Hay – alfalfa, grasses, clover or legumes – is a great source of protein for feeding animals. In the 1940s, there were major advances in the machinery that cut, dried, processed stored and fed the crop.
In the late 1800s, horse-drawn sickle mowers would begin the haying process by cutting the crop. Rakes gathered the hay into “windrows” where the moving air could dry the crop. Then, the hay was piled up into house-shaped haystacks, sometimes as high as 30 feet. The hay on top would shed rain and snow and protect the hay in the middle from rot.
On other farms, the hay was gathered onto wagons, and moved to the base of the barn. There, a grappling hook was lowered from the roof beam. The hook grabbed huge clumps of hay. Horses would pull a rope and lift the hook and the hay to the second story haymow. Then, farm hands inside would distribute the hay around the mow with pitchforks. When it was needed, the hay could be dropped down to the horses and cows on the first floor.
This method was inefficient and required huge barns. It took about 800 cubic feet of space to hold 1½ tons of loose hay. A cow can eat around 30 pounds of hay per day, so it could take 2 to 2.5 tons of hay per cow to get through the winter. [For more on barns, see this story in the Crops Section.]
Putting all this hay up through the summer was hot, dirty, lung-clogging work. Every farmer had to grow his or her own hay because there was no efficient way to package, transport and sell the hay as a commodity.
Balers. At the turn of the 20th Century, stationary balers were introduced. Hay would be pitched into these horse-powered units where it would be compressed and tied into bales. Later, the baler was put on wheels so it could be taken to the hay rather than the other way around. But it still took three or four men to bale – one to drive the tractor, a baler operator to push hay into the bale chamber and one or two people to tie twine around the bales.
All of that changed in the 1940s, when the New Holland company introduced the automatic mobile pickup baler. One farmer, alone, could now bale 35 to 40 tons of hay a day. Other companies quickly followed.
International Harvester, for example, introduced their No. 50-T baler in 1945. The T stood for “twine” baler. It used heavy twine to hold the bales together. Later, commercial hay growers needed more densely packed, heavier bales to ship long distances, so wire balers made their way back into the catalog.
John Deere introduced their automatic, wire-tying baler, the 116-W, in 1946. The machine produced 16 x 18-inch bales. The smaller model 114-W produced 13 x 18-inch bales that weighed between 50 and 70 pounds each. Stacking those bales was still back breaking work.
Allis-Chalmers took a different approach to hay production during the 1940s. They were convinced that larger, round bales were better than the rectangles ones produced by everybody else.
In 1910, a farmer and inventor from Seward County, Nebraska, Ummo F. Luebben, patented a machine that gathered the hay and rolled it into a large round bale, tied it and ejected it out of the machine. A set of thick bands rolled the hay and expanded as the bale grew.
Allis-Chalmers bought the patent rights from Luebben in 1940 and adapted his ideas to their own machine. Six experimental machines were built in 1941 and tested by A-C and several farmers in the Midwest. The new “Roto-Baler” worked. The next step was to convince their sales crew and the farmers that round bales were better than rectangle ones. Round bales left more leaves on the stems, were easier to unroll and feed to cattle, and could be left outside and still protect the hay inside. The sales crew also argued that cattle liked rolled hay better because it didn’t have sharp ends to jab their mouths.
Within three years, 23,000 Roto-Balers had been sold. In the 1950s, A-C came up with a way to quickly wrap the twine around the bales, eliminating the need to stop, tie and eject the bales. By the late 20th Century, A-C and other manufacturers were producing balers with bales up to six-feet in diameter.
War research into hay crops would also lead to new industries later. In World War II, scientists in Britain were concerned about how to provide their people with protein if the Germans had been able to blockade the island nation. They developed ways of extracting edible protein from green crops like alfalfa. In some of these experiments, the plants were crushed and the juice extracted. In others, the plant was dehydrated. Both of these processes are now being used in animal feed industries.
Written by Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. A partial bibliography of sources is here.