What the Hay? One Montana Day Trip Every Family Should Take

by Kim Nelson

Separate a county from the rest of Montana, toss in a few hay bales, a couple of props, a little glue, and finish by spraying some colorful paint onto the newly created masterpiece. This, in short, is the recipe for the annual “What the Hay” contest event in Russell County. “What the Hay” is organized by the Utica Rod and Gun Club and is sponsored by private individuals and area businesses. This contest is a fun filled community festival the whole family will enjoy.

This unique event takes place every September in conjunction with Utica Fair Day. It boasts creative and laugh out loud hay bale sculptures that are displayed in farm fields along a 21 mile route in the back country of Russell County between the towns of Hobson and Windham. Utica is neatly tucked in the middle of these fun little towns.

“What the Hay” has grown from a handful of entries when it began in 1990 to over 50 displays. Area farmers and ranchers make up the majority of the Hay artists but there have been entrants from all parts of Montana as well as California, New York and Arizona. Numerous television spots and national magazines have covered this curious event and past displays have included a mechanized, musical Jack-in-the Bale, a large blue Cook-Hay Monster and a two story Statue of Liber-Hay.

This year the fun begins Saturday, September 6th, when hay bales and respective field placement activities begin to take shape in two adult categories. One category is for whole bale entries and the other is for hay sculptures. There are no entry fees and anyone can enter the contest. Each contestant receives free hay and their very own field to build their masterpiece. There is a separate category for children 12 and under. The children also receive a free “What the Hay” t-shirt for their effort.

Judging begins on Sunday September 7th, around 10:00 a.m. Volunteers greet everyone and provide individual voting ballots to all vehicles at the beginning of the 21 mile route at either the Hobson or Windham starting points. With ballot in hand you join a steady stream of traffic that meanders from display to display. Be sure to enjoy the lively discussion at the conclusion of your journey as family and friends lobby each other to vote for their favorite hay sculpture. In 2007, over 5,000 ballots were cast for the Peoples Choice award.

After viewing the hay bale sculptures from the comfort of your car make sure to stop at Utica for monster barbecue burgers and a cold beverage at the Ox and Yoke Inn. Utica Fair Day is also happening at the fairgrounds just down the road. This little event is loaded with kettle popcorn, lots of good food, arts and crafts, ice cream treats and games for kids. Don’t forget to browse through the Utica museum and take in the wonderful Montana memorabilia. Sounds like a great recipe for fun! SFM

Kim Nelson is the co-founder of Simply Family Magazine.  She lives in Billings with her husband and 6 year old daughter.