Friday, 5 June 2020

Haymaking and other jobs around the farm.

Taking a book up to friend W's yesterday I couldn't help but notice the fields - all either cut grass, yellow and waiting for rain so that the grass could begin to grow again for second-cut silage, or full of sheep with their fast-growing lambs - not that far off their short (but merry) lives ending as they reach the required weight for the butcher.   How very different it would all look for our forefathers if they could but see it - and indeed how different it will look no doubt in another hundred years or so.

The grass was only cut once and cut for hay.   Before it was cut the farmer would survey the scene, watching for signs from the dawns, the sunsets, all manner of things which foretold what the weather was likely to be like in the week or so ahead.   The cutting day had to be right - it really was all or nothing for the winter feed.

The farmer was born in 1943 and at about that time I was going to spend  the Summer with my
 Aunt in The Dukeries and all the way there keeping my fingers crossed that they hadn't cut the hay.   It was such fun to be there from the beginning.  There from the day when one of the farm horses pulled the cutter into the field of dry grass and began to cut it down.   Quite modern that cutter after years of just the long-handled scythe.   Round and round the field he would go at a steady pace.   The two or three collies would be there waiting, knowing all too well what would happen when the last couple of rows were cut.   Out would race the rabbits and hares - the dogs so excited that usually they caught nothing - too much to choose from.

Then would come the days of waiting for it to dry.
Waiting for the grasses and the wild flowers first to wilt and then - if there was the hoped-for hot sun- to dry to a crisp.   Us children used to search through the grass for the nodding grasses - the  tottering johnnies we called them - they went so well in a jam jar with the ox eye daisies that usually grew round the edges of the fields. The farmer would watch the sky anxiously and then one day, if all went well, the horse would be back, pulling the hay cart.   Everyone would muck in - all the women would come too.   They would have hay rakes, picnic boxes, bottles with cold tea in them, all kinds of drinks.  And they would get set in.   When the cart was full us kids would pile on the top for the ride back to the hay stack.

And meadows they are mad with noise
Of laughing maids and shouting boys,
Making up the withering hay
With merry hearts as light as play.

So said John Clare in the early 19th century.  Constable painted a picture The Hay Wain, equally idyllic.   Perhaps it was not quite like this - everyone got sweaty, tired, dirty, hungry and few had baths and hot water to go home to without a lot more effort.

My old father in law could remember these days and lived to see a transformation.   I know which he would prefer.   Although having said that, even when we made silage instead and only kept a couple of fields for his sake and the sake of nostalgia he would watch the weather carefully and proclaim the choice of date for beginning and then once the tractor had cut and the hay had been laid out to dry he would be round the edge of the field 'piking' up the remnants for an extra bale when it was baled.   My farmer used to complain that this was a nuisance and more trouble than it was worth but old habits die hard   In his day even the bits that had blown on to the hedges would be a treat - for the horse pulling the hay cart.   He would be allowed to go round and gently pull of the sweet smelling stalks of crisp golden hay.   A treat for all his hard work.   By the time I came along the milk herd would be allowed in the field once the bales had been gathered in and how they would enjoy galloping round piking in the hedge-bottom and pulling the strands off the hedges.   Nothing went to waste. 

There were always bits of the field that were left - any curlew's nest (my farmer knew where they were and noted them carefully) was roped off with sticks and binder twine - give them at least a chance to survive - and they usually did.  And the same went for the nests of pheasants. 

How different it all is now.   The romance has gone - if it ever existed other than in poetry and painting - which I doubt.   In its place - efficient one-man farming and a good crop of winter feed and you could almost say regardless of the weather except in the most extreme circumstances.
And that's called progress.

32 comments:

Marcia LaRue said...

What a lovely tale you have spun on this day ... you have made it romantic in the sweet way you have portrayed the activity! Thank you!!

Derek Faulkner said...

