Appreciating the Hay Hook

The hay hook, a simple device, made grueling job easier.


| July 2016



Men hay stack

Two pleased young men posing by an 8,000-bale stack the day it was finished.

Photo courtesy Clell G. Ballard

Ever since people ceased being nomadic and began living permanently in one place, they have kept animals that helped supply their needs. Those that produced milk, like goats and cattle, were highly prized. In areas with mild winters, they were easy to keep because their food supply was native grass.

In order to feed animals in areas with harsher winters, it was necessary to harvest and store some kind of hay. For centuries, that meant cutting a grass crop with a scythe and transporting it to a central location. The most basic tool found everywhere for feeding cattle and cleaning up after them was the pitchfork.

A welcome development

When farm machinery came along, new methods of handling hay were developed. Baling became the standard by the mid-20th century. First, hay was brought to stationary balers. Eventually, almost everyone used balers pulled by tractors that picked up hay in the field. Self-propelled balers never really caught on. Pitchforks didn’t disappear, but they were no longer needed to use in hand-piling loose hay into large stacks.

The common baler cut hay into small sections and compressed those into a rectangular cube that was bound with twine. For several decades, bales were typically secured by two strong strings made of sisal.

Pitching loose hay all day long was hard work. The generation that did that is mostly gone now, but this author has been told stories of weeks of hard physical labor spent stacking hay. When people today look back on that activity, they rarely understand the difficulty of standing on unstable loose hay hour after hour, lifting and distributing forks of hay as they built a stack. When baling came along, America’s farmers welcomed the development.

‘Slipping’ bales

Farmers in our isolated area were slow to begin baling their hay, but my uncle had his custom-baled for the first time in 1958. As a teenager, I went out that summer to help him stack bales. We picked up the alfalfa hay bales (each weighed about 70 pounds) by the two strings. Even though we wore gloves, our fingers were red and raw after a couple of days of that. Sore hands were not an excuse to miss work, so a lot of agony accompanied my introduction to bale stacking. Fortunately, his crop was fairly small, so I survived (although there were times I doubted I would).