At The Farm GateHey, look at the hay
While some people ho-hum about the drive between here and the Rockies, I noted the hay bales during our summer road trip. The large round bundles of dried fresh grasses or clover dotted the landscape, photo-worthy in most instances. They sat proudly in fields, waterways and field edges as an iconic symbol of rural America. And they’re a major feedstuff for livestock, notably cows that consume more than 30 pounds a day when pasture grass cannot provide.
Iowa farmers baled waterway grasses meandering through corn and soybean fields. Nebraska farmers tended expansive hay fields. Colorado farmers baled against an impressive mountain backdrop.
In all those road miles, we saw equipment parked in barnyards and at field edges but rarely in action. Bales seem to show up like mole hills across the land, often without notice of the process that has evolved dramatically in the last century.
This summer, my dad found an antique hay knife in an old barn. It reminded us that farming ancestors used to manually harvest loose hay, stack it in a barn mow and later cut from the compacted pile for feeding livestock.
Today, mechanical balers handle the bundling and tractors the stacking, unless we opt to harvest a rack of small square bales. Most modern-day round bales don weather-protective net wrap straight out of the baler, a welcome improvement from my childhood when we fitted each bale with a plastic sleeve for outdoor storage.
Mother Nature’s reign over the process spans the generations, remaining in control of when we harvest hay and how much we yield across several cuttings. The sun for haymaking seems to shine more on the weekends. However, most farmers will tell you that mowed hay, a crop that must dry or cure before baling, seems to increase the odds for a pop-up rain shower.
The kids don’t share those worries and just enjoy the bundled forage, particularly leaping across the large round bales lined at the field edge. They also climb bales in the mow, a good place to talk about the differences between the hay and straw stored there.
During Dad’s barn cleanup, he also found a vintage pop bottle near the hay knife. I like to imagine that the laborer enjoyed a cola break from his vantage point at the mow window, overlooking a harvested hay field and a job well done.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat and hay and raise beef cattle and backyard chickens.