Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA

Posts tagged [haymaking]

Our New Deere

Yesterday, Dan and I spent a good part of the evening on yet another restoration project.  We're now the proud owners of a John Deere that will make making hay a whole lot easier.  While we have been using the dump rake for the last few seasons, and then using pitchforks to load the hay by hand onto the hay wagon, it is a time-consuming way to make hay, not to mention very labor-intensive.  We love the antique methods and are proud to utilize them, but the John Deere will save both labor and time, although it will modernize our process a bit.

But no, we haven't given up our horse-drawn ways in favor of a tractor.  John Deere originally manufactured farm implements for use with teams of horses, not tractors, because the company has been around since before tractors were used out in the fields.  Our John Deere is a single cylinder hay loader.  It attaches to the back of the hay wagon and picks the loose hay up off of the ground and then piles it on to the wagon.  This moves our haymaking technology up to the level of our Old-Order Amish neighbors (although the loaders they use are of a more modern design).

This type of hay loader is both rare and old.  We feel very lucky to have come across it.  Dan was hired to do some foundation work on a barn, and this hay loader was inside.  The barn's owner was willing to part with it, because to him, it was just something taking up space that he had no use for.  By his estimate it had sat, gathering cobwebs and dust, for 60 or more years.  Although there is no date on the machine, between what he told us and the research we've done online, we estimate that it was probably made in the 1920's or shortly thereafter.  However, “John Deere Single Cylinder” is still readable in the paint on the side boards, along with a running deer logo that is a bit different than the one that graces today's big green tractors.  Since it was barn-kept, it is in great shape overall.  But, of course, after sitting that long, some repairs are going to be necessary.  The first order of business was lubrication- all the moving parts need to be greased or oiled to run smoothly, and that hadn't been done since the machine went into storage.  The hay loader works by utilizing thin boards and ropes to form a sort of conveyor belt for the hay to travel up.  A few of the boards were broken, and the rope was mostly baler twine.  We did consider just doing the minimum and replacing only the broken boards, but the ropes were a mess and in the end we decided to replace all of it.  So last night, we unhooked the chain and laid the track out on the ground. Old boards were removed, with new ones put into place.  Then 6 rows of new rope were hand-stapled into place.  The hardest part was threading it back through the guides and pulleys to refasten the chain links, but with some patience that was accomplished as well.  

There is still a bit of work to be done, but it is nearly field-ready.  We are waiting for a forecast with a bit less rain, and then Dan will be out mowing hay.  Once it dries, we'll put our “new” hay loader to the test.  We're very excited about this, not only because of the back-breaking labor that it will eliminate, but also because it's a really neat piece of farming history.  Even we have never seen one like it in use, so we're anxious just to watch it work!


 Emily tightening up the bolts that hold the boards in place.

 Dan threading the newly repaired conveyor through the guides & pulleys 


Loose Hay and "The Claw"

The major task of spring, planting corn, is over so we've transitioned into the work of summer- making hay and keeping the weeds under control in the garden and fields.  As it is just Dan and I putting up hay this year, after much thought and discussion we decided to make loose hay instead of hiring someone to help us bale it.  Much of the process is the same-Dan uses the horses to mow the field, we pray for 3 days of clear weather and watch the hay dry, and then use a horsedrawn hayrake to pile the hay in the field into long windrows.  At this point, we would have been dependent on someone else to come and operate the baler through the field and we would have taken the wagon out into the field to collect the bales.  But I would have needed to drive the wagon and stack all the bales, while Dan would have been walking the field and throwing them onto the wagon.  Then each bale would have been pulled off the wagon and stacked again in the hay mow in the barn.  For those of you who've never picked up a bale, they usually weigh about 40-50 pounds each and we plan on making 1,000 or so to get us through the winter. Each bale must be handled twice, and that is a whole lot of weightlifting for just 2 people!  So, after the hay is dry, we will rake it more than once, meaning instead of several small windrows across the field, we will have a few larger ones.  Then I will drive the wagon alongside the windrow while Dan uses a hayfork (like a pitchfork, but with only 3 tines) to load it onto the wagon.  My other job is to keep the horses from snacking on the new hay while they are working! 

Once we have a good wagonload, we drive down to the barn and the wagon is backed up inside.  Then we let the claw do the work for us!  Up in the rafters, there is a track with a scary-loking contraption that operates in much the same way as the claw arcade games where you try to win a stuffed animal.  The rope is lowered and the 4 prongs are pushed into the pile of hay on the wagon.  There is a rope that runs through a series of pullies and is hooked to the horses.  When they pull it, the rope lifts the claw and hundreds of pounds of hay clear up to the barn rafters.  When it meets the track, it slides over to the side of the barn over top of where the hay will be stored.  Then, when another rope is pulled, it triggers the release and the hay falls to the floor.  The wagon is unloaded in minutes and with very little labor.  It's an amazing piece of machinery to see in action, all the more so because it works flawlessly despite the fact it was installed when the barn was built- in 1894. 

We already spent an afternoon putting up hay, it looks like so much, but as it's not compressed it probably equals out to about 75 bales or so.  But it is beautiful hay and fills the barn with a delicate scent.  We were so excited that the weather held up and we were able to cut the hay in its prime and have some in the barn on June 1!  Today is the start of 3 days of anticipated clear weather, so we hope to be making lots of hay Saturday.

Last Sunday we had baby chicks born on the farm.  While during the spring we usually hatch 50 or 60 chicks per week with our incubator, these were hatched by a hen.  This is fairly unusual, many of the chickens used for eggs today have been selected over time to produce eggs all year round and not defend the nest when the farmer comes to collect the eggs.  Because of this, most common breeds of chickens no longer know how to hatch babies: we've bred the mothering instinct out of them.  We have a variety of breeds, about 12 different breeding flocks over the spring months, and each have thier own special qualities.  The Phoenix roosters have long beautiful tails and the hens are more colorful than the average female bird.  I noticed one hen sitting on eggs one day and guarding them fiercely from me, so I let her go.  They lay smaller white eggs that I usually don't sell anyway, so I saw no harm in letting her give it a try. Then another hen joined her in the nest box and they sat out the 3 weeks it takes to hatch the eggs.  All together, they hatched 12 little chicks and have protected them from the hungry barn cats for about a week now.  It's pretty amazing to see.  I'm  keeping a close eye on my Giant Cochin hens, 3 of them are sharing a box right now, and I hope they have as much success as the Phoenix girls did! 

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