My major reason for reconsidering the buck rake was that my kids “suddenly” grew up and moved out. So, when I read that a hay sweep can move more hay with less labor at distances under 1/4 mile than other horse-powered methods, I figured it was worth a try. My experience verified this estimate at distances out to at least 1,000 feet of travel distance from the barn. No other special equipment was added. I successfully used the same hay grapple and trolley system as for wagon loads of loose hay.
I found that it worked really well on long first cutting but failed to perform well on the much shorter second cutting hay that my farm produces. That is part of the reason I built my little hay loader several years ago. Since then, I experimented more with the buck rake and found that a reasonable job can be done on short hay by raking many windrows together into a very large one. Then, most of the hay will push up on the rake teeth and leave only a little bit in the field. I also found that the short hay must be very dry or it will stick to itself and make balls that roll under the teeth, dragging wads of hay off the rake.
I settled on the side hitch design because it is the simplest to construct and shorter in length, which mattered for unloading between my barn and the neighbor’s fence. I also think that it was easier for my horses to learn the buckrake as a side hitch because there is nothing in front of them as with a push model.
There are several side hitch styles, although the basket remains the same for all styles of push rakes. My first model, seen in the photos on the previous pages, was built with a lifter and seat. It worked fairly well, but I eventually took the whole seat affair off and used it without any riding position.
With my second one, I chose to eliminate the various ride-on options such as a sliding seat on a board, caster wheel mounted seat with a lifter and the stand on platform. It may add to the draft since the teeth are always down, but it has not seemed significant even after a long hot afternoon sweeping hay up to the barn. It does help with steering, since I am 6 feet, 2 inches tall and can see over the hay bunch easily.
I bought my first set of wheels for my first rake at an auction. The second set was custom fabricated by a local Amish welding shop. He used existing steel rims about 20 inches in diameter, and he welded a heavy pipe in the center of the spokes as a hub, which fit nicely over the 2-inch pipe used as a full width axle as seen in the photo3. I added 2-inch muffler clamps on each side of the hub to keep the wheels from shifting sideways and rubbing on the wooden teeth. I also put grease fittings in the wheel hubs so I could grease it every time I used it. The hay sometimes gets into the hubs and dries up the grease. It is best if the wheels are slightly rounded on the edges so that they don’t cut the sod when turning sharply. It may be possible to use rubber wheels and mount them like wheelbarrow tires between two teeth, but I haven’t tried anything like that.
I combined several sets of plans found online, the photos in Lynn’s [Miller] book, ideas from several of my failures and the stuff I had on hand to fabricate my latest rake. The present rake is 9 feet wide between the horses, and the teeth are 8 feet long, spaced 12 inches apart on center. The rear frame is only a pressure-treated 4-by-4 a little more than 9 feet long (because it was handy). I would rather have used a 14-footer, but, instead, I added u-channel iron extensions to make it wide enough for the singletrees to fit beside the hay basket. If using full-sized drafts, I would definitely use a 6-by-6, 16 feet long and add three more teeth, making the basket 12 feet wide.
To mark out the holes in the back 4-by-4 and pipe axle, I measured from center. Since I have an even number of teeth, I had to mark center and then make my first holes 6 inches out from center and then every foot out to either side after that. If you choose to use an odd number of teeth you can just start marking and drilling from the center out. Be sure to leave at least 2 feet on the ends for the singletrees; this gives the horses room to move a bit when turning.
Untreated boards that are 2 inches by 6 inches by 8 feet make the teeth, set flat side to the ground, tapered to a rough point with a slight up cut on the last 2 inches like a ski (to keep the teeth from digging into the dirt). They are bolted to a 4-by-4 post spaced 12 inches apart on center, with carriage bolts and fender washers. When I cut the teeth, I cut from the 4-foot mark (halfway) and left 1 inch either side of center on the pointy end. Then I tapered the end to a flat-topped point by cutting in more sharply from the sides about 4 inches back and up from the bottom for the ski effect.
The rear holes are drilled centered in the board to align with the holes drilled along the centerline of the rear 4-by-4. The second hole is 24 inches away from the end. This is for the pipe axle, which has holes drilled every foot as well. It leaves a lot of room for the wheel to clear between the two cross members. It also makes the angle of the backer poles nearly the perfect height for Haflingers. The spacing could be slightly closer for drafts so that the end of the poles are higher.
The two side hitch poles function as one-sided tongues. They angle out and up from the basket for the backing straps. Also, the angled poles guide the horses so that they do not step into the teeth when turning. Note that the side poles are bolted under the rear frame 4-by-4 and over the pipe axle. This gives enough upward slope to be comfortable when the team backs out of the hay load. They are angled from inside the outside tooth to align just about center of the singletree at the far end. When set correctly, the ends of the poles are almost the same width as the singletree centers. They must have angle braces to keep them properly positioned and to strengthen them.
I also added two angle braces that cross from the rear 4-by-4 to the pipe diagonally, forming triangles. These keep the rake square. The two on the side poles help to keep them from bending or breaking while backing or turning. These four pieces of angle iron were the biggest improvement over my first successful rake.
I used threaded rod to cinch 3 feet of 1/4-inch chain around the pole ends to hook to the horses' breast (backer) straps. The easiest way to connect the singletrees is the same. Wrap a 30-inch length of 5/16- inch chain around the end of the rear 4-by-4 (or 6-by- 6) and cinch it tight with a threaded rod. Use a screw link or clevis to connect the singletree to the chain.
I installed the back board to keep the hay from being pushed off of the back of the rake. I added short vertical boards to act as fenders for the wheels. All the bolts are galvanized since much of the rake is pressure-treated lumber, which eats untreated bolts. They are mostly 3/8-inch diameter. I added angle iron braces to stiffen the whole affair and keep it square when turning. My total cost was under $300 and it took me the better part of three days to fabricate since I was making some of it up as I went.
A final recap on parts and dimensions of my buckrake, (bigger size inbrackets):
I should conclude by confessing that I am not a carpenter nor a horse whisperer. I believe that if I can do this, just about anyone can. Use good judgment, enlist experienced help when possible, and be willing to fail a bit. I personally try new things with my horses after they are worked down at a familiar job for a while. They tend to be more willing to “whoa.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION These links may provide some points for the aspiring sweeprake/pushrake/buckrake builder/operator.
Several Sweep Rake Plans: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/aben-plans
Excellent Video: https://vimeo.com/9972998
A Good PDF Pamphlet: https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc96479/m1/