Haymaking, we knew, would be a big learning curve. We’d watched the pros do it on our farm the season before, but this year it was our turn. At the guidance of the resourceful farmer who has been leasing part of our land, we learnt enough to cut, ted, windrow, and bale a paddock of hay all by ourselves. It was a daunting task on our to-do list, but now that we’ve learnt how all the machinery works and we’ve done it alone without a hitch (well, almost), we’re instilled with confidence for next year.
The first part of the week-long task was to cut the grass. This involved attaching a large mower to the PTO (Power Take-Off) mechanism at the back of the tractor. This is the tractor’s drive shaft that turns the implement. Most powered farm implements are universally attached in this way, kind of like a USB to our techie kin. Learning how to attach a three-point linkage was a big step in itself. For some reason, you start to feel like a real bad-ass when it becomes second nature.
With the heavy mower elevated by the hydraulics, a pin is removed and the blades are swung out to the side, and the pin is replaced.
I won’t go into detail (that can be another post), but after a bit of fluffing around making sure angles are correct and what-not, the mowing begins!
The grass was a lot shorter than last season, because it had recently been cut for silage. But that’s all right – it meant less bales for us to pick up!
Char and I took turns going around and around the paddock.
This was a fairly flat paddock, so it was kind of enjoyable. Being newbies, what I can imagine becoming a mundane chore was not yet so. It was all going well…
…until I drove the mower into a power pole…
…and totally bent one of the feet.
Yup, that’s meant to be facing forward, not to the side. Cringe. With the full force of a tractor twisting solid iron, it was impossible for us to bend it back without something like a blow-torch to soften it.
We considered ramming it with the tractor, but the placement of the bolt meant that it would just shear off if the foot was pushed in the other direction. We messed around with it for a bit, but decided (at the suggestion of our neighbour), that we’d take it in to get repaired properly at some point before next year’s haymaking.
I blame this hiccup on a variety of factors. Firstly, I was not familiar with the physics of a turning tractor with a large mower sticking out the side like the wing of an aeroplane; when you turn, it swings in a wide and deceptive arc. Secondly, the tractor’s brakes are shot (yes, we’re getting them fixed, but you can’t just drive your tractor into the local garage when you live fifty kilometres from town), which meant my gut reaction to stomp on the brakes did nothing. Lastly, I made the mistake of not depressing the clutch because I was on a hill and didn’t know what the mower would do if the tractor rolled backwards, which meant the PTO continued to drive me forwards. Combine all these with not giving the power pole a wide enough berth, and you get some very nearly soiled underpants.
Nevertheless, the mower still worked, so continue to mow we did.
Still worked great, in fact.
The next day came the tedding with a tedder. What’s a tedder, I hear you ask? It’s an implement used to aerate or “wuffle” the hay. (So many terms.) This is our tedder:
She’s an old boy (that pronoun blunder was unintentional, but I’m keeping it to challenge gender norms). Been passed between the locals since “Jesus was a cowboy”, as I heard one of them say. It’s a PZ Haybob, top of the line back in its heyday (ha!). We bought it off the previous owner of our farm for a clean hundy (as did we the mower and baler for a decent price, too).
It’s falling to pieces, really. We were told by our farmer-guide that we’d need to replace most of those bent and broken tines before it could be used. But it was too late, we had already mown, and hay needs to be turned daily. So we implored a neighbour. They had borrowed our baler the year before, and they needed to borrow it again, so asking to borrow their tedder seemed like a good trade. He even came around and tedded the paddock himself for the first run. Country-folk are so lovely.
After he was done, he had a look at our tedder, and said that if we swapped some of the broken tines around, we may be able to get it working. So that afternoon we spent a lot of elbow grease pulling apart seized-up nuts and bolts and rotating tedder tines.
The next day we gave tedding a go ourselves with our rusty dinosaur. And it worked! Not the best… but it did the trick.
After mowing and tedding the second paddock (which was the one we did without help), I needed to go around and spread the clumps of hay that had accumulated because of the mower’s bent foot. It had dragged hay along the ground into bunches, you see, and the tedder couldn’t chew them out properly. More work for me; suitable punishment for my lapse in judgement.
A pitchfork would be really handy, I thought, but I didn’t have one. Then I remembered the collection of old rusty iron things we had salvaged from around the farm. The head of a pitchfork was among them. I cleaned it up and fashioned it to a spare rake handle (not ideal, but it’d do).
A couple hours later and I’d scattered the large mounds which the tedder couldn’t stomach.
After you ted for a few days, you’re ready to windrow and bale. Windrowing is basically tedding again, but with “gates” attached, which are designed to comb the hay into rows which make it easier for the baler to gather.
Like our tedder, its gates are pretty shitty too, so our rows weren’t tidy, but we’ll see to fixing that by next year.
Then came the time to confront the real workhorse of the operation, the baler. Both the mower and the tedder are relatively tame and comparatively simple implements compared to the baler. The baler is a complex and temperamental beast. It’s basically a large greasy sewing machine. A sewing machine that can eat you…
The intricate stringing and cutting gears were intimidating to inspect. But really, if you follow instructions (and let Char nut out the complexities), it’s not so scary.
There were a lot of nipples that needed greasing. We greased those nipples good. Greasy nipples. Nipple. Okay, immature moment over. In case you don’t know what grease nipples are, let me explain. They’re little points, usually near moving parts, which you squeeze grease into with a grease gun to lubricate the machinery’s joints.
The baling twine was stocked and tied and ready to roll!
And there I am, baling hay, like… like a grown-up farmer man person. Except I wear a tea-towel under my hat to keep it real.
The baler is clunky, noisy, and hungry. Here’s a couple of quick videos of it in operation:
Surprisingly, everything went swimmingly. Not a single mishap with the baler. No sheared bolt (which can happen if it eats an obstruction), no split twine, not loose bales, and most importantly, no devoured farmers. All good!
It probably helped that the hay was sparse. The more hay, the higher the chance of clogging the mechanism and shearing a bolt.
It’s very satisfying watching a baler poo. It excretes tidy little packages out its rear end.
After we’d finished baling, we attached the trailer to pick up the bales. We recently bought this handy towing apparatus for the tractor’s three-point-linkage. Invaluable when you don’t have a four-wheel-drive truck.
With only two of us, we were lucky there was only fifty six bales to collect from the paddock we did alone (last year was three hundred with half a dozen helping hands).
A couple of trailer loads stacked in the barn, and our big day was complete. We kept enough for our animals over winter (hopefully), and sold the rest to a couple of neighbours.
We’re feeling very accomplished after learning all we did, solving problems, and dealing with the stress of timing baling with the unpredictable seasonal weather changes. Haymaking is probably the most intensive and stressful part of farming, but we’re glad it’s only for one or two weeks out of the year. Despite that, though, the sense of pride in a job well done and the relief of having winter feed stocked and sorted is well worth the effort.