Making hay took a lot of time; early on, hay was cut with scythes, allowed to dry and gathered by hand into small stacks.
Later, horse-drawn mowers came out, often with only a 3-foot cut, but still much faster than making hay by hand. In time, dump rakes were developed to bunch hay into windrows, where it could be forked up into a hayrack. Still, the process demanded hard work. Then came hay loaders, which were developed in the 1870s and used into the 1950s.
Last summer, we acquired a hay loader that had been stored for 50 years in a barn. Orange paint remaining on the unit's galvanized sides spelled out 'New Idea.'
None of the wood was rotten, so we cleaned it up, greasing and oiling as needed, and naturally, decided to test it.
Neighbor Myron Joneson brought up his horses, hooked them to our makeshift rack, and we loaded hay. It was long grass hay from the pasture, real similar to what would have been loaded 75 years ago.
With a hay loader, hay is brought up behind the rack, elevated up as shown in the photographs and dumped at the rack's rear. Men on the rack then move the hay forward, piling it loosely, to make room for additional hay coming up the loader.
An hour of loading hay this way makes one appreciate modern technology.
Usually, two men, including the driver, would load a rack; the horses, on their own, would straddle a windrow while the driver helped on the rack.
Loading hay with horses is quite peaceful; the click of the loader and the squeak of the harness leather is all you hear - save for the labored breathing of crew members in less-than-prime condition.
Another neighbor, Mike Schmidt, got wind of our project, brought some old slings by and suggested we try them out, too.
So, we loaded up a sling and took it to Mike's, where he had an existing hay carrier, track and hay rope in his barn.
No hay had been loaded into this barn since 1952, so Mike wanted us to be sure the carrier worked safely. He didn't mention it was 30-odd feet up - well beyond our extension ladders' reach.
Not to be denied, we took a hoisting rig normally used in our well business and raised the mast inside the barn.
Armed with penetrating oil and a small hammer, I climbed the mast to the hay carrier, and Mike climbed up an extension ladder to hand tools to me as needed.
The outside temperature that day was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Soon, neither Mike nor I could see through our glasses. Working mostly by feel, I sprayed oil and tapped on the unit until it released the rope, which dropped the hay mow door open.
This done, we made a few runs with a couple of pails of rocks to test the operation of the mechanism.
Hay carriers are quite clever. When one is pulled out to the track's end, its rope is released, allowing the attached sling to be pulled down for loading.
When a loaded sling is pulled up to the carrier, it hits a catch that releases the carrier, allowing it to go down its track into the barn.
When this release occurs, a brake is applied to the rope, which in effect holds onto the slings until they are pulled back to the stop. Then, the brake is released again, allowing the sling to drop back to the ground for reloading. FC
- Jim and Joan Lacey operate Little Village Farm at 47582 240 St., Dell Rapids, SD 57022.
Slings swing again
Here's a brief explanation of how hay slings help get hay from the rack into the barn for safe storage:
Slings are made of lengths of rope, a few 2-by-2 sticks, a few steel rings and a quick release catch operated from the ground by a tagline or a light rope, which is hooked to the sling with a snap so that it can be quickly put on or off.
In practice, the first set of slings is laid on the floor of the rack, and loose hay is piled on top to the desired height. Then, another set of slings is laid out and loaded in the same manner.
Old timers generally ran three sets of slings on a rack; the Lacey crew's 'comfort level' allowed for only two sets.
The job of the slings is merely to pull all the hay on them into a bundle, which then is hoisted into the loft as shown in the upper right photo on this page.
On each end of a sling set is a ring that is hooked to the pulley assembly on the hay carrier.
To empty the slings, a tagline is pulled, which allows them to separate. Then, they are pulled down with the tagline to be reloaded.