Putting Up Hay

Newt and I live in the hills.  We don’t have wet meadows that produce abundant hay (produced by abundant water that constantly waters the roots of the grass). 

I grew up on a ranch that had wet meadows, so all summer we put up hay.  Towards the end of summer, I was so sick of haying that I couldn’t wait for school to begin.  Now I’ve been gone for 15 years and I miss haying.

So I went to Mom and Dad’s ranch to help them finish the last of the wet bottoms.  (We mow these out so the cows can graze the new growth.  Otherwise they pound (overgraze) the hills and never eat the old grass in the wet bottoms.)

And since I forgot my camera the day I was mowing, Mom graciously took these pictures for me. 

First you have to mow down the hay.  Our tractors are antiques (1950ish) and the only protection from the sun is a bright, yellow umbrella.  No AC, no protection from biting flies or the dusty wind. 

The mowers are side-mounted (attached to the frame of the tractor, rather than drug behind like a trailer).  The sickles are 7-9 feet long and have sharp razor teeth.  They remind me of a shark’s jaw.  This tractor is a double bar, so you have a bar between the front and back tire and a longer bar attached behind the back tire.

Here is the grass being mowed down.  It has been dry this year, so mowing was easier.  When it is moist, the grass and dirt tend to clog up your bar.  Mice nests are a real pain and get wedged on the guard of the sickle.  You have to stop, turn off the PTO (powers the bar), wiggle your way off the tractor, wade through the grass, and flick off that little, tiny nest that is causing a streak of uncut grass behind the bar.

 Mowing by yourself is boring.  It seems like forever until the patch is finished.  Mowing with two or three other mowers is much faster.  Dad had a full hay crew when us kids were young.  Three mowers, one raker, and he ran the baler.  Plus when the tractors broke down due to old age, there were extra mowers to keep going.  Alternator went out, tire went flat, gear busted…

Dad and I finished this patch.  You can see the hay cut down in the front and our tractors sitting in the background.  Tomorrow we will fuel them up, change out the old sickles and put in new sharp ones, and grease the moving mower parts to keep them running smoothly.

Here is the rake. 

Again an antique tractor (because a new tractor is ridiculously expensive) and this is a V-rake.  There is another kind of rake called a dump rake, but it is harder to use in the rough pastures.

So this hay will dry for one sunny day, be raked into a row, baled into 1200 pound round bales, picked up and stored in the stack yard.  This winter, when the weather is cold and the cows are growing babies in their bellies, the cows will enjoy some dehydrated grass and cake. 

But we will talk about cow cake later.  For now enjoy the story of hay.

Categories: Ranching in the Sandhills | Leave a comment

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