The haystacks from Romania didn’t go unnoticed to any photographer coming to Romania.
We heard this over and over again: “I’ve never seen so many haystacks in any other country!”
The haystacks themselves and the process of making them make for very interesting photography subjects. And they definitely bring that element that makes it easier to identify where the picture was taken. If you see online a picture with a haystack, it was most likely taken in Romania (or neighboring countries such as Bulgaria or Serbia).
There’s a short and long explanation about them. I will cover both in this text and provide many pictures so by the time you are done reading you will be an expert in Romanian haystacks 🙂
Let’s start with the definition. A haystack is a pile of dried grass. While in many developed countries they use mostly alfalfa to feed animals, in Romania there are usually many different types of wild flowers and plants that are cut, dried, and piled up in haystacks.
The short answer is that haystacks are made so farmers can feed hay to their animals especially in the winter when there is no grass or it is covered with snow.
That is quite obvious so only the long description will give insight into the local traditions and reality.
Here are some facts for context
- In Romania there are over 3 million small scale, subsistence farms, the largest number among EU countries
- Many of these households own only a few hectares of land and a few animals. Therefore, buying agricultural machinery is expensive and farmers cannot afford it. Instead, they use old methods and tools for farming. And work is much more labor intensive.
- Especially in hilly areas or mountainous areas the plots of farmland are small and ownership is very fragmented. So it is especially in those areas that you can find haystacks which is about a third of surface of Romania, all around the Carpathian Mountains. So, you are not going to find haystacks in the Danube Delta, or near Timisoara or Bucharest where it very flat. But you will find haystacks close to Bran Castle, south of Sibiu, in Maramures and Bucovina regions or in the Apuseni mountains.
Here are the most important things to know about hay making and haystacks in Romania:
- Farmers designate certain plots for haymaking. Often these plots are fenced so animals don’t graze on them. If they graze on them, you cannot make good hay. So they have plots for grazing and plots for hay making. When they are done with haymaking, they will let animals graze there are well
- Especially in the winter time, farmers bring animal manure to those fields and spread it so the grass grows better
- In late spring, usually in May-June they do the first cut of hay. For it to dry on the floor, it has to be sunny, therefore the saying “make hay while the sun shines”. Piling wet hay in haystack is a bad idea as it will probably rotten so it can’t be used for animals, they will not eat it. So that is no, no, no!
- Cutting was traditionally done with a scythe and was all done by hand. From time to time the farmer would stop and sharpen his scythe so it cuts better. Cutting the hay can be done in the morning when the hay is wetter from dew as it will be easier to cut. In recent years, diesel powered mowers are taking over but you can still from time to time people cutting hay with a scythe.
- After cutting the grass, it had to be turned a few times so it dries and all sides. Sun is essential for drying. So people plan cutting the hay before sunny days. Of course there is machinery for turning the hay but again, many farmers don’t have those and use rakes and pitchforks to turn the hay.
- For drying the hay some “fences” may be used. Farmers lift the hay on those where there is too much humidity, especially in valleys. So to prevent it from rotting on the ground, they do an extra step of placing it up on those.
- After it dries, they gather it in smaller piles and then those are transported to the places where haystacks are formed.
- To form the haystack, they put a pole (even 4-5 meters tall) in the ground and start gathering hay around it in a circle. On the ground there may be branches or stones so water doesn’t come in contact with the piled hay. At some point someone gets on top of the piled hay to press it down and build the haystack higher than the height of a person. So to build a haystack you need at least 2 people, one to lift the hay by pitchfork and one to arrange it. The haystacks get a bell shape so water doesn’t sit on it and when the snow melts from it, it just pours to the ground instead of sitting on it. Haystacks are built “waterproof” and can last for many years before they deteriorate.
- The middle pole stabilized the haystack. They may also use some smaller poles to support the haystacks from the sides, if they feel it is not done very well.
- Some of the hay is made into haystacks on the field where it was cut. Some it’s transported to the farm where it is either put in a barn or haystacks are made there close to where animals live so it is easy to feed them. The haystacks from the field are transported to the farm when they run out of hay near the farm.
- By august there may be a second cut of hay and in some places in September even a third cut. The last cut of hay, in many regions has a different name. While hay in Romanian is “fân” (like “fieno” in Italian), the last cut is called “otava” and animals like it better because it is easier to chew, the grass being smaller.
- To transport the hay, some farmers use tractors but many still use horse-drawn carts. Manual loading and unloading is again needed.
- So to wrap up here are the works that many farmers still do by hand: loading manure from the farm on a cart and then spreading it in the field, cutting the hay (up to 3 times), turning the hay so it dries, making small piles and then the big haystacks, loading it in trailer or horse cart, unloading it in the barn or making a haystack near where the animals live and finally feeding it to the animals. So as you tour Romania at almost any time of the year you will either see haystacks, see hay making or see people transporting hay.
- So it is many-many hours of manual labor. Farmers told me that a cow can eat from a haystack up to a month. And you can find one for sale from 250 lei (50 EUR) but you need to move it yourself 🙂
- Besides the bell shaped haystacks and barns there are other way to store the hay. In Bucovina region you can hay “houses” dotting the fields, here they can store a lot more hay. In Maramures there are also square storages with a roof that goes up and down.
- Hayfields where grass is regularly cut are very good for biodiversity and wildflowers (as they like poorer soils) and June, early July are ideal for seeing wildflowers. So there are many benefits to hay making and haystacks in Romania
Anytime from May to September are good months to observe and photograph hay making and haystacks in Romania. But even in the winter time you may see people loading or unloading the hay and moving it from the field to near the barn.
While it is hard to plan hay making stops in our photo tours of Romania, we know the areas where the action is happening and if we pass by there and see people working, we will stop and have a look. Most people are comfortable having us look and photograph but you may be offered a pitchfork and asked to help, don’t say no 🙂
PS: you can download and use these pictures for your own website but please include a link to our website as a source of the pictures.
Please see below more pictures of beautiful Romanian haystacks and the process it involves to make them.