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ANN BAILEY: Baling straw

Baling, like eating onions, is something I wasn't fond of as a child, but like much better now that I'm an adult. While I viewed baling hay and straw as an odious chore when I was younger, now I look at it as a good way to burn calories, enjoy th...

Ann Bailey
Ann Bailey

Baling, like eating onions, is something I wasn't fond of as a child, but like much better now that I'm an adult.

While I viewed baling hay and straw as an odious chore when I was younger, now I look at it as a good way to burn calories, enjoy the outdoors and make some extra money, to boot.

We broke up our alfalfa field last fall because it was getting weedy and filled with gopher mounds, so we didn't bale any hay this summer. We did, however, buy about 300 bales of grass and alfalfa that needed to be unloaded and stacked in our barn, so I did get some good exercise mid-summer.

That was good preparation for the big straw baling project we undertook the last weekend in August and the first weekend in September.

During the first round my brother, Terry, and I rode the trailer and my husband, Brian, drove the tractor pulling my dad's 1963 New Holland Hayliner. We slowly and steadily chugged along doing the four rows of straw our neighbor left when he combined my mom's wheat. The old baler had its work cut out for it handling the wide rows his modern John Deere combine left, so Brian baled only half a row at a time.

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Golden work

It was a lovely late summer evening and in between carrying and stacking bales, I admired the color contrasts of the blooming sunflower field next to us, the gold of the wheat stubble and the dark green of the shelterbelts.

It took about an hour a round and I helped about half of the time. I got a break in the middle of the evening to go to a parents' junior high football meeting and returned in time to help Terry finish stacking the third flatbed trailer. We ended up with about 350 bales of bright yellow straw, so it was a fruitful evening's work.

A few days later we unloaded about 200 bales of straw into the barn, building a stack that we will use for our horses bedding. We sold another hundred bales and put the rest in my mom's barn for other buyers.

Because we had such a smooth baling experience the first time; good weather, no break-downs and great help from Terry, we decided to bale another five rows of straw and sell it. I called our neighbor and asked him if he could take the straw chopper off when he combined the rest of the wheat field and he said he would.

The next time proved to be the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, which was good for Brian and me because we weren't working at our "day" jobs. However, we also discovered that many people celebrate Labor Day by going to the lake or doing other end-of-summer vacationing. Terry was out of town this time and a couple of other people we called also had other plans.

Baling weekend

The forecast was for sunny weather, so we could have waited until the next day when Terry returned, but Brian and I had plans for other chores on Monday, so decided to bale on our own.

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Baling and hot weather go hand in hand so, of course, Sunday was one of the warmest days of the summer. We prepared for the heat by filling 1960s vintage water jugs that belonged to my grandma, and I put on a hat to shield my head from the sun.

Brian offered to have me drive the baler this time, but I declined. I didn't think baling cantankerous rows of straw was a good time to practice my tractor driving skills. Instead, I got a quick lesson on stacking from him, then my sons, Brendan and Thomas, and I hopped aboard the trailer and we headed down the field.

After we were done with the first row several things were clear: There was a lot more straw on the west side of the field then there was on the east side, there's an art to stacking the bales and this time there was no time for admiring the scenery.

By the end of the first round, after about an hour of baling, it also was clear to me that Thomas, age 10, had done enough baling for the day. He didn't complain, but his red, sweating face told me that he had reached the end of his endurance. I took a break and gave him a quick ride home, then climbed back on the trailer to help Brendan who was doing double duty carrying and stacking bales.

Brendan and I took turns carrying bales until we started building the stack at the trailer's back end several rows high. Then I asked him to pull the bales off the baler and carry them to me so I could hoist them up on the stack.

Brendan helped me for a couple more hours before I asked him if he would like to take a break and babysit his sister, Ellen, who was returning home from a friend's house. He said he would and I gave him a ride back to the farm. By this time we had two trailers filled with straw so I took one of them with me and parked it in the farmyard and picked up another to bring to the field.

Left leaning

When I returned to the field I had to wince at my stacking job on the other load we had finished. The bales had a definite lean to the right and I knew then why Brian had a concerned look on his face when he was pulling the trailer down the field.

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I vowed to do better the next load, so I carefully lined up each bale. But stacking straight wasn't the only challenge. I found out it's a lot harder baling when you're the lone stacker and the walk to the end of the trailer seemed farther each time. The bales also seemed a lot heavier when I had to carry them and strong-arm them up on the stack. I was pretty pleased that I managed to heft them up five high without passing out.

The third trailer, which was smaller than the other two, filled up quickly and there were still parts of several rows of straw left, so Brian and I decided to drop the bales on the ground and pick them up when he finished. He baled about 50 more, then I went to the farm to get yet another trailer. I also picked up Brendan, Thomas and Ellen, who helped us load the bales.

The final count of bales was about 450, about 100 more than we had anticipated. The job also took about six and a half hours, twice as long as I had anticipated, but it was worth it. We have all of the straw under cover and waiting for customers.

It was a good family project and showed our sons the value of a dollar. About halfway through the baling, Brendan wanted to increase our asking price for the straw. I told him that we couldn't charge too much or people wouldn't buy it. I had to agree with him, though, that turning straw into gold is hard work.

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