Voltaire, the French thinker, said “Work keeps at bay three great evils — boredom, vice and need.” Well, I’m not bored now.
Sweat rolls down my face. I wipe it hastily while I change from the back of the moving hay wagon to the front. The goal is to yank the next bale onto the wagon before it tumbles off the chute and onto the ground because the baler is shoving the next bale through. Blisters are forming.
Sister Emily is the teamster handling the four horses pulling the baler and attached wagon. Her natural horsemanship stands her in good stead (most of the time) as she guides the caravan in circles gobbling up the rows of hay.
Hay baling is a bit of an art. The hay must be dried so as to not to rot after being compressed into bales. However, the savvy farmer doesn’t want his hay so dry that it loses nutritional value and palatability for his stock. The whole operation becomes a bit of a juggling act, including watching the weather forecast for an idea of when it will be sunny, cloudy or (look out!) rainy. The farmer needs a feel for when the hay is ripe to cut, dry enough to rake into rows, then dry enough to bale. Experience helps.
My dad, he of the uncanny haying instincts, is not home today. The final decisions are up to me. Some of our 10 acres was out yesterday, some two days ago. Will all of it be fit to bale today? Rain is forecast for tomorrow. ‘Twould be a comfort to have it all in the barn.
I check both parts of the field. There is little doubt that the first will be ready. The second is iffy.
I decide. We’ll rake the first part straight away and wait just a bit to rake the rest. Then we’ll try to bale it all.
Sisters Emily and Ramah rake while I prep our baler. This is the first time it will be used this season, so I gas it up, check that it has twine and grease it.
The girls bring their teams to the barn from across the road where they had been raking. We eat a quick lunch. Then it’s time to hit it.
I used to dread haying time. Now it’s almost a rush, if things click. Emily and Ramah go back to the field to rake the second part, while Mom, Grace and I harness and hitch the big four-horse team to the baler. A few empty wagons bring up the rear as our procession crosses the road, makes its way back the driveway between the neighbors’ houses and enters the field.
Mom takes Emily’s spot on the rake and Emily grabs the lines at the head of the baling column. We came. We saw. We baled.
We begin with one of the outside rounds. My job, on the wagon, is to monitor the quality and weight of the bales, make adjustments to the baler accordingly and stack the bales on the moving wagon.
Any farm-raised boy can do this stacking, but it is still gratifying to see a well-balanced load rise on the wagon as I stack the bales like pieces in a puzzle.
Emily’s job, steering the horses pulling the baler, while not so physically strenuous, still takes a level of skill, specially on the “inside-out” left turns we’re making on this first round. As we go past one corner, I see that Emily didn’t get it all. I think there’s probably enough left on the ground to feed Job’s camels for a day. I don’t say that out loud to Emily. Uh, uh. Not yet.
Emily does guide the baler well, though, and gets most of the hay gobbled up. She really is a good horsewoman. This just makes it more fun when she messes up occasionally.
We finish the outside round, switching wagons as they are filled and point the baler toward the middle of the field. Emily raked this part earlier today and didn’t listen — or she misunderstood — or we had a miscommunication on how to rake it. Bottom line, a few of the rows in the middle are thicker than they should be. Now Emily has to hold the horses back to a slow walk and even stop them sometimes so the baler can keep up.
There is nothing slow about the rear of the baler though. With all this hay going in its mouth, our trusty New Holland is kicking out bales at a rapid clip. Beachy scrambles to keep up on the wagon.
At one point, the raked row is actually so wide the baler can’t reach all the hay. I jump down and quickly help Emily fix the problem. I do mention to my sister how unfortunate it is that she can’t blame someone else for the raking job. Promptly, I get back on the wagon. No point in giving Emily time to think of a retort.
We do get finished though and when darkness has fallen, the hay is all baled.
Truly, it was hard work. Strange how good if feels.
Loren Beachy is an auctioneer and elementary school teacher. He can be contacted by writing to 14047 Ind. 4, Goshen, IN 46528 or by calling 642-1180.