Monday, August 2, 2010

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Whan the sunne shinth make hay.
Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh,
lest time steale away.

John Heywood, English proverb, 1546

Farmers still endeavor to make hay while the sun shines. On the County Line this summer, that's been easier said than done.

Finally, we have successfully put up hay without it being rained upon. It only took us until the third cutting this summer.

I was amused at reading The Phrase Finder's evaluation of the old proverb. This "expert" said, "Medieval farmers were well aware of the wisdom of not leaving it too late to gather one's hay.

"BUT, modern machinery and weather forecasting make haymaking reasonably quick and stress free."

Quick and stress free? Maybe the writer should tell my husband.

Still, a hay field ready to be swathed is undeniably beautiful (which, I suppose, could help alleviate stress if you're in the right frame of mind). The purple alfalfa blossoms against a blue sky? It's just another reason to love living and working in Kansas.

This "butterfly" finds it irresistible, too. (It's probably a moth, but doesn't a butterfly sound prettier?) They dart among the blossoms, along with their yellow counterparts, lighting and lifting off with as much traffic as a busy airport.

Some producers have a self-propelled swather. We use a pull-type swather.

The swather cuts the alfalfa off at the base of the plant, and "spits" the hay out of the back end as it goes through a crimper, leaving it in windrows. Crimping helps the hay dry down more quickly (if it's not rained on, of course!).

The windrows are left to dry down. If the hay is baled wet, it can mold and won't be as valuable for feeding to our own cattle or for selling. The photo below shows hay in single windrows.

Once they are dried, we often rake the windrows together to make a larger windrow so baling goes more quickly.

In the photo below, two windrows have been raked together before baling using the rake, the implement pictured above.

Below is the view from inside the tractor cab as Randy pulls the baler.

We put up our hay into large round bales. Some people make large square bales. Some people make big haystacks, which I think look like a loaf of bread sitting beside a field. A few people still make small square bales.

Once the monitor indicates that there is enough hay for the bale, Randy stops and the baler has to sit and do its work, wrapping the bale in net wrap. Then it dumps out the round bale.

With this close-up, you can see the net wrap that covers the outside of the bale, keeps it together and also helps protect it from the elements. In the distance, you can also see the bales that have already been formed and net wrapped.

Even though these photos were taken while the sun was shining, sometimes the best hay is baled while burning the midnight oil. Depending upon the humidity, late at night or just before dawn may be the time when the leaves will stay on the stem, adding protein to what will ultimately become cattle feed on the County Line (or elsewhere). Randy baled until 2 AM Saturday night and then baled late again last night.

This summer, our hired man's little sister has been the chief bale mover. Both Jill and Brent's first tractor jobs were picking up bales and moving them to the end of the field. It takes a little bit to figure out how to back the tractor up and maneuver the bale fork, especially when it's your first tractor-driving job.

I missed getting a picture of Monica at work, but here's one of the finished process - lots of bales ready for feeding this winter or for selling to a hay mill, feedlot or dairy.

So, the next time you hear the phrase, "Make hay while the sun shines," realize that there are Kansas farmers doing just that (even though they might have to dodge some raindrops to actually get the job done).

It's not just a tired old cliche after all.


  1. Great hay baling lesson!! I am trying to think if we ever talk about hay in third grade and could show this!! Will have to ponder!! Dave talked to Randy last night and I heard it was my hay that kept him up late Saturday night. Tell him thanks!!

  2. Great series and worthy of a show at school for sure. We have a lot of hay in our part of NM and it would really make a great ag lesson here also. Thanks for the pictures. Thanks for the good work also.