Thursday, August 04, 2011


Baling straw has changed a lot since I was young.

I'm guessing the terminology hasn't changed in the Midwest since I was a kid, and hay is still baled alfalfa for animals to eat, and straw is still the byproduct of another crop, used primarily for bedding.

Here in Oregon, the two terms are used interchangeably, even though 99% of the baling industry is straw. "Valley Hay," for instance, is one of the big operations around here that bales the straw left over after the grass is harvested and ships it over to places like Japan.

Anyway. Back in my youth in Minnesota you would first take a tractor like our John Deere 720 and mower into the field and cut the alfalfa. The mower was like an oversized electric knife lying flat on the ground.

Then you pulled a rake behind a tractor and piled it all in nice windrows.

There were farmers who combined these steps with a machine that I forget the name of that had two rubber roller things that compressed the plants just enough that they dried better. My dad was not one for anything modern or efficient so we didn't have one.

Then you baled the hay. First the 720 or the Farmall M, then the baler, then the hay wagon. We all took our turn on either the tractor or the wagon. Driving the tractor was way more fun, of course, except for the time Fred found a garter snake in a hay bale and tossed it at Rebecca who was driving.

If you were the person on the wagon you watched as the baler went ca-chunk ca-chunk and a bale came out the chute toward you. You grabbed the twine and hauled the bale to the back of the wagon and put it where it belonged. You had to do each layer just right, two bales this way, two the other way, two this way again, and change them around with the next layer up.

It was hard work. I'm guessing each bale weighed about 40 pounds.

Being Beachy Amish Rebecca and I wore dresses for this task. I don't know why it never crossed our minds to wear the boys old jeans under our dresses or have Mom make us some denim leggings or something. Or maybe we prided ourselves in being tough. When the job was done we'd come in looking like our arms and legs had been attacked by an army of rabid cats.

When the wagon was full we would drive up to the hay shed and unload all these bales onto the elevator that would hoist them up to the top of the very large pile in there, and someone would stack them. Unloading the hay wagon was far easier than loading it, except for that one time when I was about 13 and there was a storm brewing, with thunder and lightning all around, and I was on top of the hay wagon, all exposed, and certain the next bolt of lightning was going to hit me, and I was having issues with my conscience just then and was certain I wasn't saved, and was sure I couldn't be until I had apologized to some unfortunate soul, I forget who or what for, but I certainly remember the fear, and the thunder roaring.

I didn't get hit by lightning except later I got hit by the lightning of God's grace which was very nice.

But yes, as I was saying.

Baling around here, in this era, is much different.

For one thing, it's done by crews of young men who show up for the summer from as far afield as Paraguay. They all seem to share a streak of recklessness, the type that would actually enjoy being on a hay wagon in a thunderstorm and, I've gotta say, a few of them act like they could use a slightly more sensitive conscience.

And the equipment is huge, and there's lots of it, and the job gets done in a very short time.

Last week Kenneth and Lisa harvested the ryegrass field north of our house.

Yesterday a fleet of monstrous tractors came roaring by our place pulling equipment that blocked the whole road. They turned into the ryegrass field and got to work.

Three huge rakes piled the straw into windrows. Three huge balers came behind and coughed out bales that looked about 25 times as big as the bales I used to hoist on the hay wagon.

They flew around that field and in a short time they were done and roaring off to eat up another field.

Next came that glorified forklift thing that picks up the bales, and a series of huge semi trucks with two long trailers, or maybe it was just one that came over and over. It would turn right on Powerline pulling a load that looked the size of a couple of houses.

And then they were done.

As nearly as I could tell, not one person had touched a stalk of actual straw. And I'm sure none of them got a single scratch.

And judging by the way they drove and how much fun they were having, none of them were having a crisis of conscience either.

And there's no danger of a thunderstorm in these parts.

Yes, baling is very different from what it used to be.

Quote of the Day:
"Ummm, I gotta go. I just ran over a bush."
--Steven, on his cell phone, to his friend Trent. Or so I was told, about third hand. Steven has since made some emphatic promises to his parents regarding cell phone usage.


  1. Dorcas, I know you are going to sigh to yourself and shake your head and think "Oh, she is so young and innocent and has NO idea what she is asking for", but just for the record, I want a whole passel of sons with Stevens unique walking-catastrophe syndrome. :)

  2. And gone are the "Good Old Days" with all this modern equipment.

  3. Your post brought back so many memories from the farm in Pennsylvania. Hay,usually Timothy grass was cut with a mower pulled by two mules. The grass was then put in rows with a side-delivery rake pulled by mules or horses. When the hay was dry enough it was put on wagons loose not bailed. The wagon load was pulled into the barn where a huge fork hooked to a long rope aided by pulleys carried the hay to the top of the barn and dropped it into the mow. Years later a New Holland bailer came to the farm still pulled by the same two mules; I think?

  4. What a neat post!

    (Eldest son driving stacker again for J&J -- tenth season? Youngest son driving rake for VH(?) -- first season)

  5. Bailing hay and straw, I remember doing that as a girl, I started helping my Dad when I was about nine or ten. I was the oldest of four girls. There were no boys. My dad would back the wagon into the barn and then we had to throw the hay bale across a space beside the wagon into the hay mow. Two girls, one hay bale and we would swing it back and forth several times before giving it a good heave into the hay mow for my dad to stack. It was hard work, but now such good memories.

  6. That's how it was when I was a girl I was fairly young and helped dad unload hay bales. I'll never forget how itchy, hot, and sweaty you felt afterwards. But also like you had accomplished a great task. It makes me kind of sad times have changed, and I'm only 29 -LaDonna