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Essay: Making hay…as well as memories

By Greg Schieber, June 13, 2024

Freshly cut hay on a perfect summer day. (Photo by Greg Schieber)

Essay: Making hay…as well as memories


AMHERST TOWNSHIP, FILLMORE COUNTY — A disproportionate number of my childhood memories include summer afternoons riding with my father in a self-propelled Hesston hay cutter cutting contoured strips of alfalfa. Entire weeks were spent that way – or at least it felt like it to my young mind.

Now that I’m a parent with young children of my own, I understand and appreciate why I spent half of my summer riding in the hay cutter. It was clearly my mother’s best option for getting me out of her way as she juggled the many responsibilities of motherhood. It was my father’s turn to keep a watchful eye, which lucky for him was easy to do in the confines of an enclosed cab.

We would bounce along through the fields, with the constant and rhythmic chugging of the machine creating a white noise perfect for catching a midday nap. I occasionally had to nudge the driver back awake as the cutter drifted off course (reason #2 I got to tag along).

On the occasion that I would be the one falling asleep, a big bump in the field would bounce my skull against the window on which I was leaning and knock the drowsiness away. Some fields were notoriously worse than others.

Back then the machines didn’t come with the luxury of a radio, so a battery powered boombox was the entertainment. Billy Ray Cyrus singing “Achy Breaky Heart” once every hour on the local country station may as well have been the summer theme song.

A blue thermos of ice-cold water kept us hydrated. The only stops were for bathroom breaks and the replacement of the occasional broken sickle.

My family’s move to southeast Minnesota’s Big Woods gave me my own pasture and hayfield to manage. Consequently, it was one of the first orders of business to bring home some bovines to help keep the grass and weeds under control.

Like with all expensive hobbies, one thing quickly leads to another. Cows meant we needed hay for the winter. Hay meant we needed to either purchase it from off the farm or make it ourselves. The latter option better fit my goals.

I needed to buy a hay cutter and rake.


Cutting hay always seems to call in the storm clouds. (Photo by Greg Schieber)


After my purchase, it was my dad in the driver’s seat once again, 30 years later, as he took the first few passes with me holding on in the doorway of the tractor cab, teaching me the few tricks relevant to know before handing over the controls.

After building a little confidence over the course of my first couple of rounds, my eldest child, Eva, got to ride along. Just like that, I came to the satisfying realization that those memories I cherished from my childhood might survive another generation.

I can safely conclude it would be more economical, especially if I count my time, to simply purchase the hay. But I’m counting on that time with the kids in the tractor paying dividends down the road.

Making memories with the next generation. (Photo by Greg Schieber)


I now get to gamble along with the rest of the hay farmers in the area, deciding on the perfect time to cut so the hay can dry, be raked, baled, and tucked away in the hay shed before the next rainstorm.

I gambled successfully the first couple of times. In my few years of making hay, however, I have already had the experience of seeing the perfect haying forecast, cutting the hay, watching it dry, rolling out there with the hay rake, and halfway through the project suddenly seeing rain clouds come out of nowhere to soak the entire field.

I rely on a local farmer to bale the hay. It may be a little impractical for putting in so much effort to make my own hay but I’m not so impractical as to purchase my own used baler to store, maintain, and cuss at when it doesn’t work right. So, I gamble a little more by crossing my fingers hoping he can get to my place before those rain clouds show up, too. Thus far, he has.

A barn full of hay is a satisfying sight, like a shed full of firewood or a pantry full of freshly canned produce. It’s an act of being prepared for the next season, in the most literal sense.

My only regret is that I’m not yet able to fill the haymow with small square bales. I fear my kids may miss out on the character and muscle building experience of loading a few tons onto the elevator each summer, in direct sun and 90-degree heat no less.

But they are still young. I have time to come up with the equipment necessary to make that vision a reality, no doubt, even if purchasing my own small square baler is what it takes.




Greg Schieber is an attorney in Harmony and an amateur homesteader, along with his wife and three young children, on their small acreage in Fillmore County’s Big Woods.


Root River Current’s coverage of literary arts is made possible, in part, by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts & cultural heritage fund.

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