For many of the many years of my adult life, the first cutting of hay was ready to go by the last week of May or the first week of June. In my part of Kansas, the brome meadows are usually perfect just before Memorial Day weekend. This year looks to be no different. The anticipation is always with me.
Years ago, when I was farming in South Dakota, my daughters, a neighbor and I would gather together to make untold acres of hay. Some of it was lovely alfalfa, but most consisted of cool-season grasses that grew in low meadows along Nine-mile Creek. Our equipment was pretty old, but we got it done. The mowing setup consisted of a Farmall M equipped with a John Deere semi-mount 9-foot sickle bar mower. We raked with an old 2-cylinder John Deere 720 Diesel. An Allis Chalmers WD-45 was on the John Deere 14-T baler — and, boy, did that extra hand clutch ever come in handy when encountering a heavy slug in the windrow.
Between then and now, on a farm in Ohio, I graduated to a 9-foot MC Rotary Scythe on an IH 656 for knocking it down. The rake was still on the 720 Diesel. We had a newer John Deere 336 small-square baler with a hydraulic kicker — either of the above tractors provided the power. Although the kicker and accompanying caged hayracks were designed to make small-square baling a one-person operation, we always hated heading to the barn with the haphazard load. So, my brave daughters would ride in the cages to stack the bales neatly — dodging them deftly as they came flying, literally, off the back of the baler. We relied on the help of a couple of teenage boys and an elevator hooked to the Farmall Cub to run the bales up into the barn’s lofts. One year we hired on a pair of boys, but they only lasted 20 bales before bailing. The next year, we made large bales with an old IH 2400 round baler.
This year, I plan to make more hay than I have in quite a while and with the best partner and equipment I’ve ever had. The refurbished mid-1990s Vermeer 504 round baler seems every bit as promising as the newer drum mower and V-rake — all sized perfectly to our modern and convenient Massey Ferguson and Kubota tractors. But, for me, perhaps the best part about hay days is spending those many hours outdoors working with friends and family — laughing, sweating, watching the weather and capturing all that sunshine for later use.
Whether making hay is part of your seasonal routine or not, I’d love to know what you’re up to. And if you have any hay-making tales to tell or another chore that’s really not a chore, I’d love to hear about it. Please send me a note and a photo or two (at least 300 dpi, jpeg), if available, at email@example.com, and the whole works may just wind up in a future issue.
See you in August,
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.