Dick Hunt's Blog

January 15, 2010

Various Methods of Making Hay (long post)

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Various Methods of Making Hay.
by Dick Hunt, January 13th, 2010.
One way obviously is “while the sun shines”.  I remember my Maternal Grandfather saying, in answer to someone who complained after a rain shower about the hay being too damp to stack, saying –  “come on, it’s tougher where there is none”.  That wise old man passed away in 1930 and he was the only grandparent I  knew.  We went on to make hay.

As technologies and experiments proceeded down the years, many different ways of building hay stacks were employed. The oldest I am aware of was to “pitch the hay” with a fork which normally was up to four curved steel tines affixed to a hardwood handle about four feet long, the wood for which was primarily Hickory, a hard and resilient type which would bend considerably without breaking.  Sometimes the whole process consisted of laboriously gathering the cut and drying hay together into small “hay ricks”, rounded on the top so they would shed rain.  As machinery was developed to save labor, horsedrawn hay rakes with curved teeth were used to gather and bunch the hay.  The machinery  made  long rows of hay as the operator drove round and round the field “dumping “ the hay. Then the rake was used to “bunch” the hay in piles by going along the rows with a horse on each side further processing it into little mounds, by occasionally pressing a dump pedal which lifted the teeth above the hay.  In earliest times, it was then  hand pitched onto hay  racks,  pulled by one or two horses and then hauled to a hay yard or  the hay loft above a stable for use as required.

The hay loft on the Ranch where I was born and raised was seventy feet long, 36 feet wide and rose to over thirty feet at the peak.  We filled it by placing rope and wood slings on the hay racks as we loaded them.  We drove the  loaded racks along the end of the barn, attached a lifting mechanism to the slings,  pulled by horses and with a system of pullies and ropes lifted the hay up to a steel track which protruded from the end of the roof peak. As the mechanism  reached the track it actuated a tripping device which transferred the sling load of hay from the vertical lifting pullies to the horizontal track  which then whisked the hay along the peak of the barn until someone pulled a trip-rope, dumping the hay at  the desired position.  Then th device was pulled by hand back to the start , down to th next sling to repeat  the process.  Normally, three slings delivered one ton of hay to the hay  loft.   The whole lifting device is still in place in that barn,  dating back to 1914 when it was built.
In later years we had machinery powered by a tractor by a long flat belt which cut the hay into short lengths and blew it into the hay loft from either end of the barn, thus saving time and also space as the hay was more compressed and easier to feed to the animals in the stalls below through sliding doors which could be  opened and closed as desired. Obviously, the amount of hay stored in the hayloft  for the animals housed there was only a  tiny portion of the entire hay crop each year.  The rest of the crop was stacked in those early years where it was grown or in long stacks adjacent to where it  would be fed to the cattle in winter quarters and feed lots where it also provided shelter from the prevailing cold winter storms from the north west.

The earliest  stacking equipment  I remember  from the mid twenties beyond the hard, hand pitched method of loading and unloading hay racks, consisted  of a hay slide and winged buck rakes which slid the hay along the ground ahead of them up to the stacker equipment.  The slide was about twenty feet wide,  in shape a right angled triangle with a vertical end about 25 feet in height immediately against which the stack was to be built.  It  was held in place by long iron pegs, driven into the ground to keep it in place. The surface was sheeted with twelve inch boards from top to bottom of the slide. The hay was gathered from the bunches described above, by a device called a wing buck, twelve feet wide and pulled by two horses, one at  each side and hauled to the base of the slide.  From that point the horses  were  unhitched from the buck rake and through pullies and ropes, the load was pulled to the  top of the slide by another team of horses which stood by for the task.  At the top a barrier stopped the forward motion of the Wing Buck and the hay spilled over onto the stack. The “Stacker”, a key person on the crew had the job of building a neat, square stack of hay about 30 feet square and  thirty feet  high with a rounded top to shed rain. I became the stacker at the age of twelve and worked twelve hours a day, not requiring any other form of excercise.  Freed from restraint, the buck rake slid back down the polished boards of the slide and was whisked away to get another  load of hay.  The wings on the buck rake were hinged so that manually they could be swung 180 degrees to enable the horses to be hitched at the ends to repeat the process.  Five hundred to  one thousand pounds of hay could be moved with each load.  We built about three stacks per twelve hour day and they contained about ten tons of hay each. The slides were built on long log runners which allowed them to be skidded along t0 the next field or area. Moving along roads was a problem as the slides covered the whole width of the narrow roads and stopped the traffic.
As time went on, developers came up with what were called “Overshot Stackers”. The ones we used were made by John Deere Co.  With those a set  of teeth with a low vertical back at  the end of long heavy timbers, hinged at  the end against  which the stack was to be built  allowed the reconfigured buck rakes with wheels at the back and pushed by horses to bring the hay to the stacker.  The horizontal teeth on the buck rakes were three inches wide  by two inches thick and about ten feet in length, made of Douglas fir with straight grain for strength and pointed with cast iron to avoid splitting. The rakes were  twelve feet in width.  When we wanted to turn in a different  direction it was necessary to stop one horse to allow the other horse to swing around. There was a long leather strap  between the horses bridles to keep them from swinging away from the buck rakes.  The wooden teeth on the stacker were also pointed with cast iron  to protect them from being damaged by contact with the teeth on the buck rakes.  We  employed two buck rakes to make the best use of the stacker and crew.  The hay was pushed onto the stacker teeth,  and the teamster then backed away , leaving the hay on the stacker.  Then another team hitched to the end of a long one inch hemp rope pulled the load up and dumped it on  the stack.  My brother Wilf used to make those long ropes from spools of binder  twine. He also made many other sizes of ropes for various purposes.  It was important to be able to look after our own needs as much as possible, both to save money  and time.  We lived at least  thirty miles from the nearest stores and for some items as much as fifty miles or more and that  was over poor roads.

