Haymaking by Hand

A few weeks ago, my fellow trainees and I were lucky enough to go on a one day scything course.
Since that day I have become slightly obsessed with the satisfaction of the job and how much fun making my own hay is!

A scythe is an agricultural hand tool used for cutting, mowing grass, or reaping crops. Since its heyday (please excuse the pun!) it has largely been replaced by horse, and then tractor power. It is still used commercially in some areas of Europe and Asia.
The scythe has been around for many hundreds of years and according to the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the scythe was used by the ancient Romans. It was first noted in around 500BC and has been widely used ever since, with many developments (such as the cradle scythe) being devised from it.


Hay is a vital crop on any farm, even on a modern commercial basis. It is dried grass stored safely for animal fodder, particularly for grazing livestock such as sheep, cows and horses. Haymaking is a multi-step process beginning with the growing of grass then cutting, curing (or drying), processing and storing.
Initially hay was cut by teams of scythers, left to dry in swaths (or piles) – which have the colloquial name of ‘haycocks’; on the field then pitched loose onto a horse drawn wagon.
The loose hay was then taken into an area designated specifically for storage of the hay. It had to be an area that was slightly raised up, or positioned on top of a hill in order for the ground to be dry. A haystack was then built. Due to the haystacks own weight, the hay would compress and cure by the release of heat from the residual moisture in the hay. The haystack was separated from the rest of the farm (to prevent eager, hungry livestock!) and was often thatched or sheeted to keep it dry.

On the scything course which we attended, we managed to successfully mow the top end of Gressenhall’s orchard.








Once the hay was cut, myself and my fellow trainee Lee, returned over the week in order to turn the hay. The hay must be turned once a day in order to allow the air access to as many individual strands as possible. When turning it is also important to ensure the hay is moved onto a dry patch of grass. The moisture from the hay will seep into the ground below it, therefore if you turned the hay onto the same spot then it would stand less chance of drying out correctly.

On the Thursday (4 days after it was cut) we brought Bowler, one of our 5 Suffolk Punch’s, and the wagon, up to the orchard and collected the hay. It was a beautiful sunny day and the experience is one I will never forget! Bowler was fantastically well behaved (having never been up to the orchard with the wagon) and Lee and I were taught by Richard (Farm Officer) how to correctly use pitch forks to the optimum ability. Jpeg
JpegThe hay was then stored on the wagon by piling up the sides first, then filling in the centre. This method ensures the hay supports itself, and theoretically won’t fall off on the return journey. Once the team returned to the farm the wagon was stored safely in our front barn (we are hoping to make a haystack soon but in the meantime the hay remains on the wagon). Ever since that day we have been feeding the hay to the cows and sheep which are in the yards.

You’ll all be happy to hear that they love it!

Dani Chatten- Heritage Farming Apprentice


Harvest Continued…..

Following up from my last blog explaining how we had been harvesting the rye, oats and barley down on the farm, (I hoped you all liked it) I thought that as my latest blog coincides with our potato harvest, I would explain a little further.


 Richard with the horses

The way we harvest the potatoes here at Gressenhall is through the use of a horse drawn Ransomes potato spinner. The spinner we use is a later model dating from around the 1940s.




 Bottom blade and tines

As you can see from the picture above, the spinner works by the bottom blade cutting into the ridged row of potatoes and then the spinning tines pushing the crop out to the side. As the blade digs into the row, the soil that is pushed up cushions the potatoes from being bruised and broken during the harvesting process. The spinner is powered by a land wheel connected to a gear box that then powers the spinner mechanism. (See gearbox picture below) When using the machine the operator has control over the depth the blade cuts into the ridge and also the controls to engage the main driving gear. The harvested potato crop is then picked by hand and loaded into a vehicle. In our case we use Trojan in a tumble.

Picture 3 - GearboxGearbox

Picture 4 - Trojan and TumbleTrojan and Tumble

A Little history behind Ransomes

Ransomes, Sims and Jeffries (also known as Ransomes, Ransomes, Sims & Head) based in Ipswich Suffolk, was a British agricultural machinery manufacturers producing a vast range of products including traction engines, ploughs, lawn mowers, combine harvesters and other farming machinery. They also manufactured aeroplanes during the First World War.

Picture 5 - Ransomes name plateRansomes plate

As our harvest is now coming to an end, I look forward to preparing the fields ready to sow next years crop. As I said in my last blog, I cannot wait to get some ploughing done with the horses.

Ben Preston – Heritage Farming Apprentice

Harvest Time

It’s that time of year when you look out into the fields and you see combines going up and down harvesting the crops all day long. Well this is exactly what we have been doing down on the farm here at Gressenhall. The only difference is that we have been harvesting our crops using the Suffolk Punch horses with an Albion reaper binder. The crops on the farm this year have consisted of oats, rye and barley.


Harvesting the crops down on the farm

The workings and a bit of history behind the reaper binder:-


Richard on the 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.

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.

The binder is designed to be horse-drawn, but can be adapted for use with a tractor. The main drive of the machine is produced by a ‘bull wheel’ or ‘land wheel’. When the wheel turns, it drives a chain which then drives a gear box that transmits its power down driveshafts to make all aspects of the binder work.

The earliest models of binders used wire because the tying of the sheaf could be made with a simple twist rather than a complicated knot. But this did prove to have some disadvantages: it made it more difficult to cut the wire tie, and there was always the risk of damage through pieces of wire slipping through to the mechanism of a threshing machine.

The automatic knotting (binding) mechanism for twine was developed in America during the 1860s. Binders using the device did not immediately become popular because the twine used was relatively scarce and costly. This changed during the 1880s as the volume of production in Mexico of twine, made from sisal hemp, became available. This meant that the twine tying binders quickly took over from the wire variety.


The picture above shows the binder at work on a crop of Chevallier barley, a Victorian variety. From the seat the operator has a good view of the knotter and can regulate where the sheave is tied depending on the size of the crop. You can also see that our binder is a left hand cut, the size of the cutter bar is 5 foot and the sheaves are ejected from the right hand side. Another worker or two then follow up behind the binder stooking the sheaves in the field. This aids in the drying out of the cut crop.


Binder traveling through cut sheaves and stacks

Now that the harvest is complete for this year, we can now look ahead to see what crops will go where and then start the preparation of the land. I cannot wait to learn all about ploughing with the horses!

Ben Preston – Heritage Farming Apprentice