Alberta Before 1955
always been an important summer activity in rural Alberta. Hay fuelled the
workhorses that made agriculture, transportation and industry possible before
the advent of the internal combustion engine. Farmers needed large quantities of
hay as winter feed for farm horses, cattle and sheep. Horses used in the mining,
lumbering, and road building industries, and those used for haulage and personal
transportation in urban areas, needed fodder, too. Farmers put up hay for their
own use, and sold any extra loose hay in local markets, or baled it and shipped it
to markets further away.
involved a basic process of cutting, gathering, curing and storing grasses or
legumes. Hay was best made during late June, July and August, but time and
weather sometimes prolonged haymaking into the fall. First the hay was cut with
a mower. Then sun and wind dried and cured the hay as it lay in the swath. When
the moisture content was low enough, the hay was raked up and stored in stacks in the field or loaded on a hay rack and hauled to the yard. Here it could be
stored up in stacks or a barn for use in winter.
plenty of rain to ensure a good crop, and then hot dry weather to harvest it.
Most haymaking was done by family members, male and female, working with
neighbours and casual help on occasion. Hired men usually got the heavy work,
such as pitching hay or building stacks. Women and older children often did the
raking and drove the teams of horses. Smaller children brought lunches and cold
drinks to the hayfield, giving the workers a brief respite in the dusty heat of
a sweltering summer afternoon.
in the central, or parkland, area produces heavier stands of natural hay, though
seeded hays, including legumes, such as, alfalfa and clover and grasses, such as
timothy and brome, also grow well. This parkland became a major supplier of
baled hay for the commercial market. Thus, most of Alberta's hay was grown in
the central and south central areas. Even there, however, haymaking required
hours of backbreaking work and many hands. A continuous drive to reduce the
number of hands and amount of labour needed to put up hay by improving haymaking
techniques characterized haying in Alberta before 1955.
Judy Larmour. Making Hay While the Sun Shone: Haying in Alberta Before 1955. n.p.: Friends of
Reynolds-Alberta Museum Society and Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historic Sites and Archives Service, 1992. With permission from
of the Reynolds-Alberta Museum Society.