One of the all-time great smells of this world is hay that is drying or curing. I have often thought that if someone could make a perfume or ester of curing hay, they would make a mint. There is no better odor on planet Earth than alfalfa, clover, timothy,
and grass lying in the sun waiting for farmer to bring it into the barn.
Three or four days after cutting, hay should be ready to put in the barn. The Scheckel family out on Oak Grove Ridge near Seneca in Crawford County put up loose hay in the 1940s and 1950s. No baler for the Scheckel family.
Dad had a McCormick-Deering side rake. Sears Roebuck was offering side delivery rakes for less than $100, with $8.00 down in 1940. The rake was not a large or heavy piece of equipment and a team of two horses could pull it easily.
Raking started after the dew was burned off by the summer sun. That might be about 10 o’clock in the morning. Dolly and Prince were hitched to the rake. Raking was done by about noontime.
Our McC-D rake had 2 large 3-4 foot steel wheels in front, 4 bars of tines that spun on a reel that was at an angle to direction of travel. The tumbling tines would gently kick and roll the hay into straight narrow rows, ready for the hay wagon and hay loader. A smaller caster wheel turned in the back. The driver saw up quite high, unlike the hay mower. I like raking hay. I had a good view, breeze blowing, straw hat to keep the sun off, the wonderful smell of cured hay. Horses, whether mowing or raking, moved at about 2 to 2 ½ miles per hour.
Our hay mower cut a 5-foot swath. With a five foot sickle bar, we would rake two of the five foot swaths into a single window with the side rake.
When was the hay was cured, it ready for raking into windrows. We wanted about 30-35% moisture content. We did not own a moisture gauge. Dad, being an experienced farmer, could pick up a handful of hay in his hand, and know when it was ready. No moisture meter needed.
If the hay was not sufficiently dry, or “too green” as was the saying, heat would build up in the hay mow. A farmer could lose his barn to fire. Seems every summer, we heard of at least one barn in Crawford County going up in flames. The Scheckels put up hay that was “green” a few times. You could go up in the haymow a few hours or a day later, press your hand down in the hay and feel the heat. If that happened, Dad or Mom would take a buckle of salt and sprinkle it on the hay. The salt would absorb the moisture and prevent heat buildup.