This weekend I learned that there was much more to the chore of baling hay than simply lifting bales off the wagon and either throwing them into the mound or placing them onto the elevator to be stacked ever so carefully in the barn by someone with more hay storage wisdom than myself. Prior to this weekend, I was the lowest man on the ladder performing the most unskilled task when it came to baling hay. Prior to this weekend, I was only valued on hay baling weekends for my massive muscles and work-horse drive to exhaust myself. This weekend, something miraculous changed!
Little back story here– last year I learned to rake hay. This ancient Massey Ferguson and I teamed up to learn the art of raking hay properly into windrows. I was pretty thrilled to learn this new skill, as you can see! But that ain’t nothing compared to the crazy useful skills I learned this past weekend.
The hay was cut by my father-in-law on Thursday morning. It rained almost an inch Thursday afternoon. Friday it was in the mid-70s with very little humidity and a wonderfully strong breeze. Friday afternoon my hubby tedded the hay and Saturday morning my mother-in-law raked the hay. (Good family team work right there!) By Saturday afternoon, it was show time. The hay was ready to be baled. My father-in-law had gone away for the morning and hubby and I were given a 5 minute tutorial on how to start baling by noon should he not be home by then. I listened about as well as a 2-year-old listens to her grandmother attempting to discipline her. “Yeah, whatever Grammy”. Noontime came around and hubby and I loaded into the tractor and I mentally settled down to enjoy watching. We got our little parade of hay baling equipment into line and flipped on the PTO shaft for the baler to work its magic. I cheered and clapped enthusiastically when the first perfect bale was launched out of the ‘kicker’ with surprising speed and into the empty wagon. The 2nd and 3rd bales jammed but the rest poured out like cookies on a conveyor belt.
Hubby baled until the wagon was about half full. I contentedly watched and ogled over the genius design of the baler. Check this thing out…(internet stock photo, but the one we used looked just like it.) The way I observed this baler to work was the long teeth or tines worked to snatch the loose hay and windrows up and feed them into an auger. The hay around the auger went into some mysterious enclosed box that I’m guessing pressed it really tight and formed it into a rectangular bale and somewhere along the lines, tied two pieces of baler twine around both ends. Once the bale was formed, tied and ready to ship out, it rested for about a split second on this steel pair of hands that immediately kicked it away from the baler and into the hay wagon that followed. That glorious part of the baler is called the kicker and I came to both love and fear the kicker.
With half of the wagon filled with bales, hubby asked if I wanted to give it a try. “Oh no, thank you. You’re doing splendidly!” “Keep at it Love.” Next thing I knew I was sitting in the driver’s seat listening to directions on what lever controls what and what speed it should be in. I clung to the steering wheel with white knuckles and wide eyes and did my best to not mess this party up. When I had baled a few windrows and the wagon we were hauling was nearly filled, I saw my brother-in-law coming into the field toting an empty hay wagon. How thoughtful of him! I guess this now means I’ll be banished to the barn to unload the assembly line of filled wagons about to be made. To my HUGE shock, hubby hopped out shouting some encouraging words of support and went to join his brother. I was given instructions to proceed baling the rest of the hay fields. “Ummm…wait, can’t we talk about this first?”
So he’s long gone and all that remains for moral support is our dog lying at my feet looking up at me with eyes that read “why did you stop? Keep going!” And so we did! Sweet farm dog “Calla” and I set off on this newly discovered journey to fearlessly bale the remaining hay fields like Lewis and Clark set off to explore the West. (Pretty comparable analogy, right?) Baling went fine and dandy when I was on the flat, straight stretches of the field. The sweat began to trickle when I had to make turns on slight hills. I also found out that the kicker needs to be controlled, especially around turns. When the tractor and baler make it around the corner and the wagon is still working to catch up, bales start flying unless you aim them to actually go into the wagon. Who knew!? The kicker is amazing. You tell it to shoot the bales to the far right, by golly it does it. You tell the kicker to shoot the bale just gently to the front of the wagon, it obeys. Aiming the kicker is almost as important as steering the tractor. My father-in-law returned when I had finished my first wagon load. I eagerly offered to pass the wheel over to his decades of hay-baling experience but he told me to keep at it. The nerve-wracking part was he stayed to watch. The sweat began to trickle faster. Mistakes started happening. In my feverous attempt to aim the kicker to the precise location I wanted the bales to land, I accidentally shot 5 out of the wagon in a row, FIVE! IN A ROW! I lost a few bales going around the turns and just about jack-knifed the entire parade of equipment taking a turn too fast.
When my first wagon was filled, my hubby and his brother came back with an empty wagon. We swapped wagons and I went out for another round. My father-in-law did agree to bale a few rows while I went around to collect my rogue bales and kick loose windrows together again. When the third wagon was filled and switched out for an empty wagon, I found myself back in the driver’s seat preparing to finish the task. A few super helpful nuggets of advise were given to me and I was off for the 4th and 5th wagon loads. My grip on the steering wheel loosened and I began to relax a bit. I even began to enjoy the job, like…A LOT! It had not yet become second nature to me like it was to my father-in-law so I still enjoyed the challenge of multi-tasking the steering, control of the speed and aim of the kicker. This was way more fun than heaving bale after bale off the wagon and into the mound or on the elevator. Sitting in a barely AC cab with our sweet dog at my feet feeling like queen of the hay-field was way more fun than sweating bullets and inhaling hay dust. Things were looking up in the world for this girl! The only wagon I helped unload that day was the final wagon load I delivered to the barn when the baling was done.
All was right with the world.
The stars might need to align just so before I’m given that privileged task again for the 3rd cutting but I sure soaked it up this past weekend. I know a lot of my ‘super farm girl’ friends have probably been baling hay since they could walk and think nothing of it now, but for me to learn this fun skill at nearly 27 years of age, I loved every minute of it and cherished the freedom given to me to learn.
Ok, out with it. I know some of you have found hay baling memories of your own to share. Let’s hear them!