My brother Wilf, six years my senior was always designing and building equipment to do things in more effective and time saving ways.  My Mother said jokingly on one of visits to see us, “You boys must be lazy, you are always finding easier ways to do the work”.  The next  development in hay making was a new invention from a company, which they called a “Jayhawk”.  It too had a row of wooden teeth the same as earlier machinery, mounted on a steel angle iron frame twelve feet  wide at the front and  about twenty feet long which terminated at  a point at the end away from the teeth.  There was a ball joint the same as the ones used to hook a trailer behind a car, truck or tractor which fastened it to the front of the tractor.  The operator had to steer it by starting to swing  one way to begin a turn the other way (similar to  backing up a trailer).  I was chosen to be the  operator.   The first day, I broke several of the teeth and only managed to put up one stack. The next  day I made good progress, broke less teeth and build two stacks.  The third day  I broke no teeth and built three stacks.  With that  limit I had to be content.  What  was entailed was going out  to where the hay had previously been put  in bunches, picking up as many  bunches as would stay on the teeth when getting back to the stack, pulling on a long steel rod which engaged a windlass which employed the forward motion of the two rubber tired drive wheels behind the load of hay,  then the windlass with it’s steel cable would lift the load up to whatever height the stack had progressed and with a pull on a trip rope, the front  of  the teeth would drop down, spilling the hay  onto the stack.  When I had become profficient I could activate the lifting mechanism at just the right moment  so that the load  would slide easily onto the stack, up to a height of around twenty five feet.

