Making Hay While the Sun Shines

It’s not just an old proverb. It’s literally happening across the street from where I live.

And yes, I like it that I write about high-tech futures from a place where it’s not at all unusual to see a Mennonite woman bundling hay using a tractor that’s probably as old as I am, and that the hay will probably go to feed the horses that pull the Amish buggies around here. Welcome to rural Ohio, y’all. We have juxtapositions.

34 Comments on “Making Hay While the Sun Shines”

  1. Can I post a photo here? I have a wonderful large hand colored photo of the family farm (in Poland) during haying time. I think you would enjoy it. No worries, if not.

  2. Just the same here. We were expecting two tons of freshly baled hay today from our usual supplier, but for complicated reasons they’re keeping it in their barn for us and delivering it in a couple of weeks (we’re having a drought in south-east England, so they’ve made a lot less hay than usual and have plenty of space to store it). Just in the nick of time, since we’re actually expecting a bit of rain tonight.

  3. Ditto
    I have wheat fields, canola and cattle nearby (<500 yards)
    Yet I work a high tech job by telecommute

  4. My dad still puts up hay on a small patch on our farm in South Dakota, using a 1950 Model B John Deere tractor and a square baler that isn’t that much younger. I am deeply impressed by the reliability and ruggedness of some of those old tractors!

  5. Here in coastal southern Maine, we finally had enough rain and snow this past winter and spring to come out of several years long drought. Note that doesn’t alleviate the fire danger as the top layers of the soil and partially any conifer leaves are very dry. One idiot dropping a butt on it can cause a fire that burns five to ten acres very fast.

  6. Heaving hay bales around is bloody hard work. They’re a lot heavier than they look.

  7. Just so I’m clear on it, is it okay for the Amish to use 50 year old tractors, just not new ones?

  8. I think that tractor dates from the 50s, so it’s even older than you are, if such a thing can be imagined (to be fair, so am I, but it’s a matter of months). And Ron, it’s Mennonites in this case, not Amish–also German Anabaptists, but less strict than the old-order Amish about technology.

  9. ron at 6:03 PM: Amish are different from Mennonites. They may dress very similarly, but Mennonites live in the modern world and use gas and diesel powered machinery (with a few adaptations; they drive black cars, for instance). I went to high school with a few Mennonites who lived in my suburban neighborhood.

    A friend of mine took a bicycle tour through Ireland a few years ago. There he was, on his expensive unobtanium-framed state-of-the-art bicycle kitted out in high-tech fabrics, stopping to allow a sheep herder dressed in homespun woolens to move his flock across the road as if it was Medieval times. He was similarly amazed at the juxtaposition of eras.

    And those old John Deeres run forever. My late father-in-law used one that was well over a half-century old to till his fields until he died. It outlasted the modern ones he bought as replacements.

  10. One summer during high school (around 1965) I worked for a contract hay baler (farmer) in Tipp City, Oh. Hefting and hooking bales from sun up to sun down six days a week. Dust Dust Dust everywhere. Took me a while to clear my sinuses at the end of the day. I’m not religious but there were times I prayed for rain and a day off.

    Rode my bicycle out to work in the morning and back in at dusk.

    You couldn’t pay me enough to do that now…

  11. I think it was the economist John Kenneth Galbraith who said that, after one has worked on a farm, nothing else seems quite like real work.

  12. “The sky was the color of a social network’s logo, when Amy sent the bitcoins to the Ukrainian hacker collective that would get her the download link for the cracked firmware for her tractor.”

    I’m betting the woman in the tractor in the photo above doesn’t have to worry about such things.

  13. The machine behind the tractor is called a “rake”, which can be verbified.
    They are raking the hay.

    If the rest of their equipment is as old, then they’re probably going to make “idiot bales”, the 50-ish pound square bales that require massive manual labor. May god have mercy on their soul.

  14. David Edgerton is a historian of technology, and wrote a book called “The Shock of the Old” which is all about this sort of juxtaposition, and the way in which “obsolete” technology survives and even improves well after its replacement is invented – steam locomotives stayed in use for decades after diesel and electric ones were available, and became much more efficient and faster; peak horse use in Europe was in the late 1920s, long after mechanical tractors were first sold.

    My own Edgerton moment: I am so old that I can remember when the British Royal Navy still used wooden-hulled warships! Which is to say, “I was alive in 1994”.

    Well worth a read.

  15. @Sandra Levy you can upload the photo to (It’s fairly self-explanatory how to do it) and it will generate a link for you, which you can post here.

  16. My retired farmer brother and his active farming son (who live in your area) have used older farm equipment (Oliver mostly) for years. Some of it being 50 to nearly 70 years old .. and still working and useful. There are a large number of active or retired farmers who own and restore these vintage tractors. But, as they die off, there is less and less of these people who have that emotional attachment to this older equipment. But for many small or a little larger farm operations, this several decades old equipment, with a remaining useful life, can make a difference in being a viable farming business.

