Haying horsepower: Nebraska ranchers still use four-legged workers
Often when the Sandhills of Nebraska are mentioned, people tend to envision wet meadows and rolling hills. Not all ranchers living there are fortunate enough to have good hay ground. Some folks on good grass years cut pastures for hay. With the price of tractors, rakes and balers and the expense of their upkeep, a few still put up hay the old-fashioned way, with what they have on hand. Old horse drawn equipment can still be found in most ranch junk piles and is fairly easily rebuilt and repaired. And when you still feed with a team, the horses are just standing around needing a job.
Thanks to ample rain in June and July, Rick Licking of rural Thedford, Nebraska, had prairie hay to put up last year. He and his son Tyrel still use the methods and in some cases the same equipment, employed by their grandfathers over the past more than 100 years in the Sandhills.
The hay is mowed with an old tractor but everything else is done with teams of horses. The hay is raked, swept into piles and pushed on the stacker. A pitchfork is used to even and top the stacks. Once the hay has settled, the Lickings will use four head of horses to pull each stack onto a hay sled to either feed or haul home for later use.
Hay production has been reported to be 50% of average or less in many areas of Nebraska. The U.S. hay supply is at a 50-year low (Table 1). Couple this information with rising costs (Figure…