Making Hay

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, June 27, 1912:  I worked all afternoon out in the hay field, and my hands which were bad enough now take on a deeper shade every day.

Click on photo to enlarge (Photo Source: Farm Implement Magazine: July 30,1911)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Harvesting hay was  hot, dirty, hard work. The sun was hot. Horses needed to be led; hay needed to be lifted and stacked . . .

For a previous post on hay making, see Hay Pulleys and Ropes.

Source: Farm Implement Magazine (July 30, 1911)

22 thoughts on “Making Hay

  1. I used to help with the hay on summer vacations in Ireland – no machinery. You raked and gathered the hay with a two pronged pitchfork and made haycocks (haystacks here) and when manageable enough (maybe 6 feet high), you raked down the loose pieces with a hayrack (you still see them around antique shops in America – wooden with peg teeth). Then you got two pieces of twine OR you make a hay rope with a wooden handled hook that you gather up hay and hook it on the end of the hook and you twist it and add hay to it until it is made into a fine long rope (sugan (soo-gawn) it is called which means twisted twine) and it is tied one end to a stone and flung it over the top and tied another stone to the side you stood on and you did the same cross-wise to keep the hay from blowing around. There was another method of tucking it into the hay too keep it down. Some regions used fishing nets to cover the stacks. Every province had a different method and sometimes you saw stacks on top of a table of sorts and the cattle ate from it at their height. Before the winter, the horse was brought down the fields with a dragging chain device and it was hooked around the bottom of the stack. The stacks were dragged one by one into the haggard (a yard near the house and/or barn) and those small stacks were then made into huge stack and how you got the hay to the top was one would stand on the top as you fired (pitched) the hay up and the person on the top would gather it into a semblance of a neat stack. Hay was brought into the haybarn to feed the animals by the pitch fork-fuls. Most of this work was done in July and August – make hay while the sun shines – their best months. Women wore headscarves to keep the hayseed out of their hair. Men smoked pipes with metal caps on them so the breeze didn’t blow a spark into the hay. Younger ones brought tea and cut bread down to the fields for a break against the haystacks. It was a time to talk, tell stories, recite poetry and sing songs. Now it is all done by machinery in Ireland and they make it into silage which is sealed into rolled plastic so that it rots and the cattle eat it. It sure stinks. They make silage pits and God help you if you fall, it is slippery with the consistency of quicksand and suffocating gas. Some do have machinery to make bales. I have helped with them as well up to 2 years ago. The hay is fed into the machine as it is driven along and the machine spits out tied bales (plastic string) and then you must flip the bales by standing them on end and tilted towards each other – 3 to a stack to dry in the fields and then later gather them and lift them onto a flat bed truck to be brought to the barn. They are heavy and will cut your hands as the string is taut.

    1. Whew, there sure was a lot involved in making hay–though there also were the good times as the people worked together to accomplish a goal.

      It’s amazing how hay making has become so mechanized in recent years.

  2. I loved reading Karin’s story here. I also worked in the hay – in Wisconsin in the 1940s and early 50s, before we had a baler. We used horses with old machinery. It was hot, sweaty and dirty work. I was the eldest child, so was needed to work hard at a very early age.

  3. There are some barns around here that still have the old rack and pulley system used a hundred years ago. Some of our fairs are held where one of them is accessible and you can go in and see them hawling the hay up into the barn. It’s quite a contraption and it’s amazing to think of your diminunative grandmother hawling them up. i can only imagine she was limited to gathering and baling…that’s hard enough work to be sure. When you think of the hard work she did you can understand her short entries. There just are no words adequate… glad she has a granddaughter to fill in some of the background with a vanished world.

  4. Interesting stories from everyone – and here I complain when I have to weed flowers or steam clean my carpets. Sure does put things in perspective for this city gal. 🙂 You all deserve a medal for the hard work you did or still do. ~ Patty

    1. When I was a kid, I learned how to work hard, but we also had a lot of fun.

      Your comment reminds me that I need to get out and weed my flowers. 🙂

      1. In spite of the hard work I always envied people who were raised and lived on farms. ~Patty

  5. How often was haying done? More than once in the summer? I didn’t grow up on a farm so I had the impression that haying was done only once in the fall. Had no idea it was done in June! Thanks for teaching me something new today!

    1. Hay is cut 3 or 4 times over the course of the summer and early fall. Each time the plants get to be 1 1/2 feet or so tall, it is cut.

  6. Interesting to hear the American spin on saving hay. I know America had machinery long before Ireland and I only know what I witnessed in Ireland. Thanks for triggering memories. Thank you Grandma for keeping a diary and thank you Sheryl for sharing on the magic of the internet world.

    1. And, thank you for sharing how they did it in Ireland. My sense is that there are many similarities across the two countries in how hay was harvested. Your first-hand description really helps me better picture how it was done.

    1. It’s interesting how tanning became fashionable later in the 20th century–and how we now realize that excessive tanning may not be good.

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