Ten Things You Don’t Know About: Haystacks

A fixture on any farm or ranch that has to supplement their livestock’s feed supply is the haystack… Here are ten things you might not know about haystacks.


1.  Haystacks are surrounded with high fences around 8′-10′ high.  Why so high?  Because hay is excellent food by definition, making it a target of high jumping deer and powerful elk and cattle.  High fences protect the investment that is your hay crop.

2.  Different rows of hay mean either a.) you ran out of room b.) hay came from different fields that you want to keep separate c.) hay came from different cuttings (meaning it has been harvested once (first cutting), twice (second cutting), or a third time that summer (third cutting).  Different hay has different protein levels, damage from rain, mix of alfalfa and grass or straight grass or straight alfalfa.  Therefore keeping different stacks helps separate each variety.

3.  Stacking hay is a talent.  Back in the day, with little bales, we stacked (and unstacked) all the hay by hand.  Then we had different equipment to stack several at a time, then we switched to big bales.  Some people like round bales… we don’t.  This is Johnny’s job, though one time I thought maybe I’d learn.  It seemed like something I could do without too much exposure to grasses and pollen, since I’m allergic!  There has to be enough lean at the back of the stack to keep pressure on the rest from tipping over.  I tried.  I failed.  I let Johnny pick it all up and restack it.  I’ve stayed out of the stackyard ever since!

4.  Top bales.  The ones that I’ve cussed in many a blog post.  Top bales in haystacks are the ones that get rained on, and snowed on, and frozen, and refrozen.  These are the ones best fed with an axe to chop them apart!  Note the photo… top bales are stacked on their sides, keeping the snow/rain/ice from freezing to the baling twine which holds the bales together.  If they’re frozen… holy cow.  It’s WORK to get them out of ice!  My brilliant idea?  A waxy molasses/raw sugar liquid that can be sprayed on the top of haystacks.  It provides a “waterproofing” but can be broken apart easily in cold weather, and is digestible by livestock.  Wyoming Sugar Co. is over in Worland, anyone want to create my idea???  I get a 10% share…

5.  Vermin.  The tall fence keeps out big mammals, but not the little ones!  Haystacks are great for little critters… but little critters can eat lots of hay too!  Rabbits are now on the upswing of their 7 year cycle here, and there’s cottontails and jackrabbits galore.  Bunnies eat a fair share of hay… but porcupines?  Porkies seem to like baling twine… and they’ll cut right through it leaving your hay loose on the ground for every little critter there is.  Birds are also big fans of hay, scratching it around in search of seeds.  Nothing like moving a bale first thing in the morning and having 20 mice run in all directions!  Unfortunately, mice like haystacks too.

6.  There are little square bales (60#-90#)and big square bales (900#-1100#) and round bales (800#-1000#).  It’s personal preference and what works for each place.  We still do some small bales of hay and straw to use in our calving shed and to feed our horses in the barn.  Haystacks for round bales are long and narrow as there isn’t a great way to stack round bales.

7.  You must leave some room in your stackyard for equipment.  There has to be room in there to drive in a tractor pulling a flatbed trailer and turn around… or through!  The tractor is then unhitched, it loads the trailer, and then is re-hitched to the trailer and the hay is pulled out to where cattle are fed.  You can leave the trailer outside the fence, it’ll just be a longer drive to load each bale.

8.  Stackyards are usually close to the fields where the hay was harvested.  Getting the hay off the field fast is a big requirement around here.  If you’ve ever left something on your grass for a day or two, you know how fast the grass can yellow and die.  Hay is the same, and you’ve already left it drying in the sun for a few days!  Get those bales picked up quick and then you can irrigate your field again!  Stackyards are also on higher ground.  Flooded hay bales are just a mess.

9.  Besides the fresh smell of dry grass hay, your hay can also smell, well… like it’s cooking.  Which it can be!  If hay is baled too wet, it begins to decompose, like a compost pile.  Heat is generated.  Sometimes, combustion takes place and your entire haystack can be on fire.  If you’ve stacked it in a barn, there goes your barn!  Haystacks can at least not take any buildings with it should it catch on fire.  For a couple of years, we grew sudan, which is a sorghum.  It really looks like corn stalks to me.  It was hard to get it to dry, and you could walk by it and smell it “cooking”.  The cows loved it.  I imagine it was slightly sweet…

10.  Throwing small bales around is known as “bucking bales”.  Jeans will get worn from the hip to the knee, as kneeing them into place or gaining momentum with leg power to throw them high or far is sometimes necessary.  Hay is full of stickers and seeds and pokey ends and other things needle sharp.  Gloves are necessary.  Sharp knives for cutting baling twine is also necessary.  A “roll in the hay” never sounded good to me… even when we were “bucking bales”.  OK.  Enough of that.

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Ten Things You Don’t Know About: Haystacks — 7 Comments

  1. There is really a lot of details and skill to haystacking that I hadn’t even thought about before. Thanks for the interesting information. I also read about alfalfa and branding and loved your lessons. There are many things here I always vaguely wondered about and know I learned a few things! Thanks, Carol. Loved getting the lessons!

  2. Back when I bucked bales, there were only the small ones. I had it easy because as the youngest I mostly drove the truck while the older/bigger folks threw the bales!

  3. This was VERY interesting and informative. Around here we tsee he hay in rolls, and in rolls covered in black plastic over the winter! I guess whatever works for the particular farm/ranch is best.

  4. Thanks Carol for all this information. I am wiser woman now. Also checked out the Alfalfa and Branding posts. We can get Alfalfa (sprouting) in our Health Food shop. Yummy in salads or sandwiches.

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