Make Hay While The Sun Shines

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.

Claude Monet | Haystacks (Midday) | 1890-91 | National Gallery of Australia

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.


32 thoughts on “Make Hay While The Sun Shines

  1. Love the old home movies, Jim. 🙂 Having dairy farms up and down our road, this was a familiar sight growing up. I loved to watch the bailer moving rhythmically up and down and popping out fresh bales. My brothers and boy cousins would gather them to build forts (which the farmer didn’t mind as it made it easy to pick them up later to bring to the barn) and for a few hours we would play our games of ‘cowboys and indians’ or ‘war,’ which was what most kids played back then.
    Did you ever see my post on our local CSA farm’s horse powered haymaking? It might be of interest.

    • What a beautiful post you had about the horse-drawn haying. You captured it so well in words and pictures. Love the ear covers.

      We had fun, once the bales were in the barn, by making tunnels and forts. Some tunnels were quite long and multi-leveled. I don’t remember feeling itchy or sweaty. We must have been a mess.

  2. Wow! I am impressed! This is a fantastic piece of historical documentation. Tell your sister that I am following in her footsteps _ I insist on raking the hay – I don’t want to lose the leaves! c

  3. Mom remembers the pleasures of playing in her grandfather’s haymow. They stored loose hay, perhaps because they only were feeding a pair of horses and a cow or two. Or, they may not yet have had balers.

    There was a haybarn that burned down a few years ago in a town I often visit. Apparently it was spontaneous combustion. I gather that can be a problem if the hay’s not dry when baled and stored. Here in Texas, you often see the plastic-covered round bales edging the fields. I had an aunt, born and raised in Chicago, who swore up and down that those bales were the source of shredded wheat biscuits. She was a smart lady, and had a responsible job, but we never could sway her on that. She could have been putting us on, with a straight face. I hope she was.

    • Yes, they can catch fire that way. It gets pretty hot if the hay isn’t cured and dry enough. The bales provide lots of insulation. They make an intense fire.

      Those plastic lined ones remind me of tubes of sausage. 🙂

  4. My husband’s family were farmers~how they would love to have film of it in action like this. Paul tells happy stories of the hay mow too.
    I think the big round bales I see nowadays aren’t as much fun but I do like Monet’s paintings of haystacks.

  5. My mother’s people were farmers and they were among the happiest I’ve ever encountered. There is profound satisfaction in a family group collectively making a living off the land. In my earliest days I recall chickens and pigs but those gave way to only cattle before long. But there was always a large vegetable garden every year and canning in the fall. Wood stoves, carrying water from a well. Churning buttermilk for beverage and butter. Milking the cows. Splitting wood.

    I submit that human beings and leisure are fundamentally incompatible and that goal-seeking is essential to happiness. When reasonable goals are absent, strange things can occur. A couple of years ago I read in our local paper about a couple who were obsessed with collecting all things Roy Rogers. Every room in their home was full of Roy Rogers pictures and memorabilia.

    • I agree with your leisure submission. Life with known and possible tasks gives direction and reason. A basic reason is to be able to eat food that you made and that tastes good.

      Don’t you think these things you mentioned are some reasons for the unrest and pain in the world. People are pushed from their routines, homes, and land into refugee status.

      We gave goats and chickens to our grandkids for Christmas via Heifer International. Most are old enough to know why.

      Roy Rogers obsession? Hmmm…not for me. I did enjoy the TV shows as a kid. 🙂

  6. Nice family history post, Jim. Very informative as I know little about haying. I think we’d all be better off with a farming experience to help us deal with life in a more sane manner. Too many take food for granted and have no appreciation for the farmers’ hard work. And it is hard even with modern technology to help them along.
    We were fortunate enough to visit a Monet exhibit in Boston quite a few years ago and got to enjoy several of his Haystack paintings. The museum did an excellent job, of course, with lighting and they looked just wonderful.
    Happy New Year to you and Melanie.

  7. This is something that is unheard of on this neck of the woods, as we obviously don’t have winters. However, I remember when going to Florida and seeing the big round bales, and not knowing what they were for. Even Florida has these in rural areas where they get frost. Monet seemed to be obsessed with light, he did several works studying how light falls on subjects. Lovely post!

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