The First Cutting of Hay

hay bale

Over the last week or so I’ve noticed people cutting their first haying of the year.

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.

A rake behind a horse was used to pile the hay and pitchforks were used to throw it on the back of a wagon. If you were lucky enough to have a big barn, Pap said you stored the hay in the loft.

Folks that didn’t have a barn, would cut a small tree, four or five inches thick, and cut the limbs down to where they were short and stubby. The tree was placed in the ground and the hay was thrown around it into a pile of sorts. Pap said the hay actually lasted pretty good with the tree method, not as good as inside a barn, but good enough to provide for the animals.

Yesterday I was talking with a lady who grew up in the lower part of the county. She said her daddy cut hay with a scythe when she was a child. After it was cut it had to be raked and tossed to ensure it was dry. After the hay had dried it had to be carried to the barn. Oftentimes, her job was to pile hay around the stick (like Pap described) to form the hay pile. Sometimes her daddy told her she carried more in the house than she left in the pile—because she liked to slide down the sides.


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  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 27, 2021 at 3:03 pm

    We didn’t make much hay when I was growing up. Daddy had 50 acres of mountain property which when surveyed was closer to 150. Of that a little more 1 acre was flat. Another 5 or 6 was tillable and the rest was (still is) too steep to use for agricultural purposes. Of that 5 or 6 acres we had to have a pasture for a milk cow and sometimes a horse, we needed good soil to grow tobacco, we need acreage for strawberries and corn. With 8 mouths to feed we had to have a large garden. That left little or no room for hay. The amount of flat land you see in the picture is more than we farmed altogether. The rest was and is inaccessible woodland.
    I have no hands on experience with hay making except with scythe, pitchfork and horse drawn sled.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    May 27, 2021 at 2:55 pm

    MY paternal grandfather, Nick Byers of the Ivy Log Community, Union County, GA, died from pneumonia resulting from injuries received from a horse drawn hayrake accident in 1955. His ribs broken and lungs punctured. Today, with our new antibiotics and other meds he probably would have been home in a couple of days. He was a few days shy of 80 y/o.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    I’ve mowed hay with a horse drawn mower and racked with the horse drawn rake. I’ve also done both with the tractor. I’ve put loose hay as well as baled hay in the barn. When one of our horses died my dad shortened the tongue on the hay rake and pulled it with the truck with me riding the rake. m I still think he went way too fast across the bumps in our field. I saw many hay stacks but never helped with any. I have my grandfather’s scythe that he used to mow wheat. occasionally I mow weeds just to show it to someone.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    May 27, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    As a boy, some of the hardest work I ever did was loading the hay bales on the wagon and then lifting them into the hayloft and stacking them there. The best thing about haying was bathing your hot, sweaty, itchy body in the cold soothing creek afterward.
    I had an uncle who stacked his hay. He was also a bootlegger and was prone to oversample his wares. He got drunk one New Year’s Eve and set his haystack on fire and laughed while it burned. People said he was just, “One of them crazy Davis’s.”

  • Reply
    May 27, 2021 at 11:37 am

    Grandpa was strictly old school. I still shudder when I think of all the haystacks and fodder shocks we hid in, and what might be lurking with us in our hiding place. Also, I know we caused some damage pulling that hat and fodder in front of us.

  • Reply
    Sallie the apple doll lady
    May 27, 2021 at 10:29 am

    I remember how my daddy’s horse-drawn mower sounded as he rounded the field as well as the rake when he dropped the hay. He never wanted a tractor but sometimes his brother would bring his tractor and baler which required help loading the square bales onto a truck, trailer or wagon and then into the barn loft. Once I remember helping him throw the loose hay onto the wagon with a pitchfork. He had built a flat wooden plank frame that just laid on the wagon to extend it for hauling more loose hay. I’ve often used his principal for stacking many things by placing them around the edge first and then filling the middle as the stack grew. Although we have pictures of the hay stacks around poles on his parents’s farm I never saw that done. He did tell me about stacking hay like that and that you had to do it just right so the rain would not ruin the hay. Farmer’s here in southern middle Tn have been rolling hay the past few weeks and I’ve even seen the square bales in some fields. As I watched a neighbor and his helper with two tractors rake and roll a field this week I thought about how different that was than the way my daddy gathered his hay and how much faster it is. We finally had rain yesterday so the dust has settled and it looks like the grass is already greening up for the next cutting.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2021 at 10:13 am

    I often think of how easy we have things today which, IMO, has made people more than a little lazy.
    I clearly remember watching my Mother washing and ironing clothes all day. Now, we never iron clothing (with rare exceptions).
    I am pretty sure that I would have been a lousy settler.
    Life certainly is easier.

