The Labor Intensive Work of New-Mown Hay
The unending, labor intensive job of caring for new-mown hay
The McCormick-Deering Power Press (belted style – minus engine) ready for work.
One of farming's most "labor intensive" crops over the years has been hay. Oh, there were certain compensations. One might well savor the unforgettable and delightful aroma of new-mown hay, and a "romp in the hay" was not to be sneezed at either (no pun intended). The mere thought causes this octogenarian to chuckle under his breath, much to the vexation of his partner of some three score years.
Putting up hay seemed to be an unending job when I was growing up on Muddy Creek. Red Top had to be "caught" at just the right time, else it would "head out" and be worthless as feed, and could only be cut for seed. The teamsters in the oil field offered a good market for Timothy for horses, and mules seemed to prefer (and thrive) on this long-stem succulent grass. The Timothy harvest closely followed that of the early-maturing Red Top.
The procedure for harvesting most of the hays was much the same. First came the mowing, using the five-foot horse-drawn mower. Seldom was the day when a pitman rod was not snapped, or a sickle section popped out from the sickle bar, hitting a hidden sprout.
The hay was cured in the hot sun. Then came the raking with the dump rake, pulling the aromatic swaths into windrows and later into "doodles" (or piles).
Hay balers were not as yet common, so nearly all of the cuttings were handled as loose hay, being either stacked in the field, or else stowed away in the hay loft. For stacking, the site was first prepared by laying down a framework of fence rails. Then the 'doodles' would be dragged to the stack by hitching the team to a 20-foot long sapling that had been shoved under the pile of hay. A rope was stretched over the hay and half-hitched around the protuding pole.
Usually the team was guided by a boy – me – riding one horse with a bridle-mounted "gamble stick" guiding the other. When the doodle reached the stack, the rope was untied and the pole pulled out, and the ream returned for another load.
Stacking required a fair number of "hands." There was the doodle man, who used the boy rider to bring the hay to the stack, and, at the very least, two men were needed on top of the stack, and two or more for pitching the hay up to them.
The war effort that took the surplus men into the service hastened the development of at least three new farm implements, all designed to ease the load, or replace the non-existent "hay hand."
Several versions of commercial hay stackers came onto the market, but each required a second team to raise the arms on which the doodle had been placed and swing it to the top of the stack, where the stackers could easily reach and spread the hay around. Certainly these machines made the job easier, and speeded up the hay stacking, but the amount of labor saved was limited.