Now that it’s the hottest time of the year it is time to cut hay. For hundreds of years, farmers faced the acres of waving grasses with only a scythe in their hand and knowledge that their animals would starve in the winter if they didn’t get to work. They cut the field in great sweeping swathes. They took a wide hand rake and raked the hay into windrows. They used a pitchfork to stack the hay into small stacks dotted out the field. Finally, when the hay was just dry enough, out came the team and hay wagon with its two tall racks at the end. All of the hay had to be pitched by hand onto the wagon until the hay towered above the racks. One man pitched, another carefully built the load, an art in itself. Badly built loads could slide off onto the ground when the wagon took a corner or hit a grade. Imagine the weary groans.
At the barn, the great double doors at each side were opened so that the team and wagon could drive right inside. Now the load had to be pitched up into the loft by hand to be stored for the winter. Lucky farmers had a great claw on a pulley suspended from a track far up under the roof peak. With a team of horses on one end of the rope, the claw could grab large sections of the load and carry them along the track to just the right place in the loft to release them. The farmer’s judgement was critical here. If too much moisture got packed in, mould would result or heat would build until the hay loft burst into flames from spontaneous combustion.
Haying this way was one of the dirtiest, hottest jobs on the farm. At the end of the day the workers were covered with itching chaff and dust, seeds and bits of hay all glued to a sweaty body. No matter how hot, long pants and long sleeves had to be worn to keep the sharp ends of the hay from stabbing holes in exposed skin.
How things have changed. Today, a farmer need never even touch the hay. He simply brings in a modern disc mower which cuts and conditions the hay, leaving in in ready made windrows. When dryness is right, out comes the tractor again hauling the baler which eats up the windrows and drops gigantic bales behind it. If needed, the baler will also wrap them individually in plastic so that they can stay in the field until it’s time to use them as feed. A fork on the front end loader then picks up the bale quite effortlessly and drops it where the hungry cattle can munch it down. The farmer remains in the ergonomically designed seat in the heated/air conditioned tractor cab, freshly showered and comfy, often with entertainment centre and GPS to keep perfectly aligned in the field.
No more sweating. No more pitchforks. No more scythes. One only hopes modern cattle can appreciate the hay just as much.