Hay Stories

hay bale

The cattle farm down the road lost an entire structure of hay recently. The whole shebang burnt to the ground before the fire could be put out. I’m still getting a whiff of the acrid burnt hay smell every once in a while when I’m outside, it was a lot of hay.

Today’s hay cutting operation is much easier than it was in days gone by.

When Pap was a boy they cut hay by hand. He told me they only cut hay once a summer in those days because it took so long to do the work by hand. As time went by and things advanced in the mountains of western NC Pap’s family used a cutting machine that was pulled by a team of horses to cut hay. Pap said when that happened they thought they had hit the big time. Cutting hay with a machine and horses was easier and it was so much faster than cutting by hand.

Once when I was reading through the archives at John C. Campbell Folk School I found a story about one of the first mechanical hay cutting operations in our general area.

Gov. Carringer written and documented by Fred O. Scroggs 1925

Uncle “Gov” (J.B. Carringer) one of our oldest residents. Born in the ’60s, lived some time on Yellow Creek in Graham, Co., N.C. (yaller creek).

Uncle Gov and his brother-in-law, Vance Shope, brought the first mowing machine ever to come to Graham Co. Sometime in the 90’s. Prior to this they had mowed their meadows with grass blades. Folks over the country heard they were getting a machine that would cut their hay and drawn by horses. On the day they set the machine up, folks came from far and wide to see it operate.

“It looked like an All Day Singing or Decoration Day. A hundred or more came from the coves and hollows from all over the country.”

“You see we had bought the machine from Pitt Walker the dealer in Robbinsville for $45.00, and the news spread, telling it court week just when we would begin. So, people came from everywhere.”

I’m afraid the hay cutting season is finished for the farm down the road, but hopefully they have hay stored at some of their other locations to help them make it through the winter.

This week’s videos: The Ability to Talk or Blow Fire from a Burn in Appalachia and Drying Foods to Put Up in Appalachia.


Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    September 4, 2021 at 9:09 am

    When I was a kid, my siblings and I would help our neighbor put up hay and stack it in a two-sided barn that sheltered the bales from weather coming in from the west. One bright morning smoke billowed into the sky and everyone came running: pulling out smoldering bales, stomping out flames until the firefighters rolled up in their old pumper truck that was small enough to make it up the steep, winding road of our ridge. I heard them say he must have put it up wet.

    I, for one, believe in faith healing because it happened to me. When you’re young, everything is possible, no matter how windy the tale, and I had total faith that God would help me because I believed in him. I asked and he helped me. When I think of the belief of kids I remember a Lewis Carroll quote: Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 3, 2021 at 10:15 pm

    Hay Tipper,

    I suppose I’m the only one of your readers who has ever cut, turned, stacked, sledded and then stacked again, hay. All by hand! I never saw a the making of a bail of hay until I started into high school. Farmers where I lived didn’t have enough hay fields to justify machinery. Land that was flat fertile enough to grow anything was better used in growing other crops. Hay came from out of the way places along fence and ditch lines, in corners and in places too steep to plow. Places where mechanical harvesters were practically useless.
    We relied on corn more than grass as animal food. Corn is far more nutritious than grass. We stripped the leaves below the ears, tied them in bundles using several leaves twisted together and dried them. Once it was dry it went in the barn. We called that fodder. We cut the stalks above the ear, tied them in bundles using a single top and the tie and dried them. Those were called tops. If we pulled and shucked the corn green, the shucks went immediately to the animals. If the ears dried in the field the shucks stayed on until the corn was needed then were fed to the cattle and horses. Tops were also stored in the barn when dried.
    When the corn was picked green the whole stalk was cut, tied in bundles using a one stalk and dried in the field. These are the proverbial shocks we see in Halloween decorations. Usually our shocks were stacked around a pole much like a teepee, having a hollow cavity beneath where punkins and cushaws could be stored, safe from all but the worst of winter’s cold.
    Cattle loved the fodder and tops. The whole stalks were preferable over hay but only the tops and leaves were eaten. The stalks were trampled into the manure on the ground where it could be scooped up and spread as fertilizer the following spring. But that is another story.
    Someone mentioned leaving hay out where cows could help themselves. That sounds like a good idea but cows are finicky eaters when allowed to be. They will pick through the hay looking for the good stuff and dropping the less tasty morsels on the ground.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2021 at 2:20 pm

    Yes long time ago they just put up square bales. My family helped this man every yr. With tobacco too. One time I was helping and I had shorts on. I never ever did that again. My legs was so scratch up and hurt like crazy.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    In the area where I live now, (SC PA} I see a lot of round bales in the fields wrapped in white plastic and then I see a lot of square bales without a cover. I would think back in the 1800’s that cutting hay would have been a really tough job. When I see the huge farm machines today, I always wonder what my grandparents and great-grandparents would think if they could come back and see them at work.
    I’m sure my grandmother’s knew about blowing out the fire from a burn although I don’t remember being told about it. They did tell of ways to remove warts or people that could remove them. And there must have been something special about the “7th son of a 7th son,” as I was told my Great-grandfather was called a Peacemaker, he was the 7th son of a 7th son.
    I do remember the old saying, putting a knife under the bed would cut the pain for a woman in labor. Can’t say I believed that but in those times without a doctor or mid-wife close by I can understand how one would like to believe it.

