1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Haymaking

(Part 71)



Having spoken of the cultivation and use in a green state of herbage and forage crop, it remains to