HUCKABY: Still making hay the old-fashioned way

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

Well, y’all — the hay is in the barn. I mean literally. Let me tell you what I am talking about. Thirty years ago I married into a hay-hauling family. I knew about sweating it out in a cotton mill and growing row crops out in the country and various other forms of manual labor — but until I got hooked up with my wife’s family I had never picked up a hay bale or been closer to a cow than the meat counter at the Big Apple. But my lovely wife, Lisa, was raised on a farm, and now we live on that same farm. That means that two or three times a year we cut and haul hay so our cows won’t starve to death during the winter.

When the weather cooperates we get a lot of hay. You've heard that you have to make hay while the sun shines -- and you do. But if it hasn't rained over the course of the summer you'll get a sparse cutting, let me tell you. You also have to watch the weather like a hawk when cutting time comes, because if you get that stuff on the ground and let it get wet -- well, you've got a problem. Likewise if you try to put green hay in the barn. It can get too hot and begin to smolder and the next thing you know the hay might spontaneously combust and burn your barn down.

You learn a lot when you sleep with a farmer's daughter for 30 years.

We still do hay the old-fashioned way -- square bales -- loaded on a trailer and put up in the barn by hand. Our tractor and hay baler are both 1950 models. Most of the men out in the field are a lot older than that -- like circa 1930s.

I don't know if we are the only ones who do it the old-fashioned way, but a couple of years ago I traveled with my family from here to California and back. We saw hay operations in 17 states and in four weeks on the road I never saw a human being put a hand on a bale of hay. Everybody in the whole country seems to be mechanized and using round bales except us. My daddy-in-law hasn't changed how he does things since Truman was president -- and it is tough.

I keep telling him we ought to get out of the hay business. I think we ought to turn our Bermuda grass field into a cemetery. They are still right popular in our parts. Cremation hasn't caught on and people are just dying to get into them. And have you priced a cemetery plot lately? Honesty compels me to admit that I have. Let me tell you, a whole bunch of gravesites would fit in a hayfield. I suspect that the folks in the cemetery would be real good neighbors. I am certain that they would be a lot quieter than the cows and not nearly as messy. We wouldn't have to feed them during the winter, either, or round them up and take them to market.

In fact, every time we haul hay I tell Lisa's daddy that we can give a free plot to the first one of us that drops dead hauling the dad-burned hay -- and from the looks of most of the men who show up to help haul, that prize could be awarded most any day now.

I hope you all know I am just messing around -- about wanting to get out of the hay business, I mean. I'm thankful somebody still does something the old-fashioned way. We've suffered way too much change in the fabric of our society. Last week, we put almost a thousand bales of hay in the barn and the best part was that because of multiple surgeries this summer, I still haven't been cleared by the doctor for real work yet. All I could do last week was drive one of the trucks. I guess every cloud has a silver lining after all.

Now, if you've never seen an old-fashioned hay operation in progress, you should come on out and see us the next time we cut. We'll let you help if you insist. But you'd better wear your old shoes. There is still a lot of hay around from last year's crop. The only thing is, the cows have already processed it and hay is a lot messier on the ground than it is in the barn.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.