The proverb was recorded by John Heywood in 1546: “Whan the sunne shinth make hay.” It appears to be of English Tudor origin. The phrase was used in a non-farming context in 1673 in Richard Head’s Canting Academy: “She … was resolv’d … to make Hay whilest the Sun shin’d.”
It takes several days to make hay once the crop has grown mature. Most important, there should be no rain during that time. First, it must be cut and allowed to dry in the warm sun. Next, it must be gathered in a way that makes it easy to store until it is fed to livestock. Stacking in the field was a common practice. Several people were needed to tend a large field. The stack shape was designed to shed water. Claude Monet painted many beautiful scenes with haystacks in them. This is one of my favorites.
More modern times brought tractor and raking technology. It sped up the preparation for storage. The rake sweeps the dried hay into fluffy windrows ready for a baling machine to access. My oldest sister is seen in this 1953 movie taken by my mother. Mom had a hard time seeing through the small viewfinder. Often, her subjects were not centered in the field of view. It adds to the charm. We appreciate her role as family cinematographer.
Most people couldn’t afford their own baling machine. You hired someone to come do the job. The Moore Brothers are in this movie. The hay baler formed rectangular blocks sized for a man to lift and stack on a wagon. The wagon was pulled near the hay barn directly below the large doors leading to the haymow. Large metal forks were inserted into 6-8 bales. A trip rope was handled by one person who would drop the bales in the haymow when they heard the call. We used a tractor to pull up the bales. Driving the tractor was a boring job as you went back and forth all day. All the action was elsewhere.
Neighbors got together to help each other harvest the hay in the shortest time. Paul H. is driving the tractor pulling the hay wagon to the barn. Dad and Dean C. are setting forks. Brother Ron is driving the tractor for pull-up. I don’t know who is in the haymow arranging the bales.