Feeding Loose Hay from an Outside Haystack

Reader Contribution by James N. Boblenz
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Farmers needed to harvest and store fodder (hay) for those long winter months.

For the most nutritious fodder, farmers had just a short time to harvest grass between the time it was flowering and tender until it began to become coarse and stemmy.

As farmers increased the amount of livestock they kept, they had to put up more hay. Many barns did not have sufficient space in their haymows for additional hay, so outside haystacks were necessary.

Outdoor storage created different feeding problems. After the stack was built, the farmer had to dome and cap the top to keep rain and snow and sleet — nasty wet weather — from soaking in the top and ruining the stack. As the hay settled, it became more compact.

If he started feeding from the top of the stack as he did from the haymow, he destroyed the protective covering. So, farmers had to find other ways to feed hay from the sides of the stack.

Hay hook.

Hay knife.

Lightning hay knife.

New American hay knife.

Click the images for larger versions.

First came a hay hook, generally made by the local blacksmith. It was simply a long rod with a round or D-shaped handle at one end and a barbed hook at the other.

To use it, the farmer pushed the hooked end of the rod into the haystack. The barb grabbed hold of the hay and as the farmer pulled out the hook, a large section of hay was extracted by the hook. It took a lot of power to extract the hook, but it was an effective way to remove sufficient hay to feed his stock.

English farmers came up with a manufactured hay knife. This was a rather large, thick blade — about 15 inches long — with a suitable handle at a right angle to the blade. The knife had to be kept very sharp and it still took a lot of muscle to cut through the hay.

Normally, the farmer had to cut along all faces before a section could be removed. Then he could use a pitchfork to remove the section. The English hay knife was imported to the United States, where Yankee ingenuity would soon make improvements to the hay knife.

A much improved hay knife known as the Weymouth’s patent (and called the lightning knife), originated in the East. It was composed of a, tapered blade about 32 inches long with serrations close together at the pointed end.

It had two handles, one for the right hand at the rear end of the blade and one for the left hand some inches forward and at the side of the blade. This made its use much easier. A well sharpened blade cut through hay much more quickly than the English knife.

The next improvement, also from the U.S., was called the New American hay knife. It was designed quite like the lightning knife except that rather than serrations, it had several individual serrated knives as the cutting edge.

When dull, it could be sharpened or the individual knife blades could be replaced. It too had two handles similar to the lightning knife, except the handle the handles were adjustable.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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