The First Years, Chapter 2 – Haying; by Carole Mercer

The first years. Chapter 2
Haying is an art form. If you have a good field and Mother Nature is willing to play along with you and if you are lucky…. very lucky ….you will get a good crop of hay.
Personally, I am convinced that farmers and ranchers qualify as gamblers.
My vet, Jim Perry, once told me that, “ Ranchers are the only people that can go broke six times in a row and can hardly wait to go back again next year.”
 I think he is right. He certainly is right about the state of my cattle when I call him in the middle of the night.
 When I live in California, I have no idea of what all goes into making a bale of hay that winds up in my barn loft in California. All I know is if I call the “hay guy” and pay him enough money, then 30 hay bales appear in my barn loft.
I buy the Oregon farm and learn to hay. I literally step out of my city suit and high heels one day and the next day finds me sitting on a big red Allis Chambers tractor that belongs to the man who I hire to cut and bale my hay field on my 50 acres ranch in Eagle Point, Oregon.

I move to my ranch in the middle of June. The very day after I arrive, haying starts. I know NOTHING about haying or tractors. I can however, drive a stick shift automobile. (My dear Dad made sure I could drive a stick shift car.) I silently thank him for that piece of education now.  I contract a couple of local men with hay “equipment” to cut, rake, and bale my hay that flourishes in my hay field.  The man I hire- drafts me to power the huge tractor across the field. I am raking the hay that he cuts.  Any extra pair of hands at hay season does not go unblistered…
My moving boxes from the elegant home in California lay untouched and unpacked. The borrowed boys and my daughter do not go unused.  Instantly they are drafted into ranch life. They struggle with large and heavy one hundred and twenty pound – three wire bales of alfalfa.  These three city kids “help” the local men to load and unload the bales. The too small “city kids” are quickly reassigned jobs. The boys gleefully master the ability to drive a tractor.  My ten year old daughter retreats to her room and thrusts herself into her one city salvation…her books. I give up the tractor to the small boys and I retreat to the kitchen.  I begin one of the most traditional roles of a woman on a ranch. I cook for my first hay crew.

I can and do cook. I did cook gourmet dinners for my ex-husband’s business partners. Now I cook for real.  I cook for hungry, hard working, grateful men. This entire farming – ranching business is about food and what we eat. All flesh is grass and I am busy with a harvest.  This hay crew can and does eat. A hay crew will devour and entire fifteen pound turkey with all the trimmings. They look around politely and inquire about dessert.  Just how hard and how willing a hay crew is to return to your farm next year often depends upon how good the food is this year.
In all the years that I hay my fields, I only own a tractor (I still have the one I bought almost new 22 years ago) and a baler. I sold the baler right after the first hay season.

Why did I sell the baler? You need to know what equipment a farmer needs to bring in the hay. What do you need to bring in the hay? You need mechanical ability and hay equipment. Any one who wishes to stay out of the net of farm debt never buys any new equipment. In fact, I never even have known any farm equipment that even starts out new.  A person who has no equipment goes to farm auctions to acquire the hay rakes, mowers, and balers necessary to cut; rake and bale the life sustaining grass or alfalfa that grows to feed your cattle or to sell the crop to other ranchers and farmers. 
Of course, I also need a tractor and I buy an almost new Ford 1710 four-wheel drive tractor. The tractor comes complete with a loader, a scraper, and auger, and a brush hog.  The cost of haying equipment is too much money invested in the equipment that I use only for three weeks a year. I am not a mechanic by nature. Better I hire my hay out, than fight broken machinery myself.

I really need the tractor to run the ranch. The tractor and I are a two man team. I just need the tractor to work all the time. I am still so new at this game. Ha!
Once the hay is cut, raked, and baled…those beautiful bales must come out of the field.  The real work of haying now starts. My hired men hay crew leaves the “binging in the bales “to me. After all I didn’t hire them to bring in the 60 tons of hay that is sitting out in my field. I hared them to “cut and bale”.

So I do it… Bringing the bales out of the field means I walk behind a tractor driven by small boys. The tractor pulls a flat bed trailer.  I toss those huge bales onto the flatbed trailer. (Never again do I allow anyone to make bales heavier than 60-65 pounds. I call this size of bale “girl bales.”) I found a kid to stack the bales on the flat bed as I struggled to “toss ‘them up on the trailer.  Young kids aren’t strong enough to pick up or stack bales. The young kids get to drive the tractor. This team all develops a rhythm.  Once you fill the flatbed you drive up to the barn, unload the bales. You stack the bales in the hay barn as you unload.  I pick up all the bales.  I bring in that crop with the help of those kids and me. I cry and cry. The boys drive the tractor… Sarah put together the meals that I cook ahead of time at night. I cry some more. I am so tired that even the muscles in my face are tired of lifting. I do it. I get the hay in the barn. I discover that I cannot be around the alfalfa. I am deathly allergic to alfalfa once it is cut.

The best part about hay season is you work in temperatures of above 100 degrees. You get up just as the sun is coming up to pick up bales and quit when the sun shines too hot. Southern Oregon is really, really hot in the summer with temperatures often running above 100 degrees.
 I always salt my hay as it is stacked in the hay barn. The salt draws out the moisture that might be left in the hay and thus prevents spontaneous combustion of the hay if it should begin to compost due to improper baling. The other plus of salting hay is the cattle and horses will drink much needed water in the winter as the salt makes them thirsty.
The hay is stacked in the barn. The hay field thirsts for water. Rain does not fall during the summer in Southern Oregon. You must irrigate the fields.

Now all I have to do is to figure out how to put together the wheeline and the fifteen horsepower, three phase electric water pump that goes into Antelope creek so I can irrigate the hay field. I have step into a whole new world, which I know nothing about, but my first crop of hay is in the barn.
I continue to raise hay for the next ten years. There are always more “hay stories “to follow. I no longer cry as much as I did with my first crop.
Eventually I learn to haul hay with my team of Morgan Mares. I drive the horses from the ground.  We walk up to a bale in the field. I load the hay one bay at a time in the auto tired hay wagon. I pick up bales, stack bales in the wagon; drive the hay wagon to the barn; back the wagon into the barn; unload the hay; stack the hay and return to the field for another load. The Morgan horses and I can stack a ton an hour in the barn by ourselves.

No diesel fuel is burned and the Morgan horses and I do the job.

13 Responses to The First Years, Chapter 2 – Haying; by Carole Mercer

  1. Jan L says:

    Carol….I can smell that alfalfa, feel the heat…and well…imagine the pain. You are a brave woman and I want to hear more!

  2. Glenna says:

    Very cool to hear about your hay daze Carole. I appreciate the shock of moving from California to Oregon and learning to grow alfalfa. What a woman! What a team you must have had…

  3. Kristi Hill says:

    I began my haying career with Carole and still going quite a few years later. I have learned that driving the equipment pays better than bucking the hay but agree that a little mechanical savvy is pretty important during those long steamy days. Thank God for Brian and for Caroles encouragement. Always great to read her stories. XOk

  4. Wonderful story! Looking forward to the following segments! Great job, Carole!

  5. Jeff says:

    Hey, that all sounds so familiar. Wait, I was on many of those hay crews. Thanks for the memories Carole, especially the ones of stacking hay in the barn with no ventillation!!
    I love your memory lanes! Can’t wait to see where we go next.

  6. Thanks, Carole for reminding me of some of my own “hay days”. My first was when I was 10 years old. Makes me wanto to sneeze just thinking of it.

    Also, what a kick watching Nancy out work the guys picking up bales, etc. We had some special “fun” over the years on various haying expeditions!


  7. blythewood says:

    When I was a kid growing up in Vermont, my Dad had a few milk cows that he milked daily before and after he went to work as a John Deere tractor mechanic. Our cows were at my grandparents’ farm. Across the road, there was a hard-working family who grew a large garden (as most of us did) and did their own haying with a team of draft horses (Tom and Jerry). Jerry was blind in one eye and had to be hitched on the off side, so that she could see Tom. Mr. Post drove the team from spot to spot, and his wife, daughter, and I used hay forks to scoop up the rows of loose hay onto the wagon. He drove the team into the hay loft, and we pitched the loose hay off onto the side in a huge pile.

    Years later, when I lived in Pennsylvania, I had the privilege of walking the fields behind the flatbed wagon, tossing bales up to my boss or someone else, who stacked them. Those last rows on top were those that build character!

    Since the time I first owned Morgans, my husband and I have always made our own hay. In the early years, we only put up maybe 1000 bales. Today, we put up 5000! We used to do it the hard way…roll out the hay elevator into the loft and stand up there in the 100+++ degrees, stacking those character-building rows and rows of hay bales. We finally caved in a couple of years ago and bought a stack wagon. We have erected a shrine to honor this piece of equipment! God bless the man who invented it! If I knew who it was, I would build a shrine to him also. – Kathy

  8. susan overstreet says:

    Kathy, what a neat story. Thanks for sharing it.

  9. I grew up in South Dakota on a hay/livestock farm and the most memorable day of my young life was the day we got a New Holland 1010 Stack Wagon. The most wonderful invention for square bale stacking ever! I would love to see some pictures of Kathy driving her Morgan mares with the hay bales though.

  10. Whups, I meant Carol and her Morgans.

  11. jns767 says:

    Stack wagons?!? Every summer since I was 13, I’ve helped my trainer hand stack bale after bale in 100+ degree weather. It’s the WORST part of owning horses – whew! I wonder if she knows of this marvelous invention?!?

  12. Carole says:

    The true beauty of telling a story is that you get to listen to the equally important stories of others. Keep them coming.

    Your stories are a wonderful oral history that will be lost forever if you do not write them down. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Stack wagons are a midwestern device. We farm on hill sides often in the far west. I still am lucky…I have a flat meadow and still do it all by hand …only now I use other people’s hands. Thanks for your wonderful stories. Carole

  13. kristobal says:

    dear Carole,
    wow, I can feel with you. A new farmer life and so much to find out. Making hay / alfalfa is a hard job, puh, we all know now. You are a really incredible person, I´m so glad to know you. Your storries are wonderful, I can lean alot from your life. I must read now all, but it takes time, could you write your storries in german too? Than I could read ti much quicker!!!!! :-)
    much love and thanks for sharing,

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