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Building a reputation, one haystack at a time

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Building a reputation, one haystack at a time
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

We take pride in what we do. As ranchers, we have a reputation to uphold, which you might've guessed has to do with hay.

There was a time when the Kirk family's reputation was based on haystacks, but with the convenience of baling equipment, my husband believes our reputation is now built on the appearance of hay bales and the bale piles in our stackyards.

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In years past, my father-in-law's haystacks were noticed by people driving by -- they had to drive by them in order to get to Custer, to see Wind Cave Park's rodents (tourists call them prairie dogs), or Hot Springs' naturally lukewarm heated indoor pool. Sometimes tourists would stop to watch the hay stacking spectacle -- my father-in-law chewing my husband's butt while they worked together cleaning up hay and stacking it. Some people would stop to take pictures. Most people didn't know tractors like ours still existed, let alone were still in use.

Our outfit was the last in this area to stack hay. For miles around, my father-in-law was known for his haystacks. His were a thing of beauty -- the kind that turned the heads of men who appreciated good-looking haystacks.

My father-in-law took pride in his stacks and was particular about how they were built. He wanted to retain his reputation for good-looking haystacks, so my husband was not allowed to place a sweepload of hay on top of his dad's stacks. Once my husband was in his 40s and had proven himself worthy of making good sweeploads, my husband was still not allowed to stack anything.

A good reputation requires a lot of upkeep. This gave my husband an alibi for getting a good baler since the appearance of a guy's bales is determined by the quality of the baler that he uses.

Things haven't changed around here as far as putting up nice-looking hay goes. I've never been allowed to run the baler; then the summer I turned 40, my husband let me do the same job of windrowing and raking.

There are also different theories on how to stack round bales in order to shed moisture, and my rancher notices how other guys do it. The different techniques are sometimes disputed, and I can't argue with any of them. I'm not allowed to do any of the bale stacking, either.

Not only is the appearance of bales and how they're stacked at risk for criticism, but also the quality of a man's hay and his stackyard. Bales that are full of weeds, or are dusty or moldy, are bad for a reputation. A cow that gets into our stackyard is the ultimate sin, because it's hard to stop a cow. All they want to do is eat hay, and they'll come back to try and get more once they know where to find it. I've always assumed having hay that cows would want to eat and getting them to come to feed was the whole point, but I have a reputation for not making any sense.

Our hay really only needs to be in good standing with our cows, and so far it's always looked good enough for them to eat. The people who see our hay have never tried it.

Amy and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth-generation cow/calf operation near Pringle, S.D. She blogs at ranchwifeslant.areavoices.com.

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