Summer time is hay time

By Elizabeth Donaldson

Special to the Times

We are having a hot dry summer such as we have had before. Since agriculture is a mainstay of our district we will all feel the effects of poor hay crops from the lack of rain. Years ago we did not know about Humidex or UV Index or percentage chances of rain. We just looked at the thermometer on the clothesline pole and said, “it’s going to be another hot one,” or hoped those clouds rolling up were rain clouds.

Those long ago days of summer seemed to stretch forever once school was done for the year. However some activities were already planned as we had weeds to pick and the garden to hoe. The main activity though was the harvesting of the hay crop. Although at first the hired man who lived at my grandfather’s worked at it, when my brother Alan was about 13 he thought that he and Eric could put up the hay. Dave Loney, a cousin from Emo, often spent part of the summer helping the boys.

One good point was that once the hay was ready it could be stored in the hayloft in the big barn rather than put in the hay stacks that some farmers used. Building a good hay stack is an art. However, much work was entailed before that point was reached. The hay was cut with a Massy Harris riding mower pulled by Kate and Duchess. The blade cut a swath of about five feet. I remember Alan avoiding a certain place where we knew there was the nest of a meadowlark. After drying a day or two it was raked with the dump rake that was sometimes pulled by Chief. Then came the hot and tedious work of coiling. A coil is like a small hay stack built carefully with pitch forks. Marion and I were given the job of bringing drinking water and food to the boys. Mice and snakes loved taking refuge under these coils so we were on the lookout.

The hay stayed in these coils for about a week and then was loaded onto the wagon on a certain manner with the pitch forks. I often drove the horses for this. It seemed like Kate knew just what to do. I remember incredibly hot days and we had to make sure that the horses rested and got to drink often. Sometimes Mom would say that it was just too hot for the horses and for us and we would stop for the day.

Each load of hay was driven up the gangway into the upper part of the barn. The horses were unhitched and then hooked up to the big hay rope or cable that was attached onto series of pulleys that pulled the big hay fork with a lift of hay up into the loft. Marion or I drove the horses for this while Eric set the hay fork and Alan was up in the loft spreading the hay out. It took four lifts to empty the wagon which was then backed down the gangway by the boys. The hay had to be tramped down and we all helped with that later.

It was a long slow process compared to the way haying is accomplished now. I think that about four or five loads a day were stored away. I am sure that we worked four or five weeks each summer at the haying depending on weather. The hay had to be very dry when it was packed into the barn so that it would not heat. It was a very good feeling when it was completed.

My grandparents lived on the farm in the summer in their old house and Grandpa always watched the haying process. He was somewhat disabled from a stroke but got around with his cane. He had had the big barn built in 1916 so knew all about it. One time I found him sitting by the ropes that pulled the hayfork splicing the cable that had become frayed. It was precise work and he tried to show me how to weave the ends back and forth to strengthen the heavy rope.

When our cousins from Fort Frances came to visit they found the hay a novelty and loved jumping in it. Of course they were eager to sleep on this lovely soft bed of hay and we carted old sheets and bedding out to the loft for the four of us. As darkness fell we soon found out that hay is not as soft as we thought and it prickles. Combined with this discomfort, and the weird and scary noises that my brothers made to scare us, and the mosquitoes, we packed up and came back to the house.

Although I do not remember all the details I know we just did what others were doing at the same time. There were very few big barns at that time and the fields would be dotted with coils drying the sun and haystacks by the farm buildings. All were concerned with the getting the hay harvested so the animals would be fed in the winter.

Although I do not remember all the details I know we just did what others were doing at the same time. There were very few big barns at that time and the fields would be dotted with coils drying the sun and haystacks by the farm buildings. All were concerned with the getting the hay harvested so the animals would be fed in the winter.

Post expires at 11:59pm on Tuesday September 21st, 2021