Operating it effectively was a tiring task and since I became profficient, no-one else cared to take on the job. Initially I operated it  with a small Case tractor which was nimble, had enough power and seated the operator at  a comfortable height. Our two areas of operation were   one hundred miles apart, on two different Ranches.  One  advantage over all the other methods which preceded it’s use was that it took the place of all previous types of stackers plus the two buck rakes, the use of three teams of horses and  three men, and  when it came to moving, much less time was lost in getting to a new location. On one occasion, for a move of ten miles, I  took to the road with the Jayhawk ahead of the tractor and  attached to the drawbar behind I was pulling a hay wagon loaded with sundry equipment and behind that sundry other pieces of machinery, the total length of the “train” being one hundred and twenty feet.  The widest  point in the load was twelve feet,  the road was built high to be more adaptable in times of deep winter snow, the ditches deep and from time to time I had to pull over and stop to allow following or oncoming traffic to slowly squeeze by.  In those days no-one asked me for a permit for a overwidth load.  Finally  I came to the place where I had to swing sharply left to pass into the field, through a twenty foot gate. I only had one chance to do so -no backing up and the entrance grade was only 20 feet wide across the deep ditch. To this day I don’t know how I managed to make that turn, but I thanked the Lord with loud praises for the result.
The other long trek was the 100 miles south and East  on public roads to the other ranch, at which time I had only the Jayhawk to be concerned about.  The weather was hot and my top speed was ten miles per hour.  Fuel pumps were few and far between and I travelled (foolishly) without a Gerry can of gasoline. I ran out of gas and had to hitchhike for fuel.  But two weeks of hard work stacked the hay on the Flying Circle, Cessford Ranch.
The next change to  hay harvesting was to use a rotary rake pulled by a tractor to gather the cut  hay into swathes going round and round the field, which again eliminated the use of horses and required less manpower.  The other great change was to use hay baling equipment , pulled behind a tractor and forming the hay into tight bales  about twenty inches in cross section and up to three feet in length.  They weighed up to 80 pounds each and initially they simply dropped onto the ground behind the baler.  My brother ran the baler and I, with one helper laboriously picked up the bales off the ground, loaded them on a flat bed wagon and hauled them to a stack yard. We  had never seen “bale hooks” but  we soon went to the blacksmith shop and made our own, changing them here and there until we had them fine tuned. That first year we picked up and stacked over 30,000 bales.  The second year, Wilf designed and built a bale elevator, which was capable of lifting the bales about 20 feet, thus eliminating the necessity of hand lifting them all that distance to the top of the stack.  He used chains, sprockets, small angle iron and other materials found on the Ranch and powered it with a John Deere pump engine.  We learned to build stacks which would not fall apart, by half lapping the bales around the perimeter of each layer.  Initially, with the use of the bale elevator we were getting the stacks as high as twenty feet. One day, when I was standing with my back to the end of the stack and placing the final layer in place, I felt the stack moving away from me, an eery feeling.  Then I was falling down a split in the stack as the last six feet fell away from  the main stack and I fell twenty feet into the gap, with no ill effects, landing on the hay at the bottom. Eventually we learned to place boards with nails protruding from time to time between layers of bales. With the use of the small bales it was much easier, especially in windy weather, to feed the livestock in the winter. Loose hay would sometimes blow away before it landed in front of the livestock if it was very windy.  We could feed the bales in slices and it stayed put.  It also took less room to store it. The next development was round balers, initially producing bales of around six hundred pounds but as time went on, much larger in weights up to fifteen hundred pounds. Simultaneously tractor mounted machinery was available to pick up those large bales and even to unroll them for the livestock to eat when it came time to feed each day. Then came large rectangular bales again requiring large equipment to handle.  It is now possible to haul very large quantities of hay on semi trailers, load and unload and feed  the hay and never lift a pound of hay by hand. Talk about convenience. The cost  of the euipment is very substantial but  partly balanced by the saving in payroll.

A good deal of effort,  research and experiment has resulted in preserving fodder by means of silage, either in tall silos, mostly used by dairy farms today, or in silage pits dug through a small hill or above ground by erecting side walls to contain the silage, the ends being open to permit through passage when filling and packing the silage. That method allows various kinds of grass and standing grain to be harvested with lot’s of moisture in it and unripened grain as well.  If the fodder is too dry to go through a fermentation process, extra water has to be sprayed on as it  is filled. It has to be tightly packed in order that  it may ferment to make it metabolically digestive.  It smells a little like leaky natural gas but when the cattle get used to it they do very well on it.  My younger brother Bill pioneered the use of pit silage on the old Ranch at Endiang where we grew up, often digging the pits in the fields where the fodder was harvested.  It had to be packed tight as it was put in the pits and for this farm tractors on rubber tires were used.  A final cover of heavy plastic, weighted with old tires held the plastic in place and kept heat and moisture  in during the fermentation  phase and kept it from drying out. Feeding the silage was a matter of digging away  at one end with a front end loader with steel teeth and hauling it to the cattle where I believe it was fed in troughs.  I was no longer ranching during the silage era  on the Ranch as I was studying for the Ministry and later in charge of a Parish. But being located only fifty miles from the Ranch I was able to visit frequently.  You can take a boy away from the farm but you can’t take the farm away from the boy.  An astonishing number of the parables through which  Jesus taught are based on common rural agricultural observations and their applications to social, familial and very practical ways of living with neighbors and  authorities.  And in serving the Living God.

Certain species of plants are also being processed and compressed into edible shapes for livestock and are significant economical exports to various countries, notably Japan.  One of the plant growth products which I ingest every day which is also important in the feeding of livestock is Alfalfa.  I use nutritional products based  on organically  grown raw materials.  Alfalfa contains a wide range of nutritional and mineral  content essential to good health.  A prime  factor is a strong  anti  inflamatory content which I have found to be very effective in control of the pain and stiffness of Arthritis.  I adjust my daily intake to what I as an individual need to do the job.  And in internet communication and word of mouth  contact with other people who use these tablets,  I know the results are widely enjoyed.  The great world of agriculture and related lifestyles!

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