Haying Season, Part One: Horsepower
The end of June marks the beginning of hay season and, as historian Pat Myers explains, from the time homesteaders first arrived in Alberta until after the Second World War, farm families depended on horses to bring in their hay.
The farmers needed hay to feed them over the winter months and they needed more hay to feed their other animals through the winter too. So, haying was a very important activity.
Haying can be defined as the cutting, curing and storing of plants for fodder. These plants were usually grasses or legumes, such as the alfalfa or clover. Farm families fitted haying in at the end of June and into July after plowing and seeding but before the grain harvest. They hoped for hot, dry days to get all the haying done before the harvest started.
Successful haying depended on good weather, strong horses and the right equipment.
The horse drawn mower was commonly used and with this piece of equipment, the driver sat on the two-wheeled cart and the mower, which was a long, serrated knife that extended out from the cart and cut the hay. It had to be sharpened regularly so it cut smoothly without clogging. The mower laid the hay down in a swath and the farmer hoped for hot dry days with a slight breeze to dry the hay so it could be stacked.
The hay would often be collected into piles with a dump rake, which was a horse drawn implement with large, curved tines. As the horse pulled the implement along, the times filled with hay. When the tines were full, the operator pulled a lever, which released the collected hay into a pile. These piles could then be pitch forked into a hayrack and hauled to the farmyard for stacking or to the side of a field for stacking.
Of course collecting the piles left by the hay rake was time consuming, so farmers were always looking for new ways to reduce the time they spent haying.
One way, at this point, was to use a sweep rake. This could be homemade, using plans supplied by the agricultural experimental farms. Hay sweeps collected the piles left by the dump rake and hauled them directly to the stack.
These sweep rakes were really very large forks with horses hitched to the two front corners. The horses pulled the sweep rake along, collecting the sweep as they went. So, they could then take these larger loads of hay to wherever the farmer had decided he would stack.
Instead of hauling the hay to barns, many farmers would save time by stacking their hay in the fields. Shaping the hay stacks to last the winter required a great deal of skill.
On the Heritage Trail,
I'm Cheryl Croucher.