Simple Technology

Hay stacks once dotted the countryside. Stacking hay was a simple method to stockpile cattle forage for the winter up until the advent of the square baler, and later, the round baler. To most, this method of harvesting excess grass and alfalfa is a nice memory; at our farm, it passes for current technology.

I don’t buck hay nor do I use horses to make it, I have seen this process at demonstrations but I am not ambitious enough for that type of labor. My hay is stacked using a method that is post-primitive but pre-modern; I use a hay stacker-a good marriage of convenience and simplicity.

My Hesston 30 stacker is a simple machine. Not including the power take off, there are only eight bearings on the whole machine and very few moving parts. The stacker is basically a box within a box, on wheels. The first box has no ceiling and forms the bottom of the stacker. The second box has no floor and forms the ceiling of the stacker and can nestle inside the bottom box. When I fill the machine with hay, the top box is elevated about 18 feet into the air while a blower picks up hay and shoots it into the space formed by these two boxes. When that space is full, the top box is brought down inside the bottom and crushes the hay into a loaf. I follow this process three to five times and then disgorge the full stack using the apron chains on the floor of the bottom box.

I enjoy baling hay right up until something breaks, then the process is something less than enjoyable. Small square balers typically work fine until the knotters get old and round balers are good until the belts wear down which is why I like my stacker-it doesn’t break down very often. The technology of a hay stacker is simple so when I do need to make a repair it is more like re-assembling Lego blocks than repairing the space shuttle.

Here’s the real news, I like old things. I find myself rejecting the ease of technology for the labor of simplicity. The hay stacker is a mechanical system for collecting forage however the only automation is that which the operator provides. Last year, I injected technology into the simple, effective machine by adding a video camera to monitor the stacking chamber and shame on me for it. The camera was an added complication which I felt I needed to better monitor the stacker. This year I just washed the windows of my tractor cab a little better which made it easy to watch my own progress and was decidedly low-tech.

Many people are a little removed from farm life and farm practices. Occasionally a visitor will ask me, “how do you make those hay stacks that look like bread loaves?” After careful consideration, from now on my answer will be, “Simply.”

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