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Praise be baling wire and binder twine

I know farmers who can fix almost anything except the economy with baling wire and a pair of pliers. The geniuses who came up with wire-tie knotters for hay balers didn’t know that they were saving agriculture because of all the secondary uses for the wire after it is removed from the bales. Baling wire is just the right gauge to bend easily and still strong enough to hold stuff together until you can at least get back to your repair shop. I used a length of the stuff to replace a chain that raised and lowered the tines of my ancient side delivery rake. It lasted five years before it rusted enough to break. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve used baling wire to keep mufflers from dragging on the ground when their holding straps rusted off.

Just this week, the metal cover over my elderly rotary mower rusted through so badly that I had to do something to keep from getting killed if a rock or something flew up from the blade and hit me on the tractor seat. As usual, I had to figure out something that did not cost much money. A board fitted nicely over the gaping hole, but how could I hold it in place? Aha. Baling wire. I drilled holes at appropriate places in the board and threaded baling wire through them and around the iron braces of the mower cover. I have a notion that repair will last as long as I do.

All 22 of the cattle panel gates into various of my pasture plots are held to the posts with baling wire. I keep saying that I will install hook and chain arrangements to make opening and closing the gates easier, but I never do. A loop of wire from one bale, doubled, does the job well enough even though it has to be replaced every four or five years.

In fact, the major hazard to life on our farm is old, rusting baling wire that somehow wanders off into the pastures to waylay mowers or end up in the rumens of livestock. Actually that latter event has never happened on our farm although I understand that it used to be a rather common occurrence. I like to think that my animals are too choosy to eat baling wire. I can barely get them to eat Canada thistles. But my mower loves the stuff and can find a piece even if there is only one little strand in a ten acre field.

That strange phenomenon underlies the major problem with baling wire. How do you store it so that you always have some within easy reach but making sure it doesn’t crawl out like a pumpkin vine and waylay innocent children passing by. Careless souls tend to pull the two wires off the bale, ball them up carelessly, and throw them in a barrel or worse, in a corner of the hay loft. Then when they need a loop or two, they learn real fast the meaning of the term “haywire.” A pile or barrel full of baling wire has a way of intertwining like plant roots in a flowerpot. Trying to retrieve one loop is like trying to retrieve one earthworm from a bait box. My cousin, a most particular farmer, folds each loop of wire pulled from the bale into a four-folded little bundle about 8 inches in length. EACH ONE ALONE. That is the essential detail. If you try to fold two bale wires together this way, you once again enter haywire heaven when you try to pull them apart. To store these little bundles of money-saving farm repair, he ranks them up like ricks of wood. I am not making this up. Once I happened to accompany him to his trash pile back in the woods. There I saw, so help me, at least a cord of folded bale wires, ready for instant use just in case. He is one of the most successful farmers in the county so don’t laugh. He knows the value of recycling baling wire even to the point of having enough stored away to hold an old hay barn together if necessary.

What we old timers call binder twine, although it is now also baler twine, is almost as important to the farm economy as the wire variety. The stuff is made of sisal, or more often now, plastic which means it won’t rot. That sounds like an advantage, but actually it just means that the stuff builds up in barns and sheds and out of the way corners like stalactites and stalagmites. It is hard to cut with a pocketknife too. But at least if you use it to fasten gates or hang chicken waterers off the coop floor, it will last a long time. Do not make piles of it anywhere a lawn mower can find it. In a split second, binder twine can choke a lawnmower to death, and it will take you an hour or so to cut the stuff out of blade.

Binder twine, like baling wire, tends to overwhelm the farm where hay is made. This presents a challenge to any self-respecting, waste-not farmer. You can’t just throw something away that has many potential uses. That’s why one used to see lots of doorstep mats woven out of twine. I haven’t seen any made out of the plastic stuff, but I think they would last even longer.

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