Oats-So-Simple

In this addition of my blog I am going to be writing about the life cycle of oats down on the farm here at Gressenhall.

Drilling with horses

Drilling with horses

To start you have to get the seed into the ground, this is called drilling. (As you can see from the above picture). Here at Gressenhall we use a 92 inch Smyth Seed Drill. This drill can cope with the smallest of seeds from clover, to the bigger bean seed. The drill is horse drawn and the momentum of the horses pulling the drill drives gears, which are connected to the wheels, and this in turn drives the seed cups which then drop the seed down the spouts into the soil.

Rear view of drill

Rear view of drill


Seed cups

Seed cups

Around the year 1800, in Peasenhall Suffolk, James Smyth set up a production line in a field behind the church producing seed drills. James was born in 1777 which meant he was only 23 when he first started to produce his seed drills. There were many skills in the generations of the Smyth family ranging from woodwork to metal work and this is what played a major part in James Smyth’s initial success as he had a multitude of skills to start producing his machinery. Smyth drills were know as the Rolls Royce of machinery of its time and were even shipped out as far as Jamaica.

Richard on binder

Richard on binder

Once the crop is fully grown and is ready for harvest we then have to cut it using a binder. The reaper binder does not only cut the crop but also binds it into sheaves. The cut stems fall onto a bed canvas, which then transports it to two other elevator canvases which nip the harvested crop together whilst moving it to the binding mechanism. The binding mechanism bundles the crop and ties a piece of twine around the bundle. Once tied, it is ejected from the side of the binder. You then have a workforce going behind the bind ‘stooking’ the sheaves enabling them to dry out in the field.
Our binder is an Albion 5a and dates back to the 1940’s. It was produced by The Harrison McGregor Works at Leigh who were established in 1873 by Henry Harrison and Alexander McGregor. The ‘Albion’ range or harvest machinery achieved high sales and a high reputation around the world.

Thrashing set up

Thrashing set up

To get the seed from the cut crop we have to thrash it. To thrash this year’s crop of oats we used a Marshall thrashing drum being driven by a Burrell traction engine. Marshall, Sons & Co was a British company founded in 1848 making agricultural equipment. The company was based at Britannia Iron Works, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Early equipment consisted of steam engines and agricultural equipment and then later production saw diesel tractors such as the famous Field Marshall.

Drum feed

Drum feed

To start you feed the sheaves into drum at the top of the threshing machine. The grain is then separated from the straw by spinning teeth on the drum. The straw exits the threshing machine at the back via walkers. The grain continues its journey through sieves and eventually comes to the front of the machine where it is fed into bags.

Pitching up sheaves

Pitching up sheaves

Sacked Seed

Sacked Seed

This last month I have been working on a project that will enabled us to roll our own oats that we have grown here on the farm. This has involved finding a roller mill, an engine to power it and a space where we can roll and store the oats.
Well I can now say that we are rolling our oats using a Bamfords rapid roller mill. The roller crushes the grain between two big roller wheels which produces rolled grain that has a much bigger surface area and is easier for the animals to digest. The grain is fed to the rollers via a hopper above the roller. You are then able to adjust the flow rate of grain through the machine and also adjust how close the two rollers are together. (This is called kissing!)
Bamfords International Farm Machinery was one of the country’s major suppliers of agricultural equipment. It was famous for its balers, hay turners, chaff cutters and hay rakes which were exported all over the world. Joseph Cyril Bamford from the Bamford family went on to found the company JCB.

Roller Mill

Roller Mill


Before and after

Before and after

I hope you have enjoyed my ‘brief’ overview of the life cycle of Gressenhall’s oats.
Ben Preston – Heritage Farming Apprentice

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