  17. The “Scent of New Mown Hay” takes me back to being a farm kid. Its the polar opposite scent of farm manure .. hog manure being the worst in my nose.

  18. Some Amish and / or other ‘old order’ farmers actually have horse drawn equipment where the equipment receives power from an attachment that converts ground power (from the wheels) into power for the equipment. NO motor required. See it on YouTube. I have to admire these people for sticking to their religious principles in the face of our current society and its trends.

  19. Gary: “for many small or a little larger farm operations, this several decades old equipment, with a remaining useful life, can make a difference in being a viable farming business.”

    Corn could make you anywhere from $200 an acre profit to some kind of loss. With a “small” farm being maybe 40 to 80 acres, I’m not sure I would call that a “viable business”.

    It may be enough to pay the bills and the property taxes, but with farmland selling at $3k an acre, you could sell for a quarter million dollar payout.

  20. Greg … I agree most of these smaller farms of 40 to 80 acres are really hobby farms. Typically run by someone with another income who just likes the idea of having & operating a farm. An exception is a small farm that has some specialty like organically grown vegetables and/or livestock. Sometimes these small farms will sell ‘shares’ in the resulting products at a premium price to those nearby who value these wholesome products. We recently purchased some premium beef from a SW Ohio farm of just this sort. It being run by a young couple who have agriculture related college degrees who are just booting up exactly this sort of farm.

  21. Just having driven diagonally across the country from South Florida to Idaho and back over the past few weeks, it’s truly astounding to observe how much of the countryside is given over to the supply of grass for critter food.

  22. Sir John, this post is off-topic (been off-grid for a month).

    I was off the grid on July 26 on holiday in Scotland, then Northern Ireland, then back in Scotland until July 7. So comments are closed, when I saw today your blog post Harry Potter and the Initially Dismissive But Ultimately Appreciative Fan. Thank you. Such longish posts by you and the richness of the commentary that follows justifies every second of every hour I spend following Whatever. Oh, I too tend to read the last few pages of any book in the bookstore before making a purchase decision. And visit before heading for the theatre. Generally, I prefer the narrative prose to the film treatments as the films are always necessarily compressed versions of their source material. Again, thanks for a great post!

  23. Greg, in the UK it’s known as a wuffler.
    My cousin was bought a 1942 Mineapolos-Moline tractor by his new wife as a wedding present complete with trailer. So when he gets home after spending all day in a £250k (approx) monster of a tractor, he can take it out and play with it round the yard!

  24. @sandra levy
    I can see it.  Was the picture colorized later or was it a color photo originally?  I know color photography existed as early as WWI (yes, I, not II) but it was bleeding-edge technology, not convenient and not common.  I didn’t think it came into widespread use until after WW II.

  25. @Occasional Correspondent. It was colorized afterward. We had an artist friend who frequently colorized black & white photos. I have some and they are very beautiful.

  26. I used to farm. We kept chickens, a dairy cow, pigs, and gardened, with a big old mare named Pet. So I needed hay for the horse and the cow. Lots of it.

    One year I bought hay still growing in the field, which puts my investment at risk from rain, truck breakdown, and at the last moment I discovered, my back going out. I went to PT and told the therapist to treat it as if I were the QB just before the Super Bowl. He did, it was agonizing, but by the day the hay was being baled I was out there toting the bales, stacking the 5 or 6 high on a flatbed truck.

    As others are mentioned, that is really hard work. One year we bought baked soybeans, and a neighbor who I traded work with helped me, it took both of us to get the hay from the truck up into the loft. They were big and oh so solid – but great high protein for the cow! That was all long ago, and now I have two shoulder replacements, and just putter around the farm, which is mostly wooded hillsides anyway.

    The thing about making hay is that the hotter, the better the hay. It dries quicker and more throughly. In Colorado I have seen hay as green as fresh grass. Now ,that’s some good hay.

    And I too wound up making my living with a keyboard, coding and doing systems analysis and design. Very different from putting up hay! Thank FSM!!

  27. You’re actually quite lucky with your photo–that John Deere has a very distinctive sloping steering column that runs over the engine. It’s a Model H, produced from 1939 to 1947. So it’s a generation older than you.

    The two-cylinder kerosene engine made 15 horsepower when it was new, which is quite a bit less than your lawnmower. On the other hand, the John Deere will probably still be running sixty years from now.

  28. Here on the very western end of Maryland we are sandwiched between two thriving Amish farming communities 10 miles north and 15 miles two the south. Two weeks ago I came to a stop sign in Grantsville, MD, as a black Amish buggy came blowing into the intersection from the right at full gallop. The driver was a young Amish man, looked to be around 20 years old. When he got thru the intersection he immediately reined back on his horse and went into a slow trot. I thought “Huh, guess he just wanted to make sure I didn’t pull out in front of him.” Then I looked to the left and noticed that on the corner the local high school girls’ tennis team was practicing on the town park courts right there on the corner, short skirts and all. That’s when I knew why he slowed down…”HELLOOOO LADIES….”

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