Good Old Days of Making Hay

It was back-breaking and labor intensive, but Sam Moore still yearns for the good old days of making hay

| July 1999

There's a five-acre field across the lane from my place that a neighbor farms. The field contained a nice stand of clover a year or two ago, and one Saturday evening, an Oliver diesel tractor pulling a John Deere hay conditioner pulled into the clover, mowing the five acres in one hour. Monday morning, two tractors – one a Minneapolis-Moline U from about 1950 – raked the hay, again in about one hour. That after noon, a Ford diesel pulling a New Holland round  baler turned the windrows into 12 big round bales in just over an hour. 

In my childhood, the job of making hay was much more labor intensive, as well as being much slower. We cut hay with a five-foot mower pulled by a team of horses. An early Champion ad bragged that their mower could cut one acre per hour. However, if the grass was heavy, the field rough, or the day hot, requiring frequent rest stops for the team, seven or eight acres in a 10-hour day was more realistic. Later, we pulled the horse mower with a Ford tractor, which speeded up the operation considerably. About the end of World War II, we bought a seven-foot cut Ferguson tractor mower that was capable of about three acres per hour, although it took a good half-day to mount on and remove from the tractor.

In those days, after curing in the swath, the hay was raked into long, straight windrows with a dump rake. The dump rake could be driven lengthwise down the windrows to bunch the hay into bigger piles for loading.

If there was a chance that the hay would get rained upon before being hauled in, the windrows were gathered into small handstacks, or "haycocks." These handstacks, about six feet in diameter and three or four feet high, were layered and rounded off to shed as much rain as possible. When hauling time came, the hand-stacks were hand pitched onto the wagon.

In 1943 or '44, my father and uncle, who were partners at the time, wrangled a government permit and managed to buy a new hayloader and side-delivery rake.

These machines, built by the New Idea Company, revolutionized making hay. The new rake was much faster than the old dump rake, but the hayloader was wonderful. No more backbreaking pitching of hay from the ground onto a high load.