Sunday, June 1, 2008


We brought in more than 400 bales of hay Friday afternoon, plus another wagon filled with loose hay.

I don't know if 400 bales is good, bad, or average, as this was my first experience working on a hay wagon. But it sure felt like a lot the next day.

There will be chances in the next few weeks to collect hay the old-fashioned way – with horses and a machine dubbed "The Man Killer." On Friday, however, the modern tractors and baler were humming. (Rain was in the forecast for late Friday night.) The hay that was cut and drying out in the field might have been ruined if we didn't get it all into the barn.

I enjoyed the hint of urgency that accompanied the work. I jumped on my first wagon not long after 3 and jumped off my last wagon sometime approaching 8 as the sun was beginning to decline.

Most of the work I accomplished was in the role of "stacker." Farmer Jim drove the tractor, which was pulling a baler. The baler scooped up the loose hay, processed it in its belly, and pushed it out the back in the form of heavy rectangular hay blocks tied up with baler twine. Intern Ramchandra, my "hooker," pulled the bales off the baler with a hay hook and passed them back onto the floor of the wagon. That's where I picked them up and stacked them as tall as eight layers high, arranging them in alternating patterns designed to keep the heap from toppling over.

I felt a certain pride in my first wagon, which I stacked from start to finish. The trick is to stack the hay tight and even, which makes for a stable, aesthetically pleasing hay castle that won't shed its building blocks when you pull it down the road and hit a bump. I think I accomplished my task very well, and I also think it was beginner's luck, because my second hay castle was lopsided and kind of sucked.

I tried to follow all of Farmer Jim's advice, as he's a man who looks like he's made hay a time or two. My one regret is that he mentioned he didn't like to wear gloves when he stacks, so I said to myself, "Then I won't be wearing gloves either."

This worked out well for my first two wagons, but by the time I got going on my third, this time working to pass bales back to Intern Matt, my hands were red, cut, and burning. Picking up each bale was reminiscent of touching an electric fence. I had to reset my resolve every 10 seconds before clamping down again. Things got so unpleasant that I finally made the driver stop midfield so I could jump off and slip on some work gloves.

So, youngsters, here's my advice: Don't try to be as tough as old, callused Farmer Jim.