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Haying

Haymaking has always been an important summer activity in rural Alberta. Hay fuelled the work-horses 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 in local markets, or baled it and shipped it to markets further away.

Haymaking 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.

Farmers needed 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.

Greater rainfall 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.