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Hey, That's Not Hay!

There's one thing you can count on when the mercury rises in farm country. It's time to cram that air conditioner in the window again. That too, but what I really mean is that it is time to bale the hay and straw.

So here's a little tutorial on straw, just to keep you from being one of those annoyingly ignorant people who thinks any respectable hayride operator would actually let you sit your be-hind on their valuable hay while you are pulled around on their wagon.

Straw is a by-product of wheat. It's actually the stalk of the wheat--the part spit out the back of the combine. Our neighbor, "Horn," is harvesting his wheat in this photo.

After the wheat grain is hauled away, then farmers come through with the hay baler (it is still called a hay baler, even when baling straw). And upon determining yes, it is the hottest day of the entire summer, they proceed to bale the straw, a process that requires a tractor operator (always the best job), and at least one bale stacker (the very worst job), plus others back at the barn to unload wagons, assuming you are making multiple trips.

This photo shows my father-in-law operating the tractor, my husband as bale stacker and those two other tiny little things in the tractor are my two sons.

There is a science to stacking bales of straw and hay. Obviously, you want to get the most on the wagon in a way that's not going to topple on you. Also, when stored, the bales need to last well into the winter, so they need to be stacked tightly to stave off dampness and critters.

Here's another look at the baler. I'm finding that no farm fact is too basic for some people, so I will point out that the baler works by compressing the straw and then tying it up with baling twine.

Many a farmer also uses baling twine to keep his pants up, re-attach parts to his tractor, and if needed, it also comes in handy as a tourniquet if you do something dumb like stick your hand inside the corn picker. Or maybe ride on the back of the baler as it goes down a major roadway.

So the next time you go on a "hay" ride know that some rural kid worked on a 110 degree July day to bring you that bale. And should you go too heavy on the cider and fall off, make sure someone in your party knows all of the first aid applications of baling twine.


  1. Hay Holliver
    I remember your lecture about hay vs. straw in college and I now correct everyone who talks about putting hay down over their new grass seed, etc. You've converted at least one of us poor suburbanites!


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