SENTENCE USAGE: “Joe Bob was doing fine riding the mule into town until he took that shortcut through the slough and got in that nest of ground bees. That mule went haywire and ol’ J.B. ended up 50 yards in the canebrake!”
What did that mule do to go “haywire?”
To go “haywire” means to not function properly, to become overly excited, deranged, become mentally confused, erratic/crazy, become broken, go out of control or behave wildly.
A suggestion is that wire intended to bale up hay was used, instead, by many farmers to make their boundary fences. The wire rusted quickly resulting in the properties appearing unkempt and out of control. At the turn of the 20th century the expression ‘a haywire outfit’ began to be used in the USA to describe companies that patched-up faulty machinery using such wire (duct tape hadn’t yet been invented) rather than making proper long-term fixes. In 1905, The U.S. Forestry Bureau Bulletin described a ‘hay wire outfit’ as ‘a contemptuous term for loggers with poor logging equipment.’
The most probable explanation is that anyone who has handled coils of baling wire will be familiar with its determination to gather into an irretrievable tangle and the wire can be equally ‘crazy or out of control’ because of the unpredictable way it flies apart when tightly stretched around a bale of hay and it is cut to open the bale.