Baling Hay: Strength Training & Good Body Mechanics


If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m a true farm girl. Not afraid to get dirty (as long as I have the appropriate clothes on….) or to move my body taking care of things.  We recently baled hay for our livestock to eat this winter. It was a great strength workout in many ways, using muscles I don’t normally use and enjoyed it all. (OK-almost all of it.)

Having livestock means we have to provide food & bedding for them in all seasons. They have access to green pastures in the late spring, summer & early fall months, but we purchase hay in small square bales (roughly 50lbs each) for the rest of the year.

Over the last several years, our neighbor has sold us the hay he doesn’t need, and we usually help stack it when he uses his small square baler. Like small farms & farmers, these small square balers are fewer & farer between. Most opting for bigger bales & less manual labor.

Making Hay

If you’re not familiar with how hay is made, here’s a brief description.  1st, the hay is cut.  When it’s dry enough, it’s raked (with a special rake on the back of a tractor) and usually raked again into rows so a baler can pick it up to form a bale.  It can be baled into big rounds, big squares, stacks, or small squares.  Small squares are the best if you have a few animals (like us).

As the baler picks up the hay (notice in the picture how it’s already raked into rows), it compresses it and ties it into a bale. All as it slowly kicks it out the back end. We stand on the wagon (hay rack) and grab the bale by the strings as it comes off the chute and stack it. We can get about 100 or a few more bales on a rack.

And then we get to unload them into the building, stacking them there until we need them this winter.

Of course it’s almost always done on the hottest days and in the heat of the day as the hay needs to be dry enough to go through the baler & store properly. Wet hay will spontaneously burst into fire.  

It’s hot, dirty work. You wear jeans, boots, gloves and a long-sleeved shirt if you don’t want to get scratched. I tend to wear everything but opt for a tank top instead of a long-sleeved shirt and end up with scratches on my forearms.

But even with all the extra coverage, small bits of hay get everywhere. Making that shower at the end of the night feel oh, so good.

Strength & Core Work

There is no easy way to pick up a bale of hay. You’ll hurt yourself and quickly tire if you don’t use good body mechanics. I’ve learned to bend at the hips & knees, using my legs to lift, pulling the bale as close to my center as possible, all while keeping my balance while walking on uneven and moving surfaces. 

It’s a great core workout too. Keeping your balance on the hayrack as it’s traveling about 2 mph is like trying to balance on a bosu ball. Granted, it does help to have a good tractor driver-like our neighbor!

You also use your arms as you direct the bale and spare your back as the stacks get taller. Not as strong as my husband, I push the bales into place after I hike them up to about the height of my neck, rather than lift them up over my head & toss them like he can.

Enjoying the Journey

As a little girl, I remember baling hay was an all day or several days’ work at least 3 times every summer. Granted I was too young to do much work, and when I was old enough, it wasn’t my favorite thing to do. One might say, I even avoided it.

My favorite part back then-riding on the bales, getting together with cousins and break time. Grandma or Mom would supply cookies or chocolate sheet cake & a jug of ice water. And the smell. Mmmmm fresh baled hay-much like fresh mown grass.

Working along side my Favorite Handyman & with our neighbor, knowing we’re providing quality food for our animals is a joy. Albeit, part of that reasoning might be that now it’s only about 2-3 hours of work instead of all day. One hay rack vs several. That & I understand the reason why much better now than I did when I was younger.

It’s an opportunity to marvel at how God provides a way to feed the animals quality food over the winter, therefore providing for us. I appreciate where food comes from & what it takes to get it to my plate. How husband & wife & neighbors connect in many different ways. How moving my body on the farm is connected to praying often & eating well. How God designed our bodies to move and the endless ways there are to do it.

How are you moving your body this week? Are there things you do once or twice a year where you use muscles you don’t normally use? Or does this bring back fond childhood memories?  Share in the comments below!

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