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Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland

By Andrew Slater, Wyreside Cottage, Lancaster.
[Premium—Five Sovereigns.]

On purely pastoral, or farms of mixed husbandry, where a greater or less extent of land is retained as permanent hay meadows, the operation of haymaking becomes an important item in the work of the farm. Where hay forms the principal food for the winter keep of cattle, their appearance and welfare will depend in a high degree on the quantity and quality of that article. It is a well-known fact that mildewed or dusty hay is most pernicious to the health and condition of those animals who consume it; and although in many parts such stuff is their chief source of sustenance during certain portions of the year, it is surprising that a system more adapted for securing the hay crop in a better and more palatable condition has not ere now been adopted.

Having had some experience with the methods of curing hay in various parts of England and Scotland, it must be granted that by far the best article is made in the former country. Some may consider that that is owing to the superiority of the English over the Scottish climate for haymaking, and doubtless in some of the southern and midland counties such is the case; but here (Lancashire), where the hay is, as a rule, of as good a quality as is to be found anywhere, the climate is inferior to many parts of Scotland.

It cannot be denied that a considerable amount of fodder is lost annually north of the Tweed by allowing the hay to remain for too great a length of time exposed to the weather, either in cocks or otherwise, and not only is the nutritiousness of the herbage lost, owing to the action of rain or evaporation, but there are always a quantity on the outsides and bottoms of the cocks rendered useless, and their presence deteriorates a portion of the aftergrass, and not unfrequently causes a considerable depreciation in the crop of the following year. No doubt, a certain loss is sustained in a similar way on this side of the border, but that arises either through unpropitious weather or carelessness. The English farmer endeavours to get his hay secured, after being cut, in as short a time as possible; he thereby saves a considerable amount in labour, and preserves his crop in good condition. It should therefore be the object of every one to act in a like manner; for it must be remembered that hay long exposed to the action of rain becomes bleached and loses its nutritiousness; indeed, in many cases the soluble materials are entirely washed out of it, only the wood-like fibres of the stems being left; and when exposed for too great a length of time during even dry weather, it is considerably impaired in value, as it loses its colour and flavour, and if it is secured so that heat will not generate in the stack, it will frequently cut out in a dusty condition.

During the growth of grasses and clovers there is a continual secretion of saccharine matter in the plants, but which as the seeds ripen decreases, and when they become matured the herbage dries up, as it were, and the nutritiousness departs from it. It is when there is the maximum amount of this deposit in the grasses that the proper time for mowing the meadows has arrived, as it is on the presence of this sugar in the plants that the chief feeding qualities of the fodder depends. It is therefore reckoned, by competent authorities, to be when the majority of the grasses are in flower that the greatest amount of that substance is contained in the plants, and it is then that cutting should commence. The longer this operation is delayed after the herbage attains that state, the crop will be of less value, but should it be mown in time, it will be more valuable, although perhaps of rather less bulk; this will be made up, however, by the extra quantity of aftergrass.

The chief object in haymaking is to manage the crop so that it may be stored to keep in safety, and to come out of the stack of a richer flavour and in a more palatable state than when it was put in. That is brought about by fermentation, when no doubt certain chemical changes take place in the hay during that process, which alters its condition. Of course, there is a danger, if the crop has been got too hurriedly, of the stack becoming too hot, so that the fodder becomes "mow burnt" or takes fire, but that seldom occurs if due caution is exercised by those in charge. Hay, when it comes out of the stack of a brownish colour, is that most relished by all kinds of stock; they will consume every stalk, and cows thrive and milk better off such than when fed on hay that has either undergone but a slight fermentation or none at all.

The length of time that elapses by the English system between the cutting and stacking of the crop, depends upon the quality and weight of the growth, the quantity that is to be stored together, and above all, on the state of the weather. Rich well-manured meadows yielding heavy crops of nutritious grasses may be put together in stacks of from fifty loads and upwards, in sunny weather, on the fourth day after being mown; but it may, if the crop is only of medium bulk, be carried on the afternoon of the third day. We have occasionally during very fine weather secured some on the afternoon of the second day, but it required a continuous working to make it ready. On poorer meadows, with herbage of an inferior description, the grasses are sooner dried, and can be stored in fine weather, with little trouble, on the third day; and where only a dozen or twenty loads are to be put together, it may be frequently carted on the evening of the second day. Of course, if the weather be cloudy, a greater length of time intervenes between the cutting and carting; and if rain sets in during the hay harvest, as it frequently does, an unlimited amount of time may elapse before an opportunity occurs for securing it. Under such atmospheric conditions, the work becomes both tedious and costly, and the fodder* of an inferior quality.

The practice of putting a load or two together in ricks throughout, or on the margin of the meadows, is no doubt a convenient one for the time being, but it is doubtful if there is anything else in its favour, as a considerable amount is expended in labour, by first ricking, and afterwards carting and storing it in greater bulk elsewhere; there are also a portion of the tops, outsides, and bottoms of the ricks rendered unfit for food, and a loss is sustained in seeds by being changed from one position to another; and as there is not a sufficient body of hay together to cause it to sweat thoroughly, it does not turn out with the requisite flavour. Supposing, however, that a certain amount of heat did generate in the rick, it is highly probable that it would not have become properly cool before it had to be removed somewhere else, and owing to the sudden lowering of the temperature by being opened up, there would be a considerable quantity of moisture throughout the hay, which would ultimately render it more or less, according to the amount, into a musty and badly flavoured condition. The hay should therefore, when ready, be at once taken to the stack or wherever it is to be permanently stored, to which a supply may be added daily until the requisite quantity is got together. If a few days intervene between the last, and before another addition is to be added, it will be necessary to remove the damp hay off the upper surface of the stack, which was caused by the vapour arising from the body of hay underneath, to prevent a mouldy seam from forming at that point.

A greater number of men should not be allowed on the stack than is necessary to keep the forkers going, as it should be allowed to settle of itself; and it will be found, if it has heated satisfactorily when cut into, to be in a far more solid condition, and therefore in a better state for removing after being trussed than unfermented hay that has received an unlimited amount of tramping.

Large stacks should not be cut into for at least three months, as they will take that length of time to cool down to their normal condition.

To prevent rain from damaging the hay when the stack is in progress and until it is thatched, a waterproof cover will be found useful, having the necessary appendages, viz., a pole for placing erect at each end of the stack, and another stretching between them, with pulleys and ropes for raising and lowering the cover when placed across the horizontal pole.

With these observations, we will now proceed to give in detail the different daily operations as practised by us from the cutting to the securing of the crop.

On the first, as on all subsequent mornings, an early start is made with the mowing machine, and a section is cut off if possible by breakfast time (nine o'clock), which is at once shaken out either by hand or by the hay tedder. If the weather be sunny it is turned with the rakes before dinner, and in the middle of the afternoon it is run into small single rows; that is done by the workmen with their rakes drawing in one direction about two of the rows that were previously turned into one, and they keep a foot on each side of them as they move along—straddle them, so to speak—so as to keep them compactly together. After the whole section has been gone over in the way just mentioned, they return to the starting-point and put it into what is termed foot-cocks, of a size suitable to the state of the grass; this is performed by the operators commencing at the ends of the rows, and with their rakes draw cleanly about a couple of feet of their length towards them ; they then face about and place one of their feet close under that gathered, and reaches forward, drawing together with the rake as much as will complete the cock, they then with a jerk of the rake and foot place that which was first drawn in underneath and the last on the top. This is a most expeditious and satisfactory method of securing the grass from the effects of showers or dew, as rain does not penetrate readily into them, and if they are made before the grass becomes cool they dry wonderfully during the course of a night.

On the second day the grass that was cut after breakfast time on the first day and previous to that time on this is thoroughly shaken out, and so soon as the ground has become dry, the foot-cocks are shaken out with the hand, and particular care is observed in clearing their bottoms properly off the ground, and separating any lumps of grass that may have been left unshaken at first. That which was tedded out in the morning is turned, if possible, before dinner, following with the same operation on that which was broken out of the cocks. The whole is then, about mid-afternoon, prepared for cocking by first raking the grass into single rows, and then the hay that was shaken out of the cocks in the morning is rowed in a similar manner, only a greater bulk may be drawn together. It may all remain in that state until five or six o'clock, when the first is put into small foot-cocks, as previously described, and the latter into larger; but if there be signs of rain, and the hay fairly dry, it is desirable to place it into double cocks, that is, the hay is drawn together as for a single cock, but when the second is drawn together, it is lifted, before it is turned up, with the rake on one side and the hand on the other, and laid neatly on the top of the first made; any hay that may be scattered between it and the end of the ungathered row is raked forward into the latter.

On the third, as on the previous mornings, all the grass lying in swaths is shaken out, and immediately the ground is sufficiently dry the large cocks are scattered and afterwards the foot-cocks; the grass that was shaken in the morning is then turned, next that which was in large cocks, and lastly that which was in the small ones. After noon, if the weather has been dry and sunny, and the crop a medium one, the first mown hay will be ready for stacking, but possibly it may be advisable to again stir it, either with the rakes or reversing the action of the hay tedder, and passing it over it, the haymakers meanwhile rowing into small rows the grass first tedded, and in larger ones that which was shaken out of foot-cocks in the morning. Should that, however, which was first mown, either through dull weather or any other cause, not be in quite a satisfactory state for carting, it is run into double rows by one man drawing the hay inwards with his rake as for a single row, but with both feet on the cleared side, and another following drawing from the opposite direction into the row made by the first, keeping a foot on each side of the double row thus formed as he goes along. That is then in the evening put in large double cocks in the same way as already described for the extra-sized single rows formed on the second day; all the smaller rows are then cocked neatly up.

On the fourth day, if it was necessary on the day previous to put up the double cocks just noticed, they are, as soon as the dew is off the ground, shaken out. Afterwards, when any dampness that may have gathered in their interior during the night has been removed, or whenever, if the day is likely to be fine, it can by the pressure of other operations be reached, it is drawn into large windrows with the aid of a horse-rake or by forks and hand-rakes, and either forked on to carts and conveyed to the stack, or if the stack be in the meadow, it may be drawn to it by some of the more convenient methods. The other operations on this, as on all successive days, follow in the same order as previously indicated until the whole crop is secured. It frequently happens, owing to the continuance of fine weather and the pressure of other work, that the grass shaken out in the morning is left uncocked; but we always endeavour, when it has reached anything like the semblance of hay, to cock it every evening. In unsettled weather it is unadvisable to have more on hand than can be properly managed with the strength at command, although grass when cut dry may remain in the swathe for five or six days without suffering much damage, but at the end of that time it should be turned over to prevent it from turning yellow underneath, and if fine weather sets in it will be made into hay with little trouble. Grass that has become discoloured and bleached by exposure will partially regain its colour and flavour if it is got in in a thoroughly dry condition, but containing some of its natural sap, so as to generate a certain amount of heat when stored, and it will be consumed readily enough by stock, although they may not do so well upon it. If, however, the rain water is not properly evaporated from the hay before it is stacked it will invariably become mildewed. In fine weather the mowing machine should be kept going whenever the horses can be spared, so as to reap the benefit of every hour of sunshine, and every effort should be made to secure on each day all that is in a fit state for storing.

The cost of haymaking by the foregoing process, in this district, will average, taking one season with another, about twenty-two shillings per acre, exclusive of horse labour; but if, instead of having to pay all our labourers 5s. 6d. per day during the hay harvest, they received only their ordinary wages, the cost would not much exceed half that amount. The farmers in general secure theirs at a less figure than the foregoing, as they do not, as a rule, expend so much labour upon it, cocking it only when there is any likelihood of rain, and as there are on most farms, barns for the accommodation of the hay, which is built therein in mows, containing from a dozen to twenty-five loads in each, the hay can be stored to keep in safety when in a considerably softer state than when put together in greater quantities.

The practice of trussing the hay into convenient-sized trusses, out of the stack when it becomes necessary to remove it for use, is an excellent one, and ought always to be adopted, as there will be none wasted if due care be exercised in the operation; and for convenience in loading and unloading, and in packing it together in lofts or elsewhere, or for retaining its flavour, it is far superior to the slovenly system of forking it loosely from the stack and storing it again in the same state where it may be required, as every time it is moved there is a considerable waste of hay and seeds, and it cannot be packed in the same compass, nor does it keep so well in a loose state wherever it may be put; but more especially is that so when it is lodged in lofts over stables, as there the moisture and aroma arising from the horses permeates the whole stock, renders it less palatable, and entails further waste. That is to a certain extent avoided with trussed hay, as the trusses are in a solid condition and can be packed closely together, so that at the most their outsides would be the only portions affected.

Supplementary Remarks.

As to the making and curing of ryegrass and clover hay, a greater length of time must intervene between the cutting and storing of the crop, as it ought to be handled as seldom as possible, so that the leaves, seeds, and flowers of the different varieties of plants of which the crops may be composed be preserved entire. These crops should, therefore, be mown when perfectly dry, and allowed to remain in the swathe until the second or third day, when it should be turned cleanly over with the heads of the rakes, allowing it in that position to have the benefit of a couple of days' sun, cocking it, however, in the evening of the second day before it has become cool. It may have to remain in these cocks for two or three days, but that will depend on the state it was in when put together, and also upon the weather. Before carting it to where it is to be permanently stored, it may be necessary to turn the cocks upside down, or open them up, so that any dampness that may have gathered on their bottoms or insides may be removed. It may be pointed out that these crops should never be ricked in small quantities in the fields, as there will be a greater amount of waste take place in their removal than with the meadow hay crop, and like that crop a moderate fermentation is necessary so as to add to its value as an article of fodder.

It sometimes occurs that, during unsettled weather, the crops may be stacked too hurriedly, consequently there will be a risk of the fodder becoming overheated. Under such circumstances, some precautions should be taken when building to counteract that tendency—such, for instance, as having a bag filled with hay or chaff in the centre of the stack, and building around it, but drawing it up as every layer or two is added; there will thus be a vacuity formed for the passage of air, and it will materially assist in preventing overheating. When hay is put together in too soft a state, it settles and generates heat quickly; if, however, the settling was prevented, the danger of it becoming "mow burnt" would be obviated. Now, one reason why hay can be stored in barns in a softer state than into stacks, is because the ends of the "mows" are in contact with the walls, and these prevent it from becoming consolidated. To prevent that taking place in stacks or very large "mows," a spruce tree with a foot or two of the branches left on the trunk, is sometimes placed erect in the centre of the intended stack and the hay built around it; of course, if the stack is a large one, two or more of these may be used. Although these hints are given, it seldom is necessary in practice to adopt them, and it is better that it should be so, as the best hay is made when no artificial method of tampering with the regular course of the stack is used further than propping it to keep it in an erect position, and from settling too quickly.

When fermentation is going on satisfactorily in stacks or mows the steam will arise pretty freely, and the smell arising therefrom can be felt at a considerable distance; in the course of a month or six weeks this aroma feels something like the smell of sweet tobacco, and can only be felt at a distance of a few yards. If it is becoming too hot the smell will be quite different, and can be recognised at once, and the utmost attention should then be paid to the stack. If an iron rod has not been previously inserted into its centre, this should at once be done, and when withdrawn in the course of an hour, if it is too hot to be touched by the hand, then one or more openings should be cut from the top downwards to within a few feet of the bottom, of a size sufficiently large to permit the men to work freely ; these as soon as made should be filled firmly up with old dry hay, into which the hot vapour will escape, and it can, when fully saturated, be removed and a fresh supply put in its place. Should the opening thus formed be left vacant, the temperature in the stack would be too suddenly reduced, causing a considerable quantity of moisture to be retained amongst the hay, which would ultimately cause it to become mildewed.

No body of hay ought to be cut into unless it is absolutely necessary to do so to prevent it from being destroyed, for it ought to be remembered that overheated hay is much superior to that which is full of dust or which has become mildewed.

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