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    May 27, 2021 at 9:52 am

    Thank you for an interesting post. Your Pap & many others worked so hard! There will never be another generation like them.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    May 27, 2021 at 9:25 am

    I loved hay time. It meant a visit to my Uncle’s farm. After the bales were made I got to drive the tractor while my cousins and my brother loaded the bales onto the wagon I was pulling. I was probably around 12 and thought I was big stuff driving the tractor. Actually the boys thought a girl was too puny to lift and thro the bales. They were right.

    • Reply
      Kat Swanson
      May 27, 2021 at 1:03 pm

      In 1980 I arrived home in Wise County Virginia to find that my 60 year old Daddy had finished his scythe cutting of the grass on our hilly farm and he was ready to make the haystack. I ran to get my camera as Daddy worked atop the haystack as my brother pitchforked the grass to him. Somehow I knew I was watching the last of an old way ….and indeed I was. That same year I had seen a fellow plowing with a horse, and I had that same knowing . Life in Appalachia was changing. We were not growing corn for pigs anymore. My 4 ugly brothers and I had so loved to slide around on the dried corn on the cob stored in the corncrib. When my own kids begged to play in the ball pit at McDonald’s, I knew exactly how much fun they’d have! Daddy died from black lung many years ago but that hard work on our mountain farm kept him going. …probably extended his life. It was amazing how few fat people were among our mountain folks, even old folks . Everyone worked, everyone walked, life was hard…but I would go back in a minute if I could.

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    May 27, 2021 at 9:17 am

    Tipper certainly remembers some good stories. I also have fond memories of helping my Uncle Bill with the hay. Having three barns, he was one of the more successful farmers. He also had a second profession as a carpenter. He built houses, but what kept him busier was building barns. When the hay was being mowed, young boys 7-8 years of age would have the job of going down the long rows of piled hay and forming mounds that were easier to get onto a pitch fork and throw up onto a large wagon. I remember looking at the long rows of hay, which looked as if a giant mole had been busy under ground. When we finished, our Aunt Deanie would have a two-gallon bucket ready for us to dump over us and flush away the stray pieces of hay that had gotten under our collars. What we looked forward to most was the big farmer type dinner that she would fix for us later. It was mostly home-grown vegetables with fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits and her own butter with jelly. It could not have been very profitable for them, because we boys ate tons of food.

  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    May 27, 2021 at 8:52 am

    My grandfather’s older brother was making hay one time and he had a mare who wouldn’t pull her share of the loaded wagon. Finally, he stood up, braced himself on the seat, and gave her a pretty good jab in the rump with the pitchfork. He always said he never had any trouble with her after that; when he was behind her, she pulled!

  • Reply
    May 27, 2021 at 8:51 am

    I’m not sure if my parents ever worked with hay due to the lack of ground in the hilly terrain where they were raised. Mom told about going to some sort of social gathering when she was young where the host used a hay stack for one of the games they played.
    Even modern day hay cutting is hard work. I doubt we will ever see anyone cutting and raking by hand in our lifetime.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 27, 2021 at 8:02 am

    I remember those days and ways. Fortunately for us two boys, Dad’s hay field was small. He both mowed and raked with horse-drawn equipment. Our big job was to move the hay to the back of rhe barn loft. Under that tin roof in the blazing sun and with dust, dirt, dried hay bits, fuzz and so on it was a hot, sticky, itchy job. We always dreaded haying time. But we liked sleeping on the hay summer nights. It made a soft, sweet-smellng mattress. We had to share it with he black snake the mice and the rats but we never bothered each other.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 27, 2021 at 7:00 am

    My Grandparents had poles in the fiels for stacking the hay. I’m pretty sure they raked it by hand then stacked the hay on the poles. They had a few cows, milk cows, to feed. My Granny milked the cows and sold what milk they didn’t use. She also made buttermilk and butter. She would sell whatever butter they didn’t use. She also gave some to neighbors who needed it.
    My Grandmother did the milking till my Grandfather retired from the local paper mill. When he retired she handed him the milk bucket and it was his job then.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    May 27, 2021 at 6:59 am

    Placing the hay around the “stack pole” was known around here as “stacking the hay” which was called a “hay stack”. Usually a certain person of the “crew” got to do the stacking because of their “expertise’ in stacking.
    We first raked the hay into “wind rows” which were then raked into bunches which were made into “shocks”. The shocks were either sledded to the barn or dragged to the site by placing either a rope or chain around the bottom of the individual shock to be stacked into a “hay stack”. Amazing how the shocks would skid over the ground without coming apart. We first filled the second story of the barn and then stacked the rest of the hay.
    This was a very common thing in mountains of Upper North East TN and I expect other parts as well.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2021 at 6:33 am

    Thank you for this great article! Our ancestors worked hard and they were grateful for what they had.

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