    • Reply
      September 3, 2021 at 1:21 pm

      When giving tours to elementary age school children a dairy farmer from Fork Shoals, SC will tell the children those round hay bales wrapped in white plastic are giant marshmallows. Those square bales do not have a cover because they must be put in a dry storage place before getting rained on. The round hay bales can be left in field.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    September 3, 2021 at 10:47 am

    Those round bales still don’t look right to me. My husband was one of the young men who loaded the bales onto a wagon to take them to storage. He says you knew you’d done a day’s work when you loaded hay!

  • Reply
    September 3, 2021 at 9:11 am

    Years a
    Back when everyone did square bales of hay you had to be careful not to bale it damp and stack it in the barn. The damp tightly packed hay would heat up. Many a barn has burned due to rushing to get it in the dry.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    September 3, 2021 at 9:01 am

    Along with hay cutting comes BLISTER BEETLES which about 6 or 10 ( long dead) will kill a full grown horse. Know where your hay is taken from. And tall grass is an excellent place to pick up chiggers.

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    September 3, 2021 at 8:56 am

    Hay can be expensive to replace. Hopefully, other, local farmers will be able to help them.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    September 3, 2021 at 8:20 am

    I have not seen anyone cut hay by hand but my Uncle Tim had a horse drawn hay baler. It was something he had from days gone by, I never saw him use it. It has been interesting to see bales of hay change from rectangular bales that one person could move to really large round bales that you would need a tractor to move. There is something about seeing a field of hay bales or hay in a barn that is comforting to me. I can’t explain it.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2021 at 8:07 am

    By the time I came along hay was being cut by tractors with a sickle bar mower, hay rake and a square hay baler. I do remember seeing some of the older tools that was used for cutting hay. From about the age of 12 until finishing high school I would make a little bit of money each year helping some of farmers get up these square bales of hay. Unlike today with round bales, the the square bales could not get wet and had to be put in a dry place as soon as possible. You had to pick the bales up and stack them either on a truck or trailer, take them to barn, throw them up into a barn loft, and stack them in the loft of barn under a tin roof all done during the hottest months of year. Not only would you be soaking wet with sweat, the hay would get inside of your shirt and make you itch like crazy. I am told by some farmers most teenage boys will not work like that now, one of the many reasons for round bales of hay. After a hot summer a day of doing this, it made getting in a cold creek feel mighty good.

    How many of you have heard that some of the animal rights groups are trying to do away with the round bales of hay,? They claim cows, horses and the like can no longer get a square meal.

    • Reply
      Gene Smith
      September 3, 2021 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks for that one, Randy. I recall hauling baled hay to the barn one summer and getting knocked out cold when I fell from the top of a load, hit the ground, and was hit on the head by a falling bale. We had loaded an extra layer on the last load, in order to beat an approaching rainstorm. The tree limb we’d safely passed under with previous loads caught the top layer on that last load–with me perched on top. The driver didn’t know he had lost me until he got to the barn. I recall, too, handling bales with two hay hooks, handy hand tools that not everyone had.

      • Reply
        Ray Presley
        September 3, 2021 at 4:46 pm

        Horses will take it any way they can get it. I like to see them eating the square bales, thereby getting a “square” meal. Those eating from the round bales might become more rotund than the square meal eaters, even though its the same feed.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 3, 2021 at 8:00 am

    We know a man who manages a ranch where a big barn full of hay was struck by lightening this summer. It was a complete loss. It burned for days until it burned itself out.

    As I have posted before, Dad cut hay with a horse-drawn mower and raked it with a horse-drawn rake. I guess I just hit the raveled out end of that way of doing except for the Amish. I can see how hay couldn’t be cut two or three times a year if done by hand. I have used a scythe a little bit and there is an art to it.

    I have also posted about my Mom’s Mom being one who could ‘blow out fire’. I never saw her do it. I do not know if she passed it on or not. On the subject of faith healing, I ponder on just how and why it declined. I suspect it may well be because as a society we shifted our faith to science because we could. Back in the day, it wasn’t possible to rely on doctors for a lot of people. They needed someone close at hand.

    Interesting to me that in the story of the woman in West Virginia with the burned arm and hand she didn’t believe it herself until she saw it happen. (If I correctly understood the story.) It was the healer’s faith that worked in spite of that.

    • Reply
      September 3, 2021 at 8:34 am

      Ron, it was said that my granddaddy and a brother and sister neighbors of mine could talk out fire if you got burned. The lady said she could take warts off of you. I am not saying it is true but when I was about 18 years old, I had about 20 warts on my hands, she saw them and told me to tell her how many they were and she would take them off. I laughed at her but went ahead and told her, in about a week they were gone. This was almost 50 years ago. I could have used someone to talk the fire out last night,I splashed some boiling water on my arm. Nothing real bad, but it shore did hurt for awhile. Her daughter saiid she told her she could only pass it on to one person and she didn’t know is she ever did.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 3, 2021 at 7:44 am

    I can remember my Grandpa cutting hay by hand and stacking it on a tall post driven into the ground. This was to feed the milk cows through the winter. My grandparents always kept a few milk cows. The milk for their own use and some to sell. They also made buttermilk and butter. That sure was a different time from now!

    • Reply
      Gene Smith
      September 3, 2021 at 1:04 pm

      I saw hay stacked on such poles in Bavaria and northern Italy when I was in service. They cut the hay off the stacks for their cattle. The flat surfaces looked much like an apple would after numerous slices were removed, top to bottom. I always wondered what kind of cutting instrument those people used, and why the cows couldn’t just help themselves.

    Leave a Reply