Bob Mitchell: Hay for cows these days

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Among the obvious changes from the early 1950s to today is the method of keeping the county’s nearly 43,000 head of cattle during the winter months with a good supply of whatever hay their providers happen to bale.

The difference is fairly obvious when cattlemen start to move bales around, either from grazing locations or from purchase if their supplies have been depleted.

Breakdown of cattle numbers has the nearly 43,000 for beef cattle, including cows and calves. Other numbers, to be added are dairy cows, reported at 2,500. In the beef cattle category, Barry County was ranked fourth in the state, according to the University of Missouri.

The beef numbers have held fairly steady over the years, but dairy operation declines knocked the milk cow numbers down. Special recognition events for both dairy operations and fescue production have fallen by the wayside in past years.

Regardless of numbers or ranking, hay continues to be important to the agri-business of the county. Following a banner year and season for this year’s hay crop, those feeding in fields haven’t had near the problems their counterparts faced nearly six decades ago. These were the days of severe drought in southwest Missouri, during which shipments of Prairie Hay out of Kansas arrived in Barry County on the Cassville and Exeter Railroad.

Long lines at depot

Expediting the arrival of this U.S. government sponsored program was County Extension Agent Bob Kelley, whose tireless efforts stayed with program administrators until the boxcars rolled into Cassville. Kelley was besieged by cattlemen of those days who were on the verge of losing foundation animals and herds that had been developed over years.

There had been no moisture to grow hay and there were certainly no pastures to keep the animals in even fair condition, thus many were going to market at the lowest possible prices. It was just no time to be in the cattle business in these parts during those years.

Cassville’s Main Street was virtually non-passable when the C&E chugged in from Exeter after having picked-up the hay-laden cars off the Frisco main line and pulled them to a siding track adjacent to the depot, across from the former Bill Smith Service Station.

In those days, conservatives and progressives alike were glad to participate in the program, regardless of whether they were in agreement with government programs. This effort by the government was going to save their herds from starvation or the auction ring.

Residents suffered

A small segment of Barry County was especially hard hit by the drought conditions. These were the folks attracted here by past performances in the cattle business. These rolling hills of fescue were producing good results in this agri-business division. Coming out of other areas hit by lack of rainfall, they paid prices for land that they eventually could not repay, and subsequently they departed the area.

Most of these people came from areas suffering from lack of rainfall for many years. Few of them survived their move to Barry County when drought conditions hit southwest Missouri.


Once one of the county’s good employee factor, haying once was a solid method for young folks to earn money during summer vacations. Especially attracted to the haying process were athletes from various schools. Some program coaches would put together crews to provide hay hauling chores out of the field to a storage facility or stack.

Their performance and interest was to put themselves in physical condition to participate in fall and winter programs.

These were in the days of the small, rectangular bales.

Today’s big bales

Haying operations today, including the equipment used for baling hay or hauling it, are vastly different than in the past. Development of large bales, and the equipment to wrap and store them and then dispense them out into the field was essential. Some weighing in the 1,000-pound range would be impossible to throw on a hay truck of the past.

Hardly a cattleman in the county today is without a tractor or truck equipped with a hay spike to handle the heavy bales. Trucks, used to roll out a bale in the field or steel form to hold the bale to discourage spreading by animals, are of a necessity these days.

Today’s equipment

Haying in 2017 has even spawned a couple of manufacturers of truck beds and spikes in Barry County to handle the large bales. Most senior is Raymond Vanzandt’s Arc Shop and Mark Vollenweider’s Metal Works, both in the Exeter community.

Their logos and firm names are popular in the county, whose economy is stronger still because of the cattle industry. Even as prices have declined somewhat in recent months, cattle prices contribute to a healthy economy for the area.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.