Laura Zoeller

Columnist gets a ‘kick’ out of baling hay

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It finally dried up enough to bale some hay this weekend, so we tentatively went to the field. When I say “tentatively,” I mean that my husband laid down only about 1,000 bales’ worth of hay.


“Just testing the equipment,” my husband said. “One of these days, I’ll really mow some down.”


Good to know.


Regardless of our differing opinion on the definition of the word “tentative,” our family spent the weekend in the hayfield. This year, we bought a new baler, and it came with a gift – a kicker. A kicker is a chute attached to the back of the baler that has two belts on it. The belts move, and when a bale comes through it, it is “kicked” onto the wagon. The belts are adjustable, so the operator can control where the bales land, and often they are dropped at the stacker’s feet.


The old method entailed each bale being dropped on the ground. Then, some unfortunate soul would be required to walk alongside the wagon, picking up each bale and pitching it onto the wagon. Another person would ride the wagon and pick up the bales from the deck, moving it to where it was needed, often having to throw it up over several courses of hay to get it there. Since that wagon is sideless, the stacker is responsible for ensuring that the hay doesn’t fall off during the ride through the field.


Those days are behind us now, I hope. This kicker means that at the end of the day, the same amount of hay – or more – can be done by far fewer people. It means that when the bales land at your feet, they need to be moved only once, and typically, there is little throwing required. It also allows for a wagon with sides, meaning that the pressure is off to make sure the load rides. It means this hay practically stacks itself!


Still, it was not entirely a picnic of an afternoon. As it turns out, riding the wagon – even one with sides – was more difficult than I remembered. The wagon is the last car in the caravan, and it tends to sway. Also, the ground we traverse is not level, nor particularly smooth. The baler also must be woven side-to-side to ensure even pick-up of the windrow of hay, so the wagon is in constant motion. The wagon rider, therefore, is, too.


I felt like a drunken sailor trying to keep my balance on board a ship in a storm. The rolling and pitching of the deck kept me staggering around, and bales were flying into the wagon left and right. Couple that with the dust and chaff flying into and sticking on my sweaty face, and I was, literally, a hot mess. My daughter had it worse than I did; she was hit full in the back by a bale as it shot from the kicker. The weight of it sent her sprawling into the wagon, covered in hay from head to toe.


Thankfully, only half of what my husband mowed down was dry enough to bale. We finished in a couple hours and began to haul the wagons home. We tucked them into the barn for the night and showered


The next morning, we unloaded them in preparation for reuse that day. It is a process we hope to repeat all summer long as the weather permits.


Though, I suspect our definitions of “hope” are a bit different, as well.


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