Putting Up Hay the Old-Fashioned Way

Loading the haymow with horsepower in Ohio

Walter Calvin mowing with a team of Percheron horses and a No. 7 McCormick-Deering mower

Walter Calvin mowing with a team of Percheron horses and a No. 7 McCormick-Deering mower.

James N. Boblenz

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Putting up loose hay for winter feed is a lot of hard work.

Using horsepower and manpower, farmers once toiled nearly endlessly to get hay from the field to the haymow. Today, few of us ever see loose hay being harvested unless we live near Amish folk who still do things the old-fashioned way. And almost none of us see hay being put up at a show.

The Delaware County (Ohio) Antique Farm Machinery Assn. offers an exception to those rules. That group used horsepower in its demonstrations at its July 2009 show at the Tim Calvin farm near Radnor. Hay was cut, cured and loaded in the barn just days before that show – and I was on hand to see it happen.

Timing is everything

To generate quality feed for use during the long, cold Ohio winter, it is important to get the hay cut, cured and in the barn at its prime. There is a very short interval between the day when the grass reaches its fullest bulk and greatest nutrient level and the day when it begins to become woody and less valuable for feed. Ideally, the harvest is conducted in dry weather.

Grass grown for livestock feed is a major crop for the Calvins. The family uses a tractor to mow, condition and bale most of their hay, but some is harvested with horses. Walter “Pop” Calvin is the man behind that process. Walter and his team of Percherons, Misty and Marie, put in many satisfying hours in the hay field every summer. Walter’s father farmed with horses, and Walter enjoys the work as well.

Relics out of retirement

The Calvins’ International Harvester equipment dates to the era when horse farming gave way to tractors. Walter hitched his team to the Calvins’ McCormick-Deering No. 7 mower. Manufactured from 1929 to 1939, the No. 7 has a 6-foot cutter bar. Like all of the Calvins’ machinery, the vintage mower remains in its work clothes. These machines are meant for work, not show.

The family has done their share to keep the relics working. When the Calvins got the mower, it needed to be loosened up and the gearbox oil was due for a change. It also needed a new pitman arm and tongue. The knives were cleaned, and one guard was replaced because the ledger plate was missing. Today it operates like a new unit.

When he gets in really heavy hay, Walter explains, the mower pulls harder. The team leans more heavily into the harness and speeds up. The combination of heavy hay and a fast-moving team makes it harder for the mower to cut. Tractor-drawn mowers, on the other hand, tend to slow down in heavy hay: not so with these Percherons.

Hay tedders were designed to lift, turn and scatter hay. That exposes more of the hay to the air, promoting quicker drying and more even curing. The tedder’s crankshaft conveys power to the forks, which toss the hay. Hay that has been soaked by an unexpected rain is often tedded to promote faster drying.

The Calvins’ tedder is another pieced-together implement, assembled from parts of three McCormick-Deering units. Their tedder is a two-horse, eight-fork device. I thought perhaps the clanking noise of the forks kicking would spook the team, but it didn’t. The horses took the noise in stride and maintained a steady pace.

Rakes and loaders

When the hay was dry enough, a McCormick-Deering side-delivery rake was put to work. Although the Calvins sometimes use a dump rake in demonstrations, they use the side-delivery rake for the hay loader. Walter rolled two swaths together to form one large windrow. That decreased the number of trips the loader and wagon had to make around the field, but it really kept the men on the wagon busy as they tried to keep up.

The first side-delivery rakes were made in the 1890s. By the 1920s and ’30s, most farmers were using the side-delivery rake/hay loader combination. Improvements over the years resulted in evolution of a rather trouble-free device that was nearly always parked outside when not in use. Surprisingly, most of those rusty old rakes need little care – just a little lubricant – to get back in working order.

After they had rolled three or four swaths, the Calvins brought out the team, wagon and hay loader. The loader is a McCormick-Deering Model W on rubber. The Model W was built from 1938 to 1953. Rubber tires were an option.

The Calvins normally put a three-man crew on the wagon but on this day they were short-handed. So, Walter drove the team and Tim tried to keep up with the loading. Those double windrows really made them work. So much hay came up the ramp and onto the wagon that Walter had to stop the team frequently so Tim could spread the hay to build a sturdy load.

Building a load

Loading a wagon is a skill most of us have never learned. Hay must be spread evenly over the wagon bed and kept in level tiers as the load grows. If the weight is unbalanced, the load may tip as the wagon is hauled from the field to the barn. Older horse-drawn wagons used a fifth-wheel arrangement under the front axle to allow shorter turns. If there’s too much tipping, the entire load can be spilled while exiting the field.

Late in the afternoon, storm clouds formed overhead. If the Calvins didn’t finish soon, their hay would get wet. As soon as the wagon was loaded with enough hay for the demonstration, they headed for the barn. They fired up the baler and finished the field before the rain came.

Would you believe it? On the first day of the show, it rained most of the day, canceling demonstrations in the field and barnyard. The next day, however, was picture perfect. At about 2 p.m., Walter hitched Marie to the draft rope. His grandson, Carl, rode, while Tim’s wife, Reneé, handled the horse. Tim was in the mow to trip the rope, dropping the hay. They use a Myers hay trolley and a Myers six-finger grapple fork to lift hay from the wagon to the mow.

Into the mow

After the hook was set and the horse began walking, the load lifted slowly on its climb upward until the pulley attached to the fork settled into its receiver and locked into the trolley on the rail at the peak of the barn roof. Then the load headed into the haymow like a shot.

When the load got near the spot where Tim wanted to dump, he yelled loudly enough that Reneé would hear him and stop the horse. Then he tripped the fork to drop the hay. Reneé returned the horse to the barn and the fork was pulled back to the center of the barn, where the trolley hit the trip on the track. Down came the fork, ready for another load. That big grapple fork made short work of the wagonload. For the demonstration, the Calvins wanted to prolong the lift as much as possible, so they took smaller bites. Even then, it took only six fork loads to empty the wagon.

Everyone who attended this particular show was treated to a rare experience. It’s not often you get to observe hay being moved from wagon to mow. For me, it was even better: I got to watch the entire operation, from mowing to raking to loading. FC