Cutting grass is the main component of making hay – and, until the mid 1840s, the task was left for human muscles, usually with a scythe or sickle (I have seen artifacts where stone chips were glued into wood or bone preceding iron or bronze).
I’m haying about 18 acres of old lake bed – drained with ditching powder about a century ago. It isn’t the best cropland (it’s a high shrink-swell clay known as a vertisol that is high in calcium salts), but the decision to turn it into hayland was made at least 30 years before I was born. The plus is that it is fairly flat.
When I decided I needed tools for haying, the first thing I looked at was sickle bar mowers. First used in the 1840’s, the horse-drawn mower became practical after the war between the states. It’s interesting to look at the relatively short period of time that horses provided agricultural power – basically the 19th century until 1950 – excepting, of course, our Amish neighbors. Brand new horse drawn mowers are still available.
Instead of buying a sickle bar mower, I bought a drum mower. It takes more power – but my little diesel has almost 30 horsepower. It’s shorter than a sickle-bar mower, but faster. The technology on either is mature. It cost less than a new sickle-bar mower, and seems to be doing fine for my application.
My rake is too small – so I’ll be buying a second section for it to double the size. Twice the rake will still get around the field quickly.
Then comes the baler. I’m baling with a brand-new baler – mini-round bales. Habits are an interesting thing. It’s been over 40 years since I last baled hay with an old Case baler. It fed from just to the right of my tractor. This new baler needs my tractor to straddle the old windrow. It took the first hundred bales just to get over the habit of keeping the windrow to my right. I’m baling with hemp twine, and next year I may try sisal or plastic. It’s fun. I may be a bit slow and old, but making hay is a lot more fun at 71 than it was at 15.