- as published on my blog, Blessed is She that Believes..
Being out in the hayfield has been an annual occurrence in my life since I was six. In my younger years, my dad and grandpa created a 'covered wagon' with a flatbed wagon and a tarp. Getting to have real live Laura Ingalls adventures was a highlight of my summer. Being immersed in sunshine, the flora and fauna of the Sandhills, and spending quality time with my Grandpa and my Dad - such great memories.
The hay crew circa 1986 - my Grandpa on the dump rake in the background and me on the sweep with a barn cat
When I finally got to become part of the hay crew, my job was the sweep. Here is a photo of me on the sweep. This is in the mid 1990s. As you can see, we upgraded our sweep technology. A sweep is actually a reversed tractor with a wooden fork type structure on the front (back) of it. Now unless you grew up in agriculture, you may wonder how this sweep thing works in the haying process.
The nuts and bolts of haying while I was growing up: The Kosch double bar sickle mower would cut the hay, a dump rake would come along and collect the mowed hay into long windrows. Then the sweep would travel up and down the windrows to gather the hay into bunches. Then a tractor with a specialized loader attachment would pick up the bunches of hay, and put them into loose stacks of hay.
Below is a close up picture of a loose stack of hay - we fondly called them gumdrops. Now you have got to love the hat that my Grandpa is wearing - he is on the right. It has so much character, just about as much as the man himself.
Another highlight of the summers was when my cousins and family came to visit and got to see what life was like on the ranch.
Now since my childhood years, haying has changed alot. Not only in our family's operation, but in general. There are still ranchers that use loose stacks and a few still use beaver slides.
A beaver slide - photo courtesy of Wikipedia
But most ranchers now use bales - whether they are round or square bales. They are typically what you will find on most ranches throughout the Sandhills and in Wyoming. They are what we put up on our ranch.
A Round Bale
To make a round bale, the hay is left laying in the windrow after raking. Sometimes the windrows are brought together by a rake called a V rake. A tractor pulling a round baler drives over the windrow. The hay is picked up off of the ground by a big metal comb on a reel turning very fast. It is then turned and wrapped round and round inside a chamber until it forms a cylindrical bale. Then twine or a sheet of netting (called net wrap) is wrapped around the bale to keep the hay from falling off. The baler's door then opens, and the bale is pushed out.
What we use now to put up hay: the cast of characters, from left to right: swather - cuts the hay and puts it into windrows, tractor pulling a V rake - combines two windrows into one, tractor pulling a round baler - bales the hay, and finally a tractor pulling a hay hiker - moves the bales off the field to a central location.
So today I traded in my typical agenda of checking on cows for cutting hay, and although a lot has changed from when I helped my Grandpa and my dad almost thirty years ago, there's just something about a sunshiny day out in a hayfield.