Putting Up Hay

Farm terminology kept pace with changes in farm practices.

| October 2017

  • Then state-of-the-art haying machinery, just before swathers became the standard. The author is shown here mowing native grass with a John Deere 4020 diesel tractor and a John Deere No. 8 semi-mounted mower with a 9-foot cutter bar.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • It is hard to believe that huge machines can cut and condition heavy alfalfa crops like this at speeds of 15 miles an hour. GPS drives the machine and the operator’s only job is to turn at the end of the field. Even that job is currently being phased out. Soon an operator will no longer be necessary.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • It didn’t take long before simple swathers developed into sophisticated machines such as this. However, even this swather has been replaced by equipment with rotary cutters.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • Simple machines like this one, pulled by one or two horses, revolutionized the process of cutting hay. Powered by the machine’s wheels, the sickle went back and forth.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • This recently taken photograph shows the passage of time. In the 1940s and ’50s, tractors like this John Deere Model B and a No. 5 semi-mounted mower with 7-foot cutter bar were common sights.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The familiar International Harvester Co. logo.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard

When mankind managed to give up nomadic ways and settle in one spot, taking care of animals required some way of feeding them during the months when grazing was not possible. Scythes were used almost forever to cut grass and other forage crops.

Common terminology referring to that season of the year was putting up hay. The “up” in that statement was used because after hay was cut, it was gathered and pitched into stacks. As time went by, more prosperous farmers built large barns where the hay was stored “up” in the haymow. The crop had to be collected in one place so it was usable.

Probably the first genuine improvement in that laborious process was the invention of horse-drawn machines that mechanically cut the crop. Soon after such devices were perfected, they almost completely replaced hand-cut animal feed in this country.

Mowing: a radical new concept

The generation that made the transition to mowing is gone now, but those of us who had the opportunity to discuss it with them have interesting observations. No longer was hay cut; instead, it was mowed. The very word mowed was not regularly used in earlier years. And when it comes to the actual mechanical workings of “mowing machines,” we might consider them quite simple, but the old timers wouldn’t have shared that view.



The standard sickle bar that incorporated the ground-driven sickle itself (passing back and forth through guards that separated the crop and cut it as it moved forward) was considered revolutionary. The length of the cutter bar was standardized at 5 feet and thus the ability to quickly cut that amount of crop boggled the minds of those who earlier had spent almost unending hours swinging a scythe.

Most of those who had farmed with horses had an extremely hard time accepting and using machines. Where knowledge of horseflesh and the intricacies of harness was once highly prized, as time went by those skills became obsolete. I had a great-uncle who, in the early 1920s, invented a new method of hooking harness to implements. It was such an improvement that if he had invented it a few decades earlier, he would have become quite wealthy. As it was, the method was barely adopted before tractors came along and no one cared anymore.



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