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 it has largely been replaced by horse, and then tractor power.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.
The 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