Hay Doodles



I did a pasture walk, as it is now called, at Stratford Ecological Center near Delaware, Ohio, a couple of weeks ago.  Farmers and people thinking about becoming farmers go on pasture walks to learn more about how to raise milk, meat, and eggs by grazing their farm animals rather than penning them up and feeding them lots of cultivated grains. David Kline, an author and Amish dairy and pasture farmer, and Jeff Dickinson, the Center’s Director and a first rate farmer too, led the crowd of pasture walkers with me. They know more about pasture farming than I do, so I felt safe.

Pasture walks are fun. They usually come down to being contests to see who can identify the most plants growing in the pastures. The Center’s cows joined us on this walk which made it even more enjoyable. They obviously liked human company which showed me that the Center was blessed with good husbandmen and husbandwomen. Stratford is a genuine, working farm with all kinds of livestock, chickens, gardens, orchard, strawberry patch, barns and fields, the kind of farm like most of us older people grew up on. Its main purpose is educational, with some 5000 school children visiting it every year, learning where food comes from. The livestock must be docile and amiable to be around the children. The people who work there are amiable too, and treated us royally.

I was talking with one of the staff, David Hoy, after cruising the pastures, which were in fine shape with a goodly mixture of grasses and clovers and not one single bull thistle. He used a phrase I have not heard since 1940:  “hay doodles.” Right then, I knew that as farms go, Stratford Ecological Center was the genuine thing. Hay doodles come from a time when agrarianism was at its peak and farming was in what I consider its golden era. That there was someone around a good deal younger than I am, who knew about hay doodles, was proof.

I can remember the exact spot where I was standing when I first heard that word in 1940, in the field right north of our home farm which today is still in our family, midway between two of my sisters’ homes. Dad had mowed and raked the hay, of red clover and timothy, into windrows but it was too green to put up and rain was threatening. Dad said that Grandpaw Rall would want us to put the hay in doodles to protect it from the rain, and he proceeded to do so. I was mystified of course but before long, I knew exactly what a doodle was. We forked the windrowed hay into little piles, a little larger than wheat shocks, piling several forkfuls on top of each other to make a pile that would, at least theoretically, shed water. Although the work was strenuous, it was remarkable how fast we could transform a windrow into a row of doodles. The worry, Dad said, was that a storm wind could blow the doodles over. Years later I learned, from Newman Turner’s wonderful book “Fertility Pastures” how to make simple wooden tripods that held the doodles in place and allowed the hay to cure better. But Mr. Turner, in England, did not use the term “doodles.” Where the word came from, I do not know.

In the olden days of small farms and lots of help, doodling was a practical way to protect hay in climates prone to rain at haymaking time. I had a hunch that David Hoy might try it again at Stratford if necessary, since the farm and its staff and volunteer workers would be a good place for it. The Center sells its grass-fed beef, lamb, pork and eggs at its own market and has no trouble finding customers.

No surprise there. Our son raises our family’s grass-fed beef, not one grain of corn involved, and it’s the tastiest and almost the tenderest meat that I have ever eaten. I don’t believe much in anything anymore, but grass-fed beef, with plenty of clover in the pasture, and hay doodles if necessary, is something I’ll swear by.


So, could possibly the nursery rhyme, “Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle”, etc. be closer to “hay, doodle, doodle”, ….

hhmmm…. Andy bush-hogs the neighbor’s orchard when the grass if medium high. We use it for mulch in our gardens. When it’s dry he rakes the rows of cut grass into piles and then takes the wagon over to pick up small loads to mulch with. Here he was hay-doodling over there and we didn’t even know it! Now we know … thanks again, Gene! Keep remembering and telling us so we can pass it on!

When I was a kid I spent my summers making hay on my grandfathers farm in western Massachusetts. Since a shower can come up at any time there we made the same thing but we called them hay cocks not hay doodles. The real work was when you had to take them apart and spread the hay out again then turn it by hand as my grandfather believed that only a man could get it right after it had been rained upon. I now live in Germany (where it rains even more then England) and some farmers here still use the wooden tripods but most chop the grass as silage.

    Steven and others, there is a theory among professional folklorists that “cock” became such a pervasive word for the male sexual organ that righteous people coined other words to avoid it, Hence hay cock became hay doodle. In the Ozarks of yesteryear, a farmer might say “hoe handle” when referring to his penis in order to avoid both that word and cock. Gene Logsdon

Have baled a bunch of hay with an old AC round baler. I have often thought that anyone who could make one of those cursed things work could do anything.

    Tickmeister: My dad kept his running for years. Replacing the belts every so often was the real pain, but he was a genius with it.

The pasture walk was so much fun and educational – I hope you and David will consider doing one again soon 🙂

The great American tragedy is this: that “genuine, working farm[s] with all kinds of livestock, chickens, gardens, orchard, strawberry patch, barns and fields, the kind of farm like most of us older people grew up on” have disappeared to become mere museums pieces, That plus the fact that so few people care about the disappearance.

