BEEF Daily

Square Baling Is A Test Of Family’s Strength


Summer haying season is a time when working with family can be a little more challenging.

Square bales -- they aren’t called “idiot cubes” or “dumby squares” for nothing. My family and I spent the weekend baling hay -- both round bales and the smaller square bales that we use for calving season and at cattle shows.

My mom always says, “We make hay on the hottest days of the year to feed cattle on the coldest days of the year.” This weekend was no exception as the heat bore down on us and the absent breeze gave the mosquitoes extra leverage to zoom in on us.

You can quickly learn your rank on the totem pole when you're baling square bales. It's illustrated by your working position in the process -- driving the tractor, stacking, or driving the pickup. Funny, for some reason I seem to always be on the rack, which must signify that I hold a pretty low rank. My husband Tyler, however, always reassures me that it’s a good workout. A gym membership seems pretty silly when you’re throwing square bales, doesn’t it?

This weekend, my husband had the bright idea to cut, rake and bale ditches, which my dad often refers to as “the most expensive hay you can get.” This, of course, is because of the unknown troubles mowing a ditch can add to the equation -- culverts, holes, rocks, gravel piles, and steep angles, to name a few.

As I’m sure you can probably imagine, things didn’t exactly go smoothly this weekend. Several breakdowns, a few choice words and many broken bales later, we were hot, tired, sweaty, and in desperate need of some ice water and a nap.

Yet, despite our fatigue and short tempers, we pressed on, trying to make light of a not-so-fun job on the ranch. Darkness fell, and we flipped on the lights in the barn and stacked bales until the rack was empty.

Tired, hair full of hay, and hungry, we finally headed inside and called it a night, knowing that the next day we would start all over again.

Yes, baling squares might be an idiot’s job, but the extra feed this winter will be worth it. It’s certainly a test in working as a family and dealing with different personalities and dynamics, but it sure feels good seeing those  bales picked up and stacked.

What are your thoughts on the joys of making hay? Do you have some experiences in this area, or other "family" jobs on the farm that are or aren't your favorites? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 



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Discuss this Blog Entry 26

Sherry Olsen (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

I love the smell of alfalfa hay in a barn loft-the best aroma ever!

on Jul 3, 2013

Agreed! I love it! It's truly the scent of summer!

ous (not verified)
on Jul 30, 2014

did it for 10 cents a bale "in the barn"...drank lots of beer and never got a buzz because of the hard hot work...idt was 1965 and thank God I went to college and then to law school...but at the same time it taught me just how hard some people worked for their livelihood...a great lesson...

Amy Patrick (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

The most fun and the exhausting times were baling square bales of hay. My dad's sister would come in the summer and I remember her wearing great-grandma's sunbonnet and my brother and I on the wagon stacking the bales. My dad would throw the bales 4 and 5 levels high on the wagon. Mother would wrap glass bottles fo Pepsi in newspaper and make cheese sandwiches for lunch.'
Riding back to the barn on that wagon was an adventure as it creaked at every curve and bump in the dirt road to the barn. The night bugs and the clovers chaf were a constant friend sticking to our sweaty bodies.
When we were done, we jumped in the pond clothes and all!

on Jul 3, 2013

Such great memories made while baling hay with family! Thanks for sharing this!

Brenda from Dwyer's Farmhouse (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

We always do a few square bales every year too. It's back breaking work! This year we had a city friend help us out....he's a paramedic who works out a lot....and he couldn't believe how much work it was!
This is my 'square bale' post from my blog. We were bringing them in on the first day of summer....and getting ready for the cold days of winter!
We rent out a farmhouse for people to come and experience our farming way of life. We answer their questions....and open their eyes.....they feed the hens and gather eggs and they usually get to help wash a 'show' lamb or heifer too. It has made me truly realize just how blessed I am to live the life I do. We take so much for granted. Most of our guest are just excited to be able to let their children play outside without worrying about them.

on Jul 3, 2013

Great blog post! Thanks for sharing! We've had friends from town help throw square bales before, too, and it's always fun to see them get a "real" workout.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

