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Going like hay on wheels: Hauling for home

TOWNER, N.D. - Every fall, I question the progress made in haying methods, especially the day we quit stacking our hay and began rolling it into big round bales.

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TOWNER, N.D. - Every fall, I question the progress made in haying methods, especially the day we quit stacking our hay and began rolling it into big round bales.

Used to be you put in your hours in the summer making a nice bunch of hay stacks that weighed 6 tons or more. Sure, it took a long time and a big hay crew to run all the needed equipment, but the autumn chore of moving it in was a cinch.

What we used to accomplish with 150 sparse stately stacks of hay we do today with 1,500 round bales littering every available acre on the meadow.

The wise old ranchers in our neighborhood told us "when you bale your hay, the work's only half done," and warned us about the extra hay moving time with our fancy new round balers.

Getting 150 stacks home was pretty easy - back under one, drive it home, chain it off. Put in a good week and call it done.

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The mere thought of moving 1,500 round bales is so intimidating, I'm almost afraid to start the job. Then I see the neighbors out moving bales and the peer pressure sets in.

For a while, I justify my procrastination with the old theory, "I hate to move the hay in too early and have it all piled in one place in case of a fire. We really should wait until there's a little snow on the ground."

Of course, the last big fire I remember was 30 years ago and it was in a field. I guess the hay would've been safer hauled into the yard.

One benefit of waiting until after the go-getters have moved their hay is having our narrow gravel road to myself. No pulling over to meet another hay mover or a semi if you let them finish up first.

Getting it done

On our place, we whittle away at our 1,500 bales, 11 bales at a time. I know there're bigger hay trailers, but the hay's close and, like Dad used to tell me, poor people have poor ways.

It could be worse. At least I don't have a bigger herd and 5,000 bales to ferry in.

As it is, I load up 11 bales and head down the road. Job proficiency is mostly about driving and watching the minutes tick by.

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The biggest decision is picking the 11 bales to put on the load as I walk from the mover to the loader tractor.

I can hardly drive by a field of hay without analyzing the spatial location of bales, sloughs, soft spots and prairie trails and partitioning it into 11-bale increments. I quickly calculate the short load of five left over at the end.

A lot of haulers get to handle their bales one at time twice, loading them onto a trailer and picking them off of a trailer. My little chain mover only makes me handle them once, but then I have the challenge of lining up my bale stacks when I back up and chain them off at home.

Sometimes I can line them up nice and straight stack after stack. I know the cows will eat the hay just the same whether it comes from a straight row or a crooked row but there's some pride involved.

My wife lets me know when she drives by one of my crooked rows. I assure her that by next spring, we'll never know where the crooked rows were.

Today was a tough day. I couldn't get within 6 feet of even on a 12-foot stack.

Maybe by the time I'm done with the next 1,400, I'll have it straightened out. Either that or the snow drifts will have evened out the lines.

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