Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

RANCH MUSINGS: Pitching hay an art

At a recent small gathering a group of friends were talking about the amazing “harpoon” fork

For what it is worth, I want my grandchildren to know how to pitch hay, that is, how to use a pitch fork. Current uses for this tool: feeding out a round bale (preferably on end) in case you don’t need to feed the whole thing right now, breaking up the odd plug of hay in the field if the rake missed it, and if you do a little hay farming for your hobby.

At a recent small gathering a group of friends were talking about the amazing “harpoon” fork which some of us learned to use to put loose hay into a barn loft or onto a hay stack using horses and pulleys to raise the load.

The harpoon fork is about three feet long and half that wide in a ‘U’ shape. Inside the sturdy frame there are levers connected to a handle so when you thrust the big fork into the hay bunch and pull the handle then the sharp ends of the fork flip 90 degrees and hold the hay on the fork.

You can get quite a big load of hay on the harpoon, provided you know how to stack the hay in the first place with the pitch fork. Releasing the hay into the stack or the hay loft is just a matter of pulling on a rope attached to the harpoon ends and they turn downwards.

With all the equipment meant for making labour easy, one may never need to know how to use the harpoon fork, but the old pitchfork remains useful today.

I am talking specifically about the three-pronged fork. Other forks have four to eight or so tines depending on the use. For pitching chopped straw, you may want a large multi-tined fork that will hold the straw.

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Picking up stray small bunches of hay missed during baling may require some fork work.

Pitching and loading onto a wagon will save hay which can be used for the animals kept at home or in the barn. We like small square bales for this but we don’t like to waste any hay we can pick up by hand and transport to its place of use.

A little advice for people learning to use a pitchfork: make sure it is sharp; when gathering a forkful , weave the tines through the various layers of hay so when you lift it, the hay holds onto the fork, and above all, when placing the hay on the wagon or in the truck box, keep the sides high with flakes of hay from the fork and place hay on the inside of the pile so it holds the outer hay from falling off.

A good stacker can build a load that flows over the deck for the wagon or truck and can be stacked quite high looking like a mushroom.

One thing to think about when stacking loose hay by whatever method is that the hay comes out the way it goes in: a messy stack of hay laid in any which way will come out the same. Nicely laid-in hay will come out in decent large forkfuls.

Happy pitching takes practice.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.

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