I do both square bales and round bales on our farm too, although it's been quite a scarce chore this season so far. We should be wrapping up second cutting by now, instead we're wondering when we'll be able to finish 1st cutting? We've had rain here almost every day for the last 3-4 weeks. If it 's not raining all day, it's unbearably hot & sunny from sun-up to about 4pm and than we wonder if we need to go into the basement for the afternoon monsoon or tornado? Not a good year in the northeast for anything. The hay fields are 4-5' tall and the corn is drowning. Too bad we can't give this moisture to Texas or Colorado!

on Jul 3, 2013

Agreed! It sure would be nice to spread some of this moisture around!

Martha J (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

Our kids are grown now with kids of their own and they credit much of their success in life with working on the ranch, particularly hauling square bales. Our daughter is a surgeon and she points to handling hay as the main reason she is in her chosen field because she was the only one in her group strong enough to hold the retractors so she had a ring side seat to watch the proceedures and got hooked in the process. Our son claims that handling hay is much better than a workout in the gym because you use more muscles and it is a more complete use of the body. Grandkids are now showing up to "work bales" and finding the same results. It may be a dumby's job but it leads to much better things.

on Jul 3, 2013

This is so so true! I always say I learned the value of hard work from scooping manure out of the barn by hand and throwing square bales. A hard work ethic from ranch work certainly extends to other areas in our life.

on Jul 1, 2013

I really love to put up good hay. We harvest small squares, 3 x 4 x 8, and 4 x 4 x 8. The small squares are limited and we do use a New Holland stack wagon to pick and stack the "idiot cubes". The 3 x 4 and 4 x 4 we use a large square bale stack wagon or load them directly onto trucks for shipment to customers or to our own stack yards close to the cow's winter feeding ground.

Briscoe Boy (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

We always hauled lots of hay, but the summer after I got out of high school, my brother, two friends (brothers) and I had a little hay hauling business. We were glad to have two old 20 foot flatbed trucks and a pop-up bale loader. One day we hauled and stacked 2300 bales of alfalfa (80-120#) in one large stack about a mile form the field. We charged 10 cents per bale for stacking outside (12 cents in the barn), so that days take for each of us was $57.50, minus gas and oil. $3.83 per hour; not bad for the late 1960's. Needless to say we were in tip-top shape and did not have much time for mischief during those days!

Gloria (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

loved your comments, I sure can remember putting up hay in the 60s and paying the neighbor kids .10 a bale, that was good money back then, now you can't even hire a kid to do that. I can also remember when my father would put up alfalfa with slings on a hay wagon pulled by horses, they would pull it up into the hay loft and then my dad would go and tramp around to pack it down and put salt on it to keep it from getting hot I guess. Now my husband and I put up round bales, a lot easier but the memories are priceless.

on Jul 3, 2013

Sounds like you had yourself a good business! I bet the ladies liked your big muscles from throwing all those square bales! :)

W.E. (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

Wish we had some young folks on our place who were willing to haul hay. Here near the Great Confluence, 2013 has been a very good hay year. Only three farms in this row-cropping area have cattle. All of us are in our fifties and sixties. We bale large round bales for one of our neighbors, and he furnishes us with enough small square bales of alfalfa (rejects from his horse customers) to feed some calves in our weaning pastures. We don't show cattle, so don't need very many small bales. Late May and early June are usually hay cutting time here. In 2012, we had less than 3 inches of rain between March 22 and September 1. Triple digit heat had set in by the time of the normal hay season. We started baling wheat and ryegrass hay on April 9, had harvested all of the hay we could before the end of that completely dry April in 2012. Getting the cows through the winter took some thinking ahead. With careful rationing, our scanty hay supply fed our cows until the first week in March. Our cows made it without any hay until the last week in December, when we got a heavy snowfall. We had to buy a little hay to finish out the winter. We fenced in two additional crop fields and hauled water in order to feed the cows crop residues, some of which were over-seeded by airplane with rye. Fall armyworms took all of our warm seasons grasses, but Hurricane Isaac brought enough rain in early September to get the fescue, orchardgrass and timothy growing. We stockpiled it for late fall and fed a group of over thirty bred and breeding age heifers on about twenty acres during the winter months. Those thirty heifers needed only about one or two round bales per week to supplement the strip-grazed stockpiled fescue that carried them through December, January and February. The fields where we had grazed those heifers made about seven to eight tons of hay per acre in late May 2013, and now are ready to graze again on July 1. This year, Providence and six weeks of hard work have filled all of our barns to capacity and we have three runs of wrapped bales stored outside. We'll use those first. Maybe we won't have to buy hay next spring.

