Meadows I've mowed
Around Christian County, KY, the first cutting of hay has been taken, and across the nation, many farmers and ranchers are making hay. If you pass a hayfield, you should slow down, open your window, and breathe in the sweet scent of fresh-cut, sun-warmed hay. Ahhh. Hay has smelled like that for thousands and thousands of years -- there's a nice thought to enjoy.
I grew up on a cattle ranch in some of the best hay-producing country in the world -- Rock County in the Nebraska Sandhills. Making hay was the main work of the ranch every summer. All of my family's energy and focus was directed toward harvesting enough hay to feed the cattle during the next winter.
I spent seven summers mowing in the hayfield. The first year, I had a little tractor with a six-foot bar. It broke down a lot, so the next year, my dad put me on a better tractor with a new mowing machine that had a nine-foot bar. Don Saar, a grown-up neighbor boy, ran the double-bar mowing machine, and I followed him -- together, we did the mowing. A few years later, my dad got a self-propelled windrower, and on it, I became the only mower of our haying crew.
|This rig predates my mowing years.|
Several areas of the ranch were primarily hay-lands, and we always hayed them in a set order. First we cut the Little Meadow. just east of our house. (I am capitalizing because this name was just as official as the Black Hills or the Platte River. We never called that meadow by any other name.) We always made haystacks on the Little Meadow. In the fall, my dad moved the stacks to a "stack yard" (a fenced enclosure) near the house. He saved those stacks for feeding the cattle on the very worst days of winter, because they were closest to home.
|"Under the 1785 [Federal land surveying] ordinance, section 16 of each township was set aside for school purposes, and as such was often called the school section. Section 36 was also subsequently added as a school section in western states. The various states and counties ignored, altered or amended this provision in their own ways, but the general (intended) effect was a guarantee that local schools would have an income and that the community schoolhouses would be centrally located for all children." (Quoted from Wikipedia)|
When we were done making haystacks on the School Section, we stacked the Big Meadow, which adjoined the south end of the School Section. Then, we went to the west side of the ranch, and mowed the meadows along Skull Creek. I think we always baled (made hay bales on) the west side of Skull Creek, because the bridge was not wide enough to pull the stacker across.
And finally, we went back to the extreme east side of the ranch and baled the Long Quarter. The Long Quarter was so named because it was 1/4 of a mile wide and l mile long (a quarter section of land). We had to cross John Dearmont's long quarter to get to our Long Quarter, so we always waited until John had finished haying before taking our equipment across his meadow.
There, on the Long Quarter, was Bloody Creek again, somewhat bigger and wetter than it had been on the School Section. And there were the angriest bumblebees of all the meadows on the ranch! They had been building their nests and hoarding their honey all summer long, and they didn't appreciate any disturbances. Someone nearly always had a bad encounter with them!
|This photo of my brother was probably taken before I was born.|
My dad hated "streaks" -- narrow strips of grass left unmowed because the person on the mowing machine was being careless. I had plenty of time to think while I was driving my tractor around the endless patches of grass, but every time I let my attention wander too far, I left evidence. And once a streak has been left, it's quite difficult to back up, drop the mower bar into all that loose hay, and mow that little narrow strip. Mower bars like nothing better than clogging up in loose hay.
Looking back now at the summers I worked in the hayfield, I realize that was my first experience with work responsibilities. I particularly remember being disgusted one Saturday when I wanted to spend the day at the rodeo. It was good haying weather, and my dad didn't want to let me off my windrower. I had to mow as late as possible the night before and mow a while in the morning before I could leave. I hadn't thought my hayfield job was that essential -- but of course it was.
I understand it all much better now. Our very livelihood depended on the hay.
|My dad welded the hydraulic arm that's|
lifting the hay -- and built the tractor cab too!
Newport, Nebraska: Hay Town
Horse-drawn Hay Sweep Rake
Horse-drawn Hay Rake
Great photo of an old-time hay crew on Flickr