most of the work is done by machine. Step 5 involves manual labor. If you have a hay wagon, the baler spits the bale towards the wagon where someone reaches down and throws the bales to whoever is stacking the hay on the wagon. If you don’t have a hay wagon, the baler drops the bales onto the ground. These are then picked up and thrown onto whatever kind of trailer will be used to haul the hay (often a car hauler) by people following the baler in the field. We had several people collecting the hay and throwing the bales onto the trailer. The stacker had an easy job until the bales started stacking up. We stacked five rows high and that fifth row is a pain!
- Once a trailer is full of hay, it’s sent off to wherever it’s going. Typically this means it’s unloaded into a barn that same day. Lots of manual labor here as someone needs to throw the hay up into the barn and someone needs to stack.
Trust me, by the end of the day, a shower is MANDATORY and you’ll be finding hay in places where you’d least expect it. The temperature that day was in the mid 80’s and humid so everyone was covered in sweat. Working with hay is itchy. I remembered not to wear shorts but forgot to wear a long sleeve shirt. It’s hard to wear long pants and long sleeves in the hot, humid summer but I’d rather sweat than be itchy all day.
Although the Kid and his friends came along to help, 50 pound bales were too much for anyone under 16 or so to move. Because of that, the 10-ish kids got to experience something far more fun. Farm kids learn to drive in the field during the hay harvest. The Kid LOVED it. I was a nervous wreck. Thanks to the ability to take pictures and video with my cell phone, Mikki was a nervous wreck, too, almost 2000 miles away on her trip. I put the drivers seat up as far as it went, raised the pedals, put the truck in four wheel drive low, dropped it into first gear and instructed our 10-year-old Kid to drive our air conditioned truck slowly behind the baler so the rest of us could do the heavy lifting. And he did a great job. This is one day when it paid to be small.
I want to close this post by saying how much respect I have for the farmers who do this kind of work every day. These people do it for a living and have strength and endurance that’s lost on those of us who are consumers only. I normally sit at a computer all day during the week and my out-of-shape body could barely walk the next day. I worked for five hours straight but these farmers were out there all day without much of a break and did it again every day that week. Amazing. Fortunately, I’ll forget how much work this was before the next harvest and will volunteer to help out again.