14, Number 82, December 2011/January 2012 An Apple Going Over Niagara Falls by Mila Purcell
We lived on a small farm in the North S a s k a t c h e w a n Parklands area. The country was a little rolling, with a few valleys. Most of us farmed the valleys, and ran a few cattle on the marginal part of the farm, down near the slough. Up on the hilly part, to the east, a lot of “prairie hay” grew. Prairie hay is not very tall, and kind of woolly. The mower has to be in good shape to cut it, and the hay must be very dry. Damp prairie wool won’t mow! You know, I am sure, all about that! Before you mow “prairie wool” you overhaul the cutter bar on the old 5 foot horse drawn mower. You rivet new mower sections in the knife, as well as new “ledger plates”, in the “stone guards”. Oil all the right places! Now, you are ready. Hitch up old Sparky and Babe, take along a gallon jug of cool water, and begin. When you arrive at the edge of the odd shaped hay patch, you lower the cutter bar from its transport position. Now, the mower has a big lever, so you can raise the cutter bar, to avoid any stones or “mole hills”. Gotta take care of your new knife! If you see a quite thick patch of grass ahead, you “encourage” the horses to hurry a bit, so the mower will cut this thick patch. Now when you are mowing, you can’t go around all the sticks and little shrubs. If they’re not too big, they’ll do for hay too! You’d be surprised what the cows will eat in the middle of the winter! After the mowing, the hay has to cure a couple of days or so, to be sure it’s dry enough. Then, along you come with the big hay rake. That’s fun! And the team seems to enjoy it too. You rake back and forth, so as to make long windrows. When you think you have enough hay in the rake, you just step on that tidy little lever there by your right foot. Up comes the rake tines. And your long row of hay looks so nice! But don’t get too much hay in each rake full, because if it should rain the hay won’t dry. Now, when you get the whole odd shaped hayfield into long rows, the next step, in a day or so, is to rake the rows up into ‘hay coils’, to be forked onto the hayrack. It’s surely not going to rain, now you’ve got this far, is it ? So make good big hay coils, as you gather up the long rows.
A day or so later, you and your Dad, along with your neighbour and his son, appear at the patch with two teams with hay racks, on wagons, all ready to load up all this hay. Before you start, you each have a good drink of cold water, from the old brown stone jug with a wet sack wrapped around it, for coolness! The rack has a 2x4 in front, with a vee cut in it. Tie the reins loosely to this. As you walk along at the front side of the rack, to move on to the next hay coil, you can just reach up to the reins with the fork, and suggest to the horses which way they should go. Using four tine hay forks, you load the racks, filling the ends first. When the rack is nearly full, you get one person to go up on the rack to “build the load.” He moves the hay around, keeping the top of the load fairly flat, until you get a real rack full! When this rack is loaded, you load the second one.
So now you have two big loads of “prairie wool hay” standing shining in the morning sun. Now, the neighbour’s black team, with those white stars on their faces, start off down to the barnyard, to the west, followed by the other rack, with your Dad’s team of white faced bays. Sometimes there will be a bunch of ‘sand flies’, hindering the operation. My Dad showed me, when the flies are bothering, put someone’s felt hat on a fork, on top of the load. The flies will pester that hat, and leave the people alone! Now, here we are at the haystack yard. We’ll put this haystack over there a bit. When we feed it to the stock in the winter, we ‘ration it out’. It is the best hay, so we make the most of it. We feed a lot of it to the horses. They like it! Well, we begin unloading the hay, in a shape we plan the stack to be, estimating how long to make the stack. It will be about nine feet wide. Now, as you build the stack, you take care to have the stack always a little higher in the centre. If any moisture should get into the hay, it will drain off to the outside edges. Pack the hay down well, make a solid stack. Pack it down! Tramp back and forth, always keeping the stack level, but higher in the centre. It’s nice to have the stack fairly tall, so most of the hay is protected from the snow and rain, in the middle! This is tough hay, so when you use it in the winter, you use a ‘hay knife’ to cut a portion of the stack to use first.
Haying time was a healthy, happy time, Best in the West!