Baling Straw

We baled straw today. Straw’s what’s leftover after you harvest wheat. We only baled a little this year. Enough for our cows and for a few neighbors. Wheat straw is rich in potash, and as my dad said to me years ago, “why would you sell straw and buy potash to replace it?”

The Hayliner
The Hayliner

We love our new, well refurbished, baler. It makes wonderfully tight and square bales. And despite its name, it works well in straw too.


The view out of the tractor front window. Just cruising along the windrows of straw.

Happy Loader
Happy Loader

The view out of the back window of the tractor. Tom may look like he’s doing a happy dance, but actually he saw I was taking pictures and was getting ready to flip me off.

Not What it Looks Like
Not What it Looks Like

It may look like Tom’s mooning me here, but he’s actually carefully placing the bale at the bottom of this tier. If you get that first bale out of position there’s no recovering from it and you’re going to end up with an ugly load.

There’s a Robert Frost poem [1] that contains the lines:

Except as a fellow handled an ax,
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Baling is like that. We often hire high school kids to help us with baling. And some of them know how to “handle an ax.” You show them once and they understand how stack bales in the mow, or how to stack the tiers on a wagon so they’ll ride. And others never get it.

You can glance at a mow of hay, or a bale coming out of the baler, or at a wagon load, and know what sort of fellow did that work.

It’s immensely satisfying work. I just wish I was better at it, because I can look at my stacks and know I’m just adequate. Tom, on the other hand, can really stack a bale.

1. The full poem.

Two Tramps in Mud Time

Robert Frost (1934)

Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of beech it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good
That day, giving a loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And fronts the wind to unruffle a plume
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake: and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheel rut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
These two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an axhead poised aloft,
The grip on earth of outspread feet.
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the woods two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps.)
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax,
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right — agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future’s sakes.

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