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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 invention 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 food for fuel 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 plants. 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 preserve 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 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 refreshing break in the dusty heat of a sweltering summer afternoon.