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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

This hot July weather has me thinking about making hay on our Slope County ranch.  This year's drought has us all worried, and it is especially worrying for those rural folks who rely upon their hay crop to feed livestock.

Haying, like so many of the farm/ranch chores, was a full-on family effort for us, with someone running the equipment, and all of the others pitching in where needed.  I loved the smell of the freshly cut prairie grasses and I loved riding behind the tractor and baler, on the hay rack, watching those neat rectangles emerge from the bailer.  One of our jobs as kids was to jump in and adjust those bales as they fell into the hay rack, in order to ensure that as many bales as possible would fit in.  Then, when the rack was full of bales, Daddy would release the back gate of the rack and leave neat little piles of bales deposited around the hayfield.

We had a large truck with high wooden sides, and the driver of the tractor with the Farm-all on it would lift those bales into the truck, where we kids scrambled to arrange them, again, to fit as many as possible in before we'd make the drive back to the farm to stack the bales in the hay yard.  And, holy moly, does one get hot and itchy from this work!

We kids liked to torment each other by throwing hay needles at one another, like little spears.  Needle grass was a nuisance to all involved, poking through clothing and weaving into every nook and cranny. Those steaming hot days were when we'd be happy to jump into Deep Creek to cool off whenever a break was declared.

One year, my father decided to stack loose hay, rather than operating the baler.  With this new operation, we kids had to stand in position in the enormous hay rack and stomp down the hay as he would deposit it within.  We had to keep a very close eye out as now and then a rattlesnake would be in that clump of hay and thus dumped into the rack where we stood, unbeknownst to Daddy.  When this happened, we all would dive off in what my Mother describes as "quick abandonment" and someone would kill the snake.   Mother laughs when we talk about these stories, because, while there were close calls, no one was ever hurt.  

Garth Williams' illustration of Laura Ingalls and her father Charles, making hay in Dakota Territory before "The Long Winter"
The first summer after I'd finished high school, I worked as a counselor at the Badlands Lutheran Bible Camp and was thus exempt from the chores of the farm.  That year we had record rains and my Daddy and brother worked long days to get in not one, but TWO crops of hay. The Angus cows ate well that winter.  Sadly, I cannot right now locate any of the photos of this time and I fear that some were lost in the Grand Forks flood.

One time Grandpa Andy was working on a recalcitrant baler and the Case tractor kept on jerking (as it was still running), and all of a sudden the tractor fell into the creek!  Once he and my Daddy got it pulled out of the creek, there was nothing to do but wait until it all dried out, so we got into our cars and went to Yellowstone National Park for a vacation!

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