Horse-powered Haymaking

 

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We’ve been members of a horse-powered Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm for a number of years.  Natural Roots owners, Anna and David, along with their interns Emily and Nate, allowed me to tag along for a photo shoot while they collected their second mowing of hay last week.

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It was a beautiful, dry and sunny day in the mid-70s, as had been the previous few – perfect for mowing, tedding (turning and fluffing the hay several times to facilitate drying), raking into long windrows and finally for gathering the hay onto wagons to be brought to the barn. I was there for the last of this multi-day process.

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Here comes my ride – David driving Gus & Tim

The farm has two pairs of Belgian workhorses, a gentle breed possessing great strength. I climbed aboard the wagon with David and Nate en route to the field where the hay laid waiting. I love the thrill of riding behind a pair of powerful horses; tack jingling, heads tossing and the bump and sway as the wheels pass over ruts and across the ford in the river. The horses are cued by voice commands, a language that communicates to the team exactly what they are being asked to do: go forward: “Come up,” stop: “Whoa,” backward: “Baack,” left: “Haw,” right: “Gee” and just one step for fine-tuned movement: “Up a step.”

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Once in the field, I jumped down to photograph the hitching up of the hay loader, an ingenious contraption that rakes the hay onto a stepped platform where tines lift the hay up and dumps it into the wagon, where it is then manually distributed evenly by pitchfork across the body of the wagon.

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Hot work, but gratefully, the weather was mild and not the typically grueling heat that usually accompanies haymaking. With each pass the level of hay rose higher and higher. After three and a half times around the field, the wagon was full, ready to head to the barn for offloading. Anna and Emily were waiting at the side of the field to fill the next wagonload.

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Emily & Anna (driving Pat & Lady) discuss their route

I climbed up the rungs of the wagon rack to sit high atop the hay for the ride back – it was a great view from up there in the comfy, soft bed of fresh, sweet-smelling hay. I love hayrides and this was the best! I got a birds-eye-view of the crops as we passed.

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At the barn, the horses drew the wagon under the hayfork; four hooked blades on a chain pushed into the loose hay, then lifted by a pulley system to the upper floor of the barn where a trolley shoots it across to where it is released, again spread manually by pitchfork evenly over the barn floor.

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Up, up and away!

David and Anna’s ten-year old daughter, Leora, operated the pulley system, impressing me with her expert handling of Star.

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The process was coordinated by clear verbal commands between Nate down in the hay wagon, David up in the hayloft and Leora, out in the barnyard opposite Nate. Even six-year old Gabriel was on hand to give Star a carrot treat. “I’m a farmer!” he proudly informed me.

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I totally lost track of time while witnessing this engrossing operation from bygone days. No whiff of diesel fumes, no loud motor running, just the gentle, plodding footsteps of horses, the low-voiced commands and praise given to the horses and the sounds of nature surrounding the farm. The sun, the sky crossed with darting swallows, the fresh smells of clean air, newly mown hay and the quiet tumble of water coursing over the riverbed. This is the way it used to be before farming became mechanized. I can remember a few old timers keeping teams when I was a child, but even then most farm equipment was tractor driven. Teams were used for hauling lumber or maple sap out of the woods or for heavy weight pulling competitions at the agricultural fairs.

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In recent years, there has been renewed interest in farming with horses as sustainable agriculture has grown. Our nearby university now offers a program in sustainable agriculture and more young people are coming on board every year. I admire the hard work and devotion that go into farming using these methods. Organic food really does taste better; the fresher, the more packed with nutrients it is. I am so grateful to Anna, David and their team, who are committed to providing our community with the fruits of their labor as well as their friendship. What a blessing!

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Related article: Read my March post of the community barn raising at Natural Roots.

About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
This entry was posted in Country Living, My Photos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Horse-powered Haymaking

  1. Sharon K. says:

    Fantastic! What fun! And great images and writing as always. 🙂

  2. What a great area you live in ! Thanks for the story and as always the beautiful pictures.

  3. Treah says:

    I love that you are documenting this old-fashioned way of life & so beautifully too. It gives me hope for the future of food. And I loved the fancy fly hats on the horses! Great job!

  4. That’s awesome, Eliza. Thanks for educating us all. 🙂

  5. This was so awesome! I love the pictures and I learned so much. The weather just looked wonderful that day 🙂

  6. mk says:

    Thank you Eliza for the story of this day, and the beautiful photographs. I’ve never even experienced a hay ride, and yet you have made me nostalgic for a life I couldn’t even imagine before reading this. Kudos to your CSA neighbors, and to you for capturing this beautiful life.

  7. LadyPinkRose says:

    Wonderful post, Eliza. I know for a fact how hard making hay is, for my neighbor is a farmer with a horse who every year harvests hay. It is a LOT of work! And he has a machine that does it. I couldn’t even imagine doing hay this way …. must be YOUNG in order to do it. (((HUGS))) Amy

  8. ladyfi says:

    What great shots – love all the old wood and equipment.

  9. Beautiful! I wish I were there with you. 🙂

  10. Wonderful shots and great story, thanks Eliza!

  11. dorannrule says:

    Eliza – You have brought the past back to life with this story and the wonderful photographs. There is a wonderful blog I follow that is the diary of the blogger’s grandmother (who did an awful lot of haying the old way). Check it out at http://ahundredyearsago.com .

  12. dunelight says:

    A very well shot and written entry. I can almost smell the hay (a scent from childhood). I found your lovely blog through random surfing and I’m glad I did.

  13. dunelight says:

    I have a P.S., I know how bad flies can bother horses in hot weather. Those … ear cozies?… the little ear covers the Belgians are wearing, look rather like someone did a loving job of knitting. That was a nice detail.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      🙂 Your kids would love one of their hayrides (wouldn’t we all?) Do they have places for hayrides near you? Fall and winter is when they are offered around here.

      • Spy Garden says:

        Yes we have been on several, all with a noisy tractor; would be great with horses!! Worth looking into if there is a place around here like that; looks so fun.

  14. Robbie says:

    Love this photo essay. Eliza, you are a natural! Very interesting + inspiring to see young people and their families living in such a simple way….I bet their children will be the wisdom we need for the future….such amazing people + what an amazing story…..
    I just read about the ear cozies above…what love for their animals…and great pictures that captured that detail!

  15. What a beautiful experience…thank you for sharing it! Wonderful photos!

  16. Thanks for sharing. I lOVE drafties!

  17. Elizabeth di Grazia says:

    Thanks for liking WordSisters. I enjoyed reading this blog and will check out your other pieces. Elizabeth

  18. P.E.A.C.E. says:

    Wow! I loved everything about this post, from the topic – which I adore – to the great pics and fun anecdotes. Star is gorgeous and Tim and Gus are a beautiful Percheron team! I too could totally lose track of time. What a fun day that must’ve been. Thanks for bringing us along! Loved it.

  19. Oh, I love this back to nature post. We have a nearby farm, Coppal House Farm, that uses Belgian horses. I love visiting there to watch their giants who work effortlessly and are so beautiful. Nice. 🙂

  20. Jim Ruebush says:

    Beautiful post captured so well by your photos and story. Plus, I love the ear covers on the horses. Thanks for showing me this link.

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