Friday, August 31, 2012

Stacking Hay

 My childhood recollections of stacking hay involve the ’48 Dodge 2-ton flatbed and a lot of sweat.

My brother was about 10 years old at the time, and he was drafted to drive the truck through the field.  My dad and several uncles spread out around the truck setting the bales up onto the bed where my grandfather stacked them.  When the truck was full, Dad would drive it over to the haystack for unloading.

Each bale was carried to the truck and lifted several times: once to the truck bed, once up onto the load on the truck, then off the truck and into the stack.

As a teenager I helped stack hay from the same field, but this time with an elevator that lifted the bales up onto the truck – eliminating the three uncles.  We still had to transfer the load of hay to the stack, but we had saved a lot of manpower with the use of that elevator

Then I was introduced to buck-rakes and a loader tractor with a grapple head.  A couple of us budding racecar drivers were given contraptions built on old pickup frames that had “sweeps” affixed to the front.  We drove through the field scooping up bales, and hauled them in loads of ten to the vicinity of the stack where we deposited the bales in rows.  A tractor then packed our bales together, and hydraullicly-operated tines gripped 8 bales at a time to set them up and make a perfect stack.  The bales were seldom touched by human hands until it was time to feed them out next winter.

That system had sped up the hay-stacking process considerably, but still required 3 men to accomplish.  In the early 1970s, however, a new machine was introduced:  the New Holland Balewagon  could gather an entire field of bales and put them in the stack with only one operator.  The machine was expensive - but good help is not cheap, and is getting ever harder to find.

Of course most ranches have long since gone to big round bales that are handled exclusively by hydrauliclly-equipped tractors and pickups.  But for the last forty years the stackwagon has been the standard for any of us still feeding small square bales.  ( For my opinion of big round bales, see my blog post )

The balewagon is a big beast, but in good bales on flat ground it can be fun to operate.  The first step is line up the chute with a bale and scoop it up onto the first table.   

When three bales have accumulated, the table trips and sets them up onto the second table.

When five tables of three have been tipped up, the second table trips and swings up to set those 15 bales onto the load rack.

When the load rack is full the rig is driven to the stackyard where the load is tipped up into the stack.

In theory, 5-ton loads of hay are now untouched by human hands as they are picked from the fields by one man and put up into a stack – but that’s another story.

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