on Jul 1, 2013

As a kid and young man(long time ago) I stacked thousands and thousands of little squares by hand because that's the way it was done back then. Usually in stacks of 1000 to 1200 ten layers high. We were one of the very first operations to own a "stooker" and it made for ease when running bales into the stack with the loaders. Back when I was "bulletproof", hayhook in hand I'd have a bet with the loader operator that he couldn't bury me on the stack. On a good day one loader and one guy on the stack could stack 2500 bales. Remember the canvas water jugs!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

Square Bales!!! Idiot cubes? Sorry I don't like that term. We put up over 50,000 little squares 2 years ago and usually averaged at least 30,000 on an average year. We do have a self propelled bale wagon that hauls them but come winter we have always used a team of horses and manual labor(us) to feed 400 head of livestock. I agree that you don't need a membership to a gym when feeding this way and you get plenty of fresh air. We all know what Montana winters can be like. Our ranch has fed this way for the last 74 years and last year we purchased equipment to go with big round bales. Right or wrong who knows. Definitely know it will be more expensive so whose the idiot? We will always put up 10 or 20,000 little squares and have a team of horses in shape. They still can get to some places a pickup or tractor can't.

RoamingWolf (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

I agree with anonymous before me.... "Sorry, i dont like the term Idiots Cubes"

I made a good living as a Custom Hay bailer,, I left the ranch - farm operation NOT from the work or business. I left for Family reason and the BIGGEST Mistake I EVER Made todate..

YES, Hay hailing is one of the worst jobs one could Do.. but the phase,,, take the Good with the bad fit here... Having break down is WHO`s Fault? Your most important Job is PER-Maintenances without,,, your operation is going to hurt.

Sounds like you need a Office Job

on Jul 3, 2013

Perhaps my sense of humor was missed in my typed words. I'm not really complaining...just musing about the ups and downs of farm life more than anything. Saying I need an office job because I griped about breaking down seems a little harsh.

Frank Schlichting (not verified)
on Jul 1, 2013

Unless you have a hobby farm why bother with the little bales?

on Jul 3, 2013

As I stated, we use them to take to the calving barn and put in individual stalls during calving season. It's pretty simple to throw a square bale on the front and back of the four-wheeler and get through the snow in a blizzard. Also, we use them to take to cattle shows. The big bales sure don't fit in the trailer!

on Jan 2, 2014

The thing I really enjoy most while making hays is the bonding amongst us family members. There are bound to be so many stories that each one of us would share while bay haling. That is the period where laughters would fill the air inside the barn storage and that just makes the job much easier and seems non-exhaustive. Time also passes by faster, and each day will not be so mundane and tiring.

on Jan 21, 2014

I spent one summer helping out at a farm of a friend near Melbourne and we were baling hay. I was told it would be easy work and we'd make good money but they were winding me up of course. I was exhausted every day but I still remember the hot days as if they were yesterday. We had great laughs and really good home-cooked food and would swim in the local rover after a day of sweating and stickiness. The other bonus is that I returned to college with a six-pack!

Bill Asher (not verified)
on Jul 30, 2014

I did it in 1965 before I left for college and eventually went to law school...10 cents a bale in the is hard hot work...we drank a lot of beer but never got a buzz because of the heat and is one of lifes lessons on why you want to get and education and use your brain and not your back...

on Jul 6, 2015

We did 4000 square bales in one day with four guys

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Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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