But why should they? They have malls and doublewides and Dunkin’ Donuts. They can buy green beans in cans for $.89. They have widescreens in each room, which they watch 24/7, and they have wide-sized asses to further fatten as they watch.

Craft? Real food? Real work? An actual realization that earth and land and four seasons exist? Who cares when you can Twitter every five seconds? When you can dream about being the first and fattest person to do facebook on Mars?


It was a pleasure to find your post. I have been reading your books…in reverse order accidentally, which is quite humorous to see how you have changed. All Flesh is Grass, has been an inspiration as my wife and I are in our 2nd year of small-scale farming…A common theme in your writings had a funny similarity to a fact I learned at a conference last fall. I was listening to a working dog breeder talk about different traits in dogs. English Shepards, to be precise. She stated that even the best working dog bloodlines can be completely bred out for show in only 2 generations….It just dawned on me the other day that apparently Land Stewardship and Husbandry have been bred out of most of today’s show farmers….
Really enjoy following your work….keep it up!!

Ken: Those small round bales were almost certainly produced by an Allis-Chalmers round baler, which was pretty common years before the giant round balers arrived. They made nice rain resistant bales but were tough to stack and walk on. In the winter, we had a “hay-knife” with a serrated blade that would saw through the bale endwise and it would fall open for feeding. Cutting through one with an icy exterior in pre dawn darkness in a South Dakota feed yard is not a pleasant memory, but is definitely a vivid one.


Here’s an account (badly written, unfortunately) of moving hay doodles in Ohio at a time when labor was scarce. I think I’ll build a modified version of this sled for my donkeys to pull this summer.

    I believe there was a description of this in Lynn Miller’s “Haying with Horses” book available from The Small Farmer’s Journal.
    FYI we put up some hay last year using one of the tripods described above and in Newman Turner’s classic. We had only grass hay and i found that it tends to slide down the stack quite easily. in talking to an old timer (older than me) he told me that more legumes in the mix would fix that.
    the tripods were very labor intensive but the hay was the best i ever put up. we baled it and put it in the barn after about a week in the tripod with some rain. in the middle of winter i could tell those bales as they were 1/2 again as heavy as the rest and totally without mold.

Gene – Stratford Ecological Center is indeed a wonderful place. When my son was younger, I took him to a Saturday program for “Morning Farm Chores” where he learned to milk a goat, feed the chickens, and throw hay to the cows. Stratford also has a nice little woods that is worth a look. The McMansions of Delaware are creeping closer, but for now, it is a great place to expose kids to farm life.

Alan Borer
Westerville, Ohio


I’ve got piles of scythed grass lying here and there where I haven’t had time to gather them up and put them into ricks* for the goats. They look like I haven’t gotten to them yet, but I’m going to start calling them “doodles” and claim they’re there on purpose!

* Another strange farm word: am I the only one who refers to feeding structures as “ricks?” I think I got it from my Dad long ago.

    Hay ricks or hay cocks is the name I know for them. I’m from England, so maybe a British English word for them. I now live in Latvia and the weather can be wet some years and so they used to put their hay up on two A frame. Here’s my attempt at one, http://thejourneytosomewhere.blogspot.com/2010/08/good-times.html

      Joanna, that’s a great hay rick if I ever saw one. Thanks for sharing. Gene Logsdon

      You would be especially amazed at the Latvian skill in making the hay ricks Gene, they are breathtaking to watch and much fuller than my measly attempt. I think I could do a better job of one now though but haven’t made one in a while. We now use a small round baler and that is a bit faster and more portable.

Gene, I began, in my kids’ teenage years, to use archaic words, and ones that have fallen out of use, simply for the pure pleasure of annoying my children. I collect them and save them up till just the right time.

My boys never ” whittled” as we boys did growing up. Not many of this generation know what “hankering” is, much less ever had one. Describing a minor disagreement at work as a “brouhaha”, brought annoyed derision from my then 15 year-old son, who accused me of writing my own dictionary.

They are adults in their mid twenties now, and I still love to annoy the hell out of them in this way, it’s sport to me. Better yet is when I can add embarrasment by doing this in front of their amused friends, by offering them a “pop” . That’s what I called them, growing up in Ohio, but here in California, thirty years on, you’ re a marked man, a midwesterner for sure, using language like that. We drink “soda”.

I hope to one day be able to use “doodles” but cannot forsee that time. Nonetheless, thanks for keeping the old language alive.

    That is what I did and still do, too, with my kids. I love words and I can see that at least one of the kids does, too. He likes unusual words. I continue to use odd words in my job at school. I think kids need that influence in this world now, actually they have always needed someone to show them whimsy and they love it.

I have never heard that term before even though I put up a lot of hay in southern Indiana 40 years ago. We did something back then I have not seen in years. We put up the small (60-80lb) cigar shaped tapered round bales. I put up thousands of those with a hay hook in one hand.
We use to stack them outside and those bales did shed quite a bit of water for several months.
I also know what it is like to be on the top of a load of those going up a hill and the back standard break.

I love your posts. I will have to ask my father on Sunday (fathers day) if he ever heard of a hay doodle. He is 81 going on 82.

Please leave your comments...

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>