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Adapt, overcome and improvise. These three words help me solve problems that I come across in life. They came to mind while I gazed at an acre of unused bromegrass on the north end of my property. I first asked myself “What do I do with it?” and then “How do I get it done?”

I had toyed with the idea of using some sort of livestock such as sheep or goats. Using the bromegrass as feed would lower the cost of keeping animals. There was just one problem. Having not grown up on a farm, I knew nothing about the process of harvesting hay or when to start. Buying even a used tractor and baler would never be worth the investment. A miniature baler would work perfectly, but I found them to be just as expensive as the used equipment. Cutting the hay by hand and loose stacking it seemed like the only answer.

So that brought on the idea of harvesting the brome to feed next year’s possible purchase of livestock. Cutting and loose stacking the hay a year ahead of getting livestock would provide me with the first year’s supply, and it would start the process of having a sustainable source of feed. It sounded like a good idea so I thought I would give it a try.

Of course, this got me wondering if it was even worth it. So in order to find out how much the acre would yield, I had to give it away to a friend. He was more than happy to cut and bale the hay since the property was between two of his own fields. It hurt my pride but it served its purpose.

Almost three round bales of hay were harvested, and that could have been better if it wasn’t for the large size of the equipment used and its inability to maneuver on the small acre of land. Three round bales was more than adequate to make harvesting the hay worth my time, especially if the alternative was giving it away or letting it go to waste.

Using the Hay Rake/cart
The neighbor’s children are eager to help and find the loaded hay rake surprisingly easy to pull.

Custom Haymaker

The next step would be finding a way to harvest it myself. The old-fashioned way of scything and loose stacking seemed possible, but I knew the time it takes to do this would offset its use, and it seemed incredibly difficult. So I asked myself “What exactly makes it so difficult?” The answer was easy: Cutting the hay and moving it from the field to the stack.

The first part of the problem was an easy fix. I purchased a small walk-behind tractor with a sickle bar mower. I am a sucker for anything antique. Couple that with the fact that it’s about the most useful form of tractor for a small acreage and I couldn’t pass it up.

“Now, how do I move the hay?” I wondered. A quick internet search would provide an easy fix, or so I thought. I found nothing that I thought I could duplicate or make a smaller version of to do the job. Then my “adapt, overcome and improvise” mentality kicked in. It didn’t take long for me to come up with the idea of combining a small hay cart and rake all in one. It would basically be a giant pitchfork on wheels with a basket that could collect and move the hay.

I started building with just a basic idea in my head, no plans or blueprints. Building such a thing was an easy task accomplished over a few winter weekends. My desire to make it look antique was the biggest factor in its construction, next to its functionality. The basic construction is simple. It’s just a big pitchfork with wheels—nothing overly complicated. I wanted to keep it simple. You can take the idea and construct a similar cart from materials that you have available.

I used 1/2- and 3/8-inch cold-rolled steel rods for the tines and basket, all spaced 5 inches apart. The basket was constructed so that a pitchfork could enter through the side and exit out the top if needed for unloading. The tines are 6 feet long, with a curve at the tip so they can slide across the ground.

I constructed wooden wheels using three 1x10s cut to a circle, with cross boards nailed on to tie the three pieces together, giving them a total height of 27 inches. Two simple axles constructed of 1-inch pipe were then bolted to the center of the wheels and mounted underneath a center 4×4. The tines and the basket are all welded to a piece of 3-foot by 3-foot angle iron that was then attached to the 4×4. Two long handles were added and tied together with two 1-inch dowel rods, thus providing support and optional handles.

To The Hayfields

But would this contraption work? I waited as the weather warmed and the grass grew. It was almost six months from building completion to testing. I was hoping that the rake/cart would work without raking the hay by hand into a row. It did, but I wasn’t satisfied. For it to work well I would have to add more tines, but that would cause the rake to be too heavy. So I tested it again after raking the hay into a row, and it worked perfectly. To my pleasant surprise, the rake/cart (even when loaded with hay) could rest in the inverted position, tines up, allowing the hay to settle in the basket.

Overall, I am pretty happy with the rake/cart both in its appearance and function. There could be some improvements made, such as using pneumatic tires and making the basket area larger. This hay rake/cart, or whatever you might call it, definitely simplifies the job and takes most of the backbreaking labor out of harvesting hay. Who knows if the livestock purchase will ever come to fruition. If it never does and the hay simply sits unused, I can say proudly that the whole project was worth the time and money invested simply because it gave me a great appreciation for what my grandparents had to do year after year, not as a project, but for their survival.

Hay rake/cart design
An illustration of the author’s design.

Building Materials

  • 1/2-inch rod for the tines, the bottom and back of basket: (7) pieces 8-feet long for tines (The actual tines are 6 feet long, with an additional 2 feet for the bottom/back of the basket, making a total of 8 feet.)
    (1) piece 36-inches long for the back of basket (5) pieces 24-inches long to go across bottom of basket
  • 3/8-inch rod for support of the tines and sides of the basket: (6) pieces 24-inches long to support the tines (5) pieces 36-inches long for the sides
  • 3x3x3/16-inch angle iron, 36-inches long
  • 1x10x8-foot pine board
  • 4x4x36-inch post
  • 2x8x8-foot pine board
  • (2) 1-inch dowel rods, 36 inches long
  • (4) 1-inch pillow block bearings
  • 3/4-inch pipe, 12 inches long
  • 3/4-inch pipe caps
  • 3/4-inch bolt flanges
  • (8) 5/16×3-inch bolts, nuts and washers
  • (8) 5/16×3-inch lag bolts
  • (20) 2 1/2-inch deck screws

Special Equipment

  • Use an 18-gauge nail gun to attach the cross boards to the wheels.
  • Use a welder for welding basket pieces together and attaching the tines, supports and basket to the angle iron.

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Winter 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.

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