Friday, 13 April 2012


During my youth my mother told me varying recollections of her childhood: of growing up on a farm in rural Alberta. One of those stories involved “stooking”. Today farmers put their hay up in stacked bales rather than sheaves set up in stooks that stand upright. A farmer would drive a two horse hitch pulling a flatbed wagon to drive between the rows to pick up the stooks to remove them to the barn or shed. Today a tractor is used with a baler attachment which packs the sun dried hay or green feed (oats not yet ripened) into a square bale or a large round bale and attaches twine to it to keep it secure until picked up.

Now, the story my mother told me dealt with her wanting to earn the same “extra” money her three brothers did by doing farm chores that involved heavier work like stooking in the fields when harvest came. She thought she was strong enough with the ability to do the same. Housework held no charm for her.

My grandfather, being a shrewd man, allowed her to stook the front corner field consisting of ten acres. Mother thought she would be working with dried wheat sheaves, but soon learned the task involved heavy green oats that hadn’t quite ripened in time for the harvest. Determined to get the job done she persisted.

Fortune shined on her that day. A grove of trees hid the field from the farm house. After several long back-breaking hours, a harvest work crew, hired to work in gangs for large farming operations, passed by on the road. Several of the men seeing my mother hard at work jumped down from the flatbed wagons and joined her in the field. They made short work of the stooking before running down the road to catch up to their ride.

Afterward my mother went to her father and told him she had completed the stooking in the field. He went out to see for himself, and without questioning her how she managed to get it done paid her the money.

Photo Credit: Ewing Galloway, The Book of Knowledge (1937) ,The Groiler Society, Limited, vol. 7, pp.1414. “corn stooks”


Leah J. Utas said...

Good for your mom. I recall having stooks in a field when I was very young. Dried wheat, I think, but it was a very long time ago.
Brought back memories. Thanks.

Charles Gramlich said...

I never did this but I've seen a pic of one of our fields with stooks standing.

Barbara Martin said...

Leah, I remember in the mid to late 1970s when the large round bales became all the rage with farmers, though they still used the square baler in two sizes. The larger square bale of timothy alfalfa mix weighed about 80+ pounds while the smaller one was more manageable, at least for me. The large square bales would allow generous sized flakes to feed horses with.

I recall one of my uncles putting hay up in tall stacks that had to be covered with tarp.

Charles, I remember seeing fields of stooks when very young like Leah. Cousins in central Alberta put part of their crop up that way before they could afford a baler.

RuneE said...

A nice little story from the old days. I notice that you use(d) different techniques from us when drying hay (which is hardly done any more).

Reb said...

I too remember seeing a few stooks in my youth, but mostly remember the square bales. I also remember one summer/fall day, helping one of the country kids we went to school with pitch bales. I don't know what size, but man, were they heavy. These days you hardly ever see square bales. I suppose a one ton round bale is a bit more efficient.

Barbara Martin said...

RuneE, I'm certain most farmers are grateful for their machines that make their work faster and easier. Though there are Amish who live near Kitchener, Ontario and north of there who still farm the 'old' way. It's quite the sight to see from the highway.

Barbara Martin said...

Reb, I still see the square bales when I go out with a friend to see her horse. There they have the 80 lb square bales of hay and straw bales too. Sometimes a look in the past brings up fond memories.

Mike Perry said...

Have never heard the word stooks before but my wife's mother told stories of harvests and the back breaking work involved. She ran a farm on her own when her husband was killed.

Nowadays so much is automatic with bundles stored within black plastic material. The 'romance' has gone.

Thanks for the memories.

Anonymous said...

A great insight into your mother. So glad she didn't tell and her father didn't ask!!

Barbara Martin said...

Mike, running a farm on your own can be challenging. I did for five years with a rustic bungalow, a hand pump to get water and a cast iron wood stove, though I did have electricity which was a bonus in the winter.

Pam, my mother was quite determined in all that she did, and thankfully some of that rubbed off on me.