Building Stacks of Hay
The article by Clell G. Ballard (“The Hay Hook,” Farm Collector, July 2016) was interesting, and its point about the advantages of a hay hook was very much on target. It made me tired to learn how many times bales were handled in the system the author described. An alternate system my father developed for use building stacks on a farm in Grand Forks County, North Dakota, employed a hydraulic hay stacker mounted on a tractor (in our case, a 1941 John Deere A). His first stacker was a Superior, the predecessor to the Farmhand. He sold it very soon after acquiring it. His second stacker – the one I used – was a Johnson.
Its main advantage was that it could be mounted and removed from the tractor far more easily. The stacker had a basket with wooden teeth on the front. The basket was about 12 feet wide and extended about 9 feet in front of the tractor. The tractor/stacker would fill its basket with hay from the windrows made by a side-delivery rake, then turn around, fill it again and pile it on top of the first bunch in order to get a full, level basket before taking it to the stack.
A rectangular base would be created by pushing together several baskets of hay. Additional baskets of hay were carefully placed on that base. Each layer involved two baskets on one side, two on the other and one from each end. A man in the stack moved just enough hay to keep the stack level and square. When the stack was as high as the stacker would go (about 20 feet), the man in the stack would pull hay from the basket and create a rounded top. The result was a stack that looked a little like a large loaf of bread, rounded just enough to shed water.
When my father purchased his first hydraulic stacker in the early 1940s, one of his neighbors scoffed, saying he could pitch a lot of hay for $600 (its cost). But soon he and others were asking my father to help put up their hay, and for a time he stacked hay for many nearby farmers. In those days, all of them had at least eight or 10 cows to milk and usually other livestock. Then, when it took too much time away from his own farm work, he encouraged them to purchase their own.
A local implement dealer would sell a Johnson stacker, and he would help mount it on whatever brand of tractor the farmer had. Others purchased Farmhand stackers from a dealer in a neighboring town.
In the fall, he would remove the hay basket and mount a homemade attachment with a grapple fork to the front of the hay stacker. The four tines of the grapple fork would be inserted in the haystack. The stacker would lift a bunch of hay and place it in a hayrack on top of a rope sling, then another and another. The hayrack would be pulled home, placed in front of the barn and, with a small tractor hooked to the end of the hay rope, the slings full of hay would be pulled up and into the haymow.
The Ballards were forming bales for long-distance transport. Since we were putting hay in a stack, hay was never lifted by hand. Yes, some of it was moved around by the person in the stack, and in the winter it was pushed to the openings in the floor of the haymow so it could drop down into the hay manger along one side of the barn, but the investment of labor pales in comparison to lifting and stacking and lifting again and restacking bales.
In the 1950s, the system was improved in two ways. First, my father and neighbor built a rectangular stack frame out of pipes that could be filled with hay before anyone got into the stack. Once the hay had been packed (by walking around in it), the stack frame was removed and the rest of the stack was built.
Second, my father and that same neighbor built a tractor-pulled stack mover. It was like a large trailer, made of a modified truck axle and wheels, an I-beam frame, steel pipes for the deck and a PTO-driven winch. With that, a stack could be moved from the field to the farmyard, and it could be winched off in front of the barn (or anywhere else). The same grapple fork was then attached to the hay carrier and, piece by piece, the hay in the stack was lifted into the haymow.
For some farmers, there certainly were advantages to baling. Hay could be more easily transported long distances, it could be sold more easily and more hay could be stored in the same amount of barn space. But none of these applied to our farm.
In addition to labor saved, stacking had other advantages. Alfalfa, in particular, could be stacked sooner than it could be baled, and that often reduced the loss of leaves. This system also saved the ongoing expense of buying twine. With a touch of exaggeration, my father would say that baling involved, “buying your own hay back.”
Darrell Jodock - 1600 Riverview Rd., St. Peter, MN 56082
Clell Ballard responds: I’m impressed by the activities of your father and the others you mentioned. That is one of the great things about the American farmer. He is creative as he figures how to do the hard farm work in a more efficient manner.