Wow, so much nostalgia there Pat and how I wish I could go back and experience those days. Being born in 1947 some of those practices still existed as I joined my uncles as a child on the farms that they worked but it was a short-lived thing and soon gone. I love the scene in the film "Far from the Madding Crowd" where all the people are in the barn after the hay was in and enjoying a good drink and some music, just before the storm arrived to wreck the hay ricks.

JayCee said...

What great memories. It sounds like it was a wonderful way of life, albeit very hard work. There was nothing of that where I grew up and it was probably all past by then anyway, so it was only in books or films that we knew anything of rural life. Thank you for sharing your memories.

Maureen @ Josephina Ballerina said...

Such a lovely remembrance! Efficiency is great, and probably necessary in today's world, but, oh, the loss of the poetry of life!

Ruth said...

Please keep putting your memories into writing! If you don't put them all into a book, your son will be able to someday. Don't take them with you!! I love this post, an example of just why I've enjoyed reading your blog for several years now.

It's sad when I think of how we take our stories with us when we leave this life. I doubt anyone would be interested in mine, but you have so much that's beautiful to pass on. Thank you so much for sharing, Pat.♥♥♥

cumbrian said...

Can't remember the haystack days, memories from the 60s. Cut with tractor usually a grey Massey-Ferguson, dry a day then turned with tractor, sometimes put through a wuffler by tractor. Baled into the small bales weighing about 8 stones with a clanking baler operated by tractor PTO and stacked into piles of 8 from a little sled pulled behind baler. Picked up by tractor and trailer and led to the barn for mewing, that was quite a skill and usually a young mans job.

Hay-time was hard work; hot, dusty and sweaty, hands developed hard bands across the palms from handling the rough string tying the bales. 3 bodies, one driving tractor, often a young boy, one loading trailer and one stacking trailer 8 high, top rows lifted up with a pitch-fork, that really developed the arm muscles.

And the usual milking at 6 am and 6 pm didn't stop.

Then came silage, cut long and collected on a buck rake still green then endless hours spent compressing it with the tractor, boring beyond belief. And it didn't always turn out well, when it was bad it really smelled, still fed it to the milkers with molasses to make it a bit more palatable.

Happy days.

Gail, northern California said...

Love, love, love it when you share your memories. Thank you.

thelma said...

Lovely writing, very evocative. But of course lots of hard work as well. I'm glad the farmer looked out for the curlews, who are fast disappearing as this efficient modern farming seems to be the death knell of many wild things in nature.

Philip said...

I suspect the communal effort on a shared task contributed to the positive memories of the pre or early mechanised days. The chapters on cutting hay with a scythe in Anna Karenina are very interesting to read.

Barbara Anne said...

Your post today was such a delightful story to read. My uncle had a farm not far from our current home and did these things but the rest of my family weren't farmers. Many in DH's family were farmers in south central Tennessee.

Ta for this wonderful post!

Hugs!

Sue in Suffolk said...

What wonderful memories - thank you for sharing.

It was the most worrying job of the year at the smallholding - we needed enough hay to feed the goats all year ans some to sell. And such a hot prickly job -for me moving the bales into groups on the field - Col was in the tractor!Our bale sledge never did work properly.

Amanda said...

When I lived in northern Indiana, near Lake Michigan, soy bean harvest was great for the bird watchers, because hawks would sit on wires or trees by the fields, waiting for the rodents the harvesters would flush to run into view. You could sit on a county road beside a field and get amazing views of several different species in a very short time. You could tell who was plowing in the spring by the flocks of gulls that would hover over the tractors, looking for whatever they churned up. We used to joke the farmers were never alone; they were always being watched. The birds never miss a thing.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Sue - I don't think any baler sledge ever worked properly!

Rachel Phillips said...

You are right, it was never romantic; it was hard work, you were always trying to beat the weather, and the bank manager was biting at your heels

The Furry Gnome said...

Just once when I was young, I had a chance to ride around on the Haywagon in front of the hayrake. The fresh hay was spewed up on top of the wagon, piled high. Then we rode back to the barn and a huge fork came down from the ceiling to lift that loose hay up into the loft.

Marjorie said...

I love John Clare, thanks for that. My farmer also leaves patches of grass in the field to protect the young birds. Our hay bales are close to 2000 lbs each so only a tractor moves them. I hate it when raking the hay to see the ring billed gulls picking off the small rodents and birds. We are not yet haying, still in the busyness of calving.

Sheila said...

Such a wonderfully written post. It wasn't until I started reading your blog when you were back on the farm that I came to understand the difference between hay and sileage as well as the fact that horses can only eat the former. Learn something new from you, Pat, so often.

Bonnie said...

Oh how I love your memories dear Pat. This post is a piece of art to be loved and appreciated just like your memories. Thank you for sharing!

justjill said...

Thanks Weave that was lovely.

Heather said...

I love John Clare's poems. They paint such a clear picture of the countryside as do your posts. Do we really see the past through rose-tinted spectacles? Yes, life was harder in those days but we knew nothing else. Hard work and plenty of fresh air was healthy living!

gz said...

Even though most goes for silage now, we watch the developing and changing patchwork of fields from our bedroom windows.

By the way my friend John Goodridge is collecting and studying John Clare's work

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks everyone for your kind comments.

Casey said...

Beautiful piece! Thank you for sharing these memories.

Hildred said...

Wonderfully descriptive Pat.

Cro Magnon said...

I used to love hay making with my neighbours. As soon as the bailer had done its job we'd all be out there with our pitchforks loading it onto the trailer, and into the barn before evening. Afterwards, of course, there would be a big communal meal. These days it's cut, put into rows, and baled, in one day. The bales are then wrapped in plastic and they 'ferment' as silage. Of course the machinery required for such a process is HUGE, yet it produces the same amount of hay as before.

Tom Stephenson said...

That transported me Weave.

Bovey Belle said...

What a wonderful post, so evocative of past times. Your farmer marking off the Curlew's nest took me back to our friends Bryan and Mary, who farmed in the Yorkshire Dales until they had a series of bad luck happenings culminating in a fire, when they had to give up their rented farm and moved to Dorset to become - eventually - antiques dealers. Bryan would always know where the birds were nesting and - like your farmer - mark off the nest so it wasn't destroyed.

My ex-husband used to speak of going down to his Honeyball relatives on their Dorset farm and helping bring the hay in when he was a child.

We used to be able to buy small bale hay (for our horses) straight off the field from one of the neighbours, but few folk make much of a hay crop these days, it seems to be 90% silage or haylage.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

It amazes me how much things change without us really taking stock of them. When I was young I often stayed with a German family who had a smallholding nearby. The man would dig the corners of his field by hand, nothing was allowed to go to waste.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks everyone. Certainly not haymaking weather here today - more like February.

Brenda said...

I love your blog-I love love the picture on your blog...the men walking...the greenery. So many blogs are busy which bother me. This is soothing...reminds me of the area in England when we were traveling on the bus from London to STratford upon Avon...we were a group of Shakespeare teachers on grants to study...went two times==loved loved loved. Keep writing.

terry said...

I so loved reading this and it reminded me of my Swedish "Mormor" (grandmother) who would tell us about her life on a farm before she came to the USA in 1920. She was very descriptive and those stories have stayed with me all my life.

neme amber said...

I got my already programmed and blanked ATM card to withdraw the maximum of $1,000 daily for a maximum of 20 days. I am so happy about this because i got mine last week and I have used it to get $20,000. Mike Fisher Hackers is giving out the card just to help the poor and needy though it is illegal but it is something nice and he is not like other scam pretending to have the blank ATM cards. And no one gets caught when using the card. get yours from Mike Fisher Hackers today! *email cyberhackingcompany@gmail.com