I’ve heard stories about haying season – loading hay bales from the field and then stacking them in the barn.  Those stories always sounded so nostalgic, so “romantic.”  Yeah, they also wrote about how hard the work was, how itchy and scratchy the hay was, how hot it was outside – so earthy.

When my friend mentioned that she was going to haul some hay to her farm from her family’s farm and that she was doing it by herself, I thought, I should offer to help.  I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to haul hay and I love new experiences.  She readily accepted my offer – that should have been my first clue…

When we arrived, the field was full of square bales and dotted with a round bale here and there.  I was assigned the job of “driver.”  That meant I had to drive very slowly with this 16′ trailer behind me through the field.

I watched my side mirrors intently trying to figure out when to slow the truck so my friend’s nephew could pick up a bale and throw it onto the trailer.  I didn’t want him to have to walk very far, especially since those bales weighed a lot, about  70 – 80 pounds each.

And then, to add to my stress, I had to figure out how to advance from a stopped position smoothly so I didn’t throw my friend off the back as she was climbing up and down this ever increasing pile of hay.

The bales had to be moved into a straight line for the truck to pass by – making it easier to load onto the trailer.

Thankfully it was about 6pm and the heat of the day was subsiding.

While the stack on the trailer was increasing, there was a little bit of time for a short rest.  I’m telling you, this kid was impressive.  He was throwing these bales like it was no big deal.

There’s a trick, that I’m still working on, for getting those bales up that high.  While holding that 70# bale by the strings, you’re supposed to bump it hard with your knee to send it up onto the pile.  It’s so much easier to write than it is to actually do it!

Talk about being fit – I don’t think there’s any gym that could simulate the kind of work that was going on in this hay field.

And finally, the trailer was full.  I’ll admit, only a few of those bales are the ones I attempted to throw.  When I was relieved from my position as driver, most of the work had been done.

80 bales were stacked on this trailer.  This would be our job later – my friend and I would unload and stack the hay at her farm.

While we were stacking the square bales, they were hauling round bales from the upper field.

Timing is crucial with haying.  The hay has to be cut at a certain time, let dry for a certain amount of time, and baled at a certain time.  If any of that timing is off, you could lose your entire year’s worth of hay.

The forecast predicted rain for the next day so everyone was hustling to get the hay in the barn.

This truck (driven by a 17 year old) was stacked with 14 round bales, each weighing approximately 900 pounds.

14 x 900= 12,600  – a little over 6 tons of hay on this one load.  They’d put up over 100 round bales already.

After the trailer was full, my friend’s father came down with the bale wagon – a fascinating piece of machinery.

All the bales left in the field had to be turned on their sides and lined up.

The machine would scoop up the bale and put it on a conveyor belt.  The bale would be pushed onto a platform.

When the platform was full, it would lift those bales and push them against the stack.

So much easier than throwing them by hand onto the truck and then stacking them!

At capacity, this bale wagon could hold 64 bales of hay.

This is the barn where all that hay was going…

Time to unload the hay…

If the opening to the barn was taller, the truck would be driven inside and the whole stack unloaded at once, with the help of hydraulics.

And each stack of hay would be pushed against the previous stack.

But since that wasn’t possible, the stack of 64 bales had to be taken down manually.

Once all the bales were on the ground…

They were carried by hand into the barn and stacked in the stalls.

There’s a method to stacking, especially if it’s new hay.  It’s imperative that there’s space between each bale to allow for air flow.  Otherwise the heat produced by the bales could combust and start a fire.

After we unloaded and stacked those 64 bales of hay, it was time to head back to my friend’s farm to unload the 80 bales on the back of the trailer.

We didn’t finish till 10 pm.  For as hard as this work was, there was a real sense of satisfaction to see those bales all stacked and in place for winter.

Yes, it’s probably the hardest work for the longest amount of time that I’d done with farming.  And yes, I was tired and full of hay and my hands hurt…

But I loved it.

I’m thinking, though, that next time, I’ll share this experience with my children 🙂

After all, I certainly don’t want to be selfish with such a nostalgic, romantic opportunity!