Thursday, July 23, 2009


My post of draft horses yesterday included a photo of what we call a beaverslide, which is this wooden contraption used to stack loose hay. Beaverslides dotted ranches throughout the West until the last few decades and its modernization/mechanization of hay harvest. Nowadays, most outfits use gas or diesel-powered balers, but there are still ranches that put up hay in loose stacks – they look like huge green loaves stacked in fields.

From what I’ve read, the beaverslide was actually patented in 1910 as the Sunny Slope Slide Stacker by two ranchers from the Big Hole region of Montana. The slides can stack hay 30 feet high – about 20 tons of feed.

Here’s how it works. On the Campbell Ranch of western Wyoming, first the hay is mowed with draft teams:

After the hay is raked, Walden drives the sweep (a modified tractor with a sweep attachment – this also used to be done with horses), to sweep up the cut hay:

Walden sweeps the hay onto the basket of the beaverslide:

In the old days, the horsepower supplied by a team of horses would run the series of belts or cables that move the basket of hay to the top of slide, allowing it to drop over the top into the stack. Today, this (slightly modified) pickup truck is hooked to the cables of the beaverslide. When Walden’s aunt puts the truck in reverse and slowly drives backwards, the basket rises.

When the basket reaches the top of the slide, the hay spills out into the stack. The men working atop the stack with pitchforks are called stackers and their job is to level the stack as hay is dropped in.

Once this stack is finished, the beaverslide can be skidded to another place in the hay meadow to create the next stack.

To feed the hay in the winter, a draft horse team pulling a sleigh is driven to the stack, where the hay is forked off the top of the stack onto the sleigh. The sleigh is then slowly driven across clean snow (a clean plate every day) and the hay is forked off in a feedline to nourish the livestock.


Peculiar said...

Really cool, Cat! I've seen these things around, particularly in the Big Hole as you mention, but I'd never quite realized how they work.

Matt Mullenix said...

This is a great series Cat. It should be another of your books!

Cat Urbigkit said...

Thanks for the compliments, guys.

Matt, I followed 12-year old Walden at home on the ranch for photo shoots several times during the year, trying to stockpile some images for a horse book. My publisher wants me to do a kid's horse book, and as soon as I can figure out what good story to tell, I will include some of this stuff in that manuscript.

Matt Mullenix said...

Sign me up for a copy.

Anonymous said...

It looks like a medieval siege engine!

Chas S. Clifton said...

Isn't there a similar device called a "Mormon ... something," or is that another name for the same stacker?

Cat Urbigkit said...

The hay stacker you're referring to is the Mormon derrick. It was more of a bipod shape with a sling to lift the hay to the top of the stack. Now those were scary beasts to operate. There are still a few around.

arnold said...

During the 50's my dad refused to use the sidepanels around the haystack-only the rear one. He believed the hay didn't settle enough when all panels were used. He relied on a good stacker. A neighbor who used side panels was killed by a collapsing haystack as he was trying to brace the stack with long poles.