We were baling hay one clear and sunny summer day on the family farm. Mother was at the tiller of our Fordson Major (Bluebird) pulling the International 55W square baler. She kept on path following the clockwise-circular windrows formed by the sickle bar mower and side delivery rake that crossed the field before. The Bluebird’s diesel engine wafted puffs of smoke and the transmission grunted keeping in sync with the rhythmic whumph, whumph of the bailer plunger.
Dad and I were on the bale trailer being pulled by the set-up stacking bales. The long ribbon of fresh mown hay was feeding steadily into the pickup, and routed into the bale chamber by the fingers where by mechanical timing it was formed, compressed, and tied into a bale. The finished bale then was fed out the end of the bale chamber, onto the bale trailer where it would be stacked to await transport to the haystack/barn for storage, later to be used to feed livestock in the winter.
On that particularly memorable day, as the smell of the fresh hay wafted in the air, Dad tapped me on the shoulder with a hay hook. When I turn around, I saw his tobacco stained grin as he says, “Hey boy, lookie there,” moving the hook to point at the bale chamber where there was four inches of skunk tail sticking straight out of a bale, the hairs on the tail swaying softly to the bumping movement of the plunger.
In our neck of the woods, because of the lack of human domestication, “civet-cats” or skunks be nasty little creatures that make tasty meals (for them) out of chickens and eggs (for us), and thus since they themselves don't appeal to a roasting oven with taters and carrots nestled all around, they are considered vermin, rodents, or any other type of creature that you don't send Christmas cards to or invite to family functions. Also, the equipment, however small it seems compared to today’s modern mechanical marvels, lacked the horsepower and agility of finely tuned road course race car that would be needed to melishisly cube even the pokiest of small farmland creatures.
The following paragraph is only my mind reckoning that the odiferous rodent must have sought shelter in the windrow. After its error in selection of the ol’ “fight or flight” instinct, must have stood its ground (a noble gesture), got fed up into the baler by the pickup, was escorted into the chamber by the fingers, and with one rotation of the baler crank, cha-whump, the skunk’s space-time continuum was altered, and it was instantaneously transported from the wide-open plains of Kansas into something that in comparison might resemble an ultra-economy apartment in New York City.
After the bale came out of the chamber, we chunked it over the side, and since it’s a no brainer that the critter would not have survived at the same density as the bale that encompassed it, we continued to finish the haying. We continued to work around that bale for the rest of the haying process, and it stayed in the field for an additional cutting and was finally moved across the lease road and into the shelterbelt where I figure it must have served as an educational tool in an animal safety course, for in the following years, I haven’t experienced any additional critter mishaps associated with baling.