In the country, we live by seasons. Lambing season, planting season, mushroom season, black berry season, and hay season.
Hay is very important to a farmer with livestock. Good quality hay is a must for getting through the winter. When I was a child, we grew and harvested our own hay for our dairy cows, horses, and donkey. When I was very small, Daddy made actual haystacks and covered them with tarps. He would drive the tractor — an old Alice Chalmers — while Mom rode the mower. After the hay dried, Mom rode the hay rake and then she drove the tractor while Daddy loaded the hay onto a wagon with a pitchfork. They would haul the hay to the barn and unload it into haystacks for easy access.
As I grew older and we became more financially secure, we bought more modern machinery and started making square bales. Our old hay rake now sits in the pasture by the yard. I can't bare to part with it; it brings back so many wonderful memories.
School was always out by the time hay season rolled round. This was a necessity as high school boys were hired to help haul and stack hay in the barn. Every year, Daddy would hire three or four local boys to help with the haying. As he was the school bus mechanic and one of the drivers, he knew all of the boys and always had in mind whom he wanted to hire. When I was 12, Daddy taught me to drive the farm truck and I got the job of slowly easing the truck down the rows of bales while Daddy and the boys loaded the truck bed. Eventually I learned to drive the tractor, and I got to help with the actual haying process, as well as pull a trailer of a few bales out on a snowy day to feed the stock.
My husband and his family moved down from Colorado when he was in high school and bought a farm near our homestead. They settled into farm life and also bailed and stored their own hay. My father-in-law cut and raked the hay, Grandpa bailed it, and the boys loaded the truck and then transferred it to the barn.
Hay season was a chance for the local boys to earn some much needed cash, as jobs in our area were scarce. It gave them purpose, and taught them work ethic. It built character. Sadly, this tradition has been lost over the years with the advent of round bales.
There is nothing like the smell of freshly-mown hay or a barn full of new bales. To this day one of my favorite things is to sit in the barn and just savor the smell. As a child, I would rearrange the bales and make a castle to play in. Cats had kittens in spaces between the bales, and chickens would make nests to lay eggs or hatch their chicks.
Round bales are great economically, and you don't have to store them in the barn if you use the plastic wrap or tarps. But the camaraderie and chance for the high school boy to earn money is gone. Now instead of looking to the summer to hire out to different farms to work, high school boys must try to find work at the nearest McDonald's or Sonic. And while the round bales unroll beautifully for farmers with hundreds of head of cattle, the small farmer finds a terrific amount of waste trying to feed round bales, even in the feeders designed for them.
Thankfully, in this area we can still buy square bales from some neighbors, or the local feed store. We no longer cut and bale our own hay. With just a small flock of sheep it isn't practical and the hay field of my youth has become pasture. But my husband and I will always cherish the memories of hay season on the farm. It was a special time to work together as a family to accomplish something valuable.