What is a Hayloft?

Michael Pollick

Modern feed hay is often delivered to farms in compressed bundles called bales, but back in the day it was loosely stored on a raised deck known as a hayloft. When farmers harvested acres of grass and other grains for use as feed hay, they would first load the cuttings onto an open wagon bed. The hay would then be tossed through a raised door in the barn which led to the hayloft itself. One of the best tools for performing this task was a pitchfork, a rake-like farm implement with four long tines which dug into the loose hay and allowed the workers to literally pitch the hay into the hayloft.

Hayloft are raised decks in barns used to store hay.
Hayloft are raised decks in barns used to store hay.

A hayloft solved any number of problems for farmers. The harvested hay would not be left on wet ground, which could encourage mold growth and the transfer of insects and other natural contaminants. Hay stored in a hayloft would have the opportunity to dry out completely in a sheltered environment protected from the elements. The loose hay would also be protected from high winds which could carry it away.

A bale of hay produced from a hay baler.
A bale of hay produced from a hay baler.

Another benefit of a hayloft was a natural gravity feed system for distributing the feed hay. A typical hayloft is constructed over a communal manger or other feeding area. The loose hay is stored on one side of the hayloft, while workers access the hayloft with a ladder on the other side. A trap door in the hayloft's floor can be opened to allow a supply of feed hay to fall into the feeding area for grazing animals. Some hay might be used for bedding purposes, but the rest of the hay can be kept separate from animal waste and other contaminants.

When hay baling equipment became widely available to farmers, the need for a hayloft gradually disappeared. Baled feed hay could be stored at ground level, since the bales would not be affected by high winds and stacked in outbuildings with clean flooring. Bales of hay could be delivered with minimal labor, eliminating the need for pitchforks or haylofts for storage.

It is not unusual to see former haylofts converted for other uses, such as equipment storage, attic space and even office or bedroom space.

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