Putting Up Hay the Old-Fashioned Way

Loading the haymow with horsepower in Ohio

| December 2009

Putting up loose hay for winter feed is a lot of hard work.

Using horsepower and manpower, farmers once toiled nearly endlessly to get hay from the field to the haymow. Today, few of us ever see loose hay being harvested unless we live near Amish folk who still do things the old-fashioned way. And almost none of us see hay being put up at a show.

The Delaware County (Ohio) Antique Farm Machinery Assn. offers an exception to those rules. That group used horsepower in its demonstrations at its July 2009 show at the Tim Calvin farm near Radnor. Hay was cut, cured and loaded in the barn just days before that show – and I was on hand to see it happen.

Timing is everything

To generate quality feed for use during the long, cold Ohio winter, it is important to get the hay cut, cured and in the barn at its prime. There is a very short interval between the day when the grass reaches its fullest bulk and greatest nutrient level and the day when it begins to become woody and less valuable for feed. Ideally, the harvest is conducted in dry weather.

Grass grown for livestock feed is a major crop for the Calvins. The family uses a tractor to mow, condition and bale most of their hay, but some is harvested with horses. Walter “Pop” Calvin is the man behind that process. Walter and his team of Percherons, Misty and Marie, put in many satisfying hours in the hay field every summer. Walter’s father farmed with horses, and Walter enjoys the work as well.

Relics out of retirement

The Calvins’ International Harvester equipment dates to the era when horse farming gave way to tractors. Walter hitched his team to the Calvins’ McCormick-Deering No. 7 mower. Manufactured from 1929 to 1939, the No. 7 has a 6-foot cutter bar. Like all of the Calvins’ machinery, the vintage mower remains in its work clothes. These machines are meant for work, not show.

The family has done their share to keep the relics working. When the Calvins got the mower, it needed to be loosened up and the gearbox oil was due for a change. It also needed a new pitman arm and tongue. The knives were cleaned, and one guard was replaced because the ledger plate was missing. Today it operates like a new unit.

When he gets in really heavy hay, Walter explains, the mower pulls harder. The team leans more heavily into the harness and speeds up. The combination of heavy hay and a fast-moving team makes it harder for the mower to cut. Tractor-drawn mowers, on the other hand, tend to slow down in heavy hay: not so with these Percherons.

Hay tedders were designed to lift, turn and scatter hay. That exposes more of the hay to the air, promoting quicker drying and more even curing. The tedder’s crankshaft conveys power to the forks, which toss the hay. Hay that has been soaked by an unexpected rain is often tedded to promote faster drying.

The Calvins’ tedder is another pieced-together implement, assembled from parts of three McCormick-Deering units. Their tedder is a two-horse, eight-fork device. I thought perhaps the clanking noise of the forks kicking would spook the team, but it didn’t. The horses took the noise in stride and maintained a steady pace.