January 05, 2022

Over the last years Melissa and I have enjoyed the turkey sculpture made from hay bales we have encountered along the road to one of the outlet tubes we fish.  This usually arrives before Thanksgiving with a pilgrim hat and is later given a red felt hat for Christmas.  The body of the turkey is comprised of one of the large round bales and the tail feathers and neck/head or made of painted planks of wood.  I decided to take the back way to work last week and encountered another hay bale sculpture along the road.  This time it was a snowwoman painted white with a fancy hat and gloves on its stick hands.  It was even equipped with solar lights.

When I looked online, I found hay balers have been around since the late 1800’s.  This was the same time the agricultural industry was evolving through the introduction of new machines.  Before the introduction of the baler hay was stored loose in the field or the upper story of a farmer’s barn.  Both took up valuable space and the balers were a welcome invention.  Hay was taken from the field and put into the machines bale chamber by hand.  The baler was horse-driven to compress the hay until it reached the right size, then twine or wire was wrapped around the bale and tied.  Steam engines took over from the horse and then the internal combustion tractor replaced the steam engine.  In the 1930’s, balers were attached to tractors, allowing them to pick the hay up from the ground.  Thirty years later, hydraulics allowed the introduction of the large round baler.  The most popular baler on the market today is the round hay baler which produced the two bales that made up the snowwoman.

Today the small rectangular bales that once prevailed are primarily used on small acreages where large equipment is impractical.  These bales are about 15 x 18 x 40 inches (38 x 46 x 102 cm) and are wrapped with two strands of knotted twine.  The bales are light enough for one person to handle, or about 60 pounds (27 kg) but with more pressure can be up to 100 pounds (45.5 kg).  The round baling machine produces bales that are approximately 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) in diameter, 2 meters (6.6 feet) long, and weighed about 270 kilograms (600 pounds) after they are dried.  The other form of today’s bales are the large square baler developed in 1978.  This produces bales that can be easily transported and stacked.  Depending upon the baler, these bales can weigh from 1,000 to 2,200 pounds (450 to 1,000 kg) for a 3 x 3 x 9 foot bale (0.91 x 0.91 x 2.74 meter), or 3 x 4 x 9 foot (0.91 x 1.22 x 2.74 meter) bale.  These bales are wrapped with 4-6 strings to maintain the bale’s shape.  Both are too big for one person to move.

Thoughts:  One of my memories in high school was bucking bales on my grandfather’s farm.  While most of his energy went toward growing wheat, he also ran cattle on pastures where wheat would not grow.  The hay was pressed into small bales and then two of his sons would supervise the grandsons as we moved the bales from the field to the trailer, and then to the loft of the barns for storage.  I recall the comradery we enjoyed sweating in the heat as we worked, joked, and told stories about life.  That is harder to find as one person on a tractor now moves the round or large bales around the farm.  As our world become increasingly mechanized and digitized, we can still find ways to create community.  All it takes is a willingness to create comradery by sharing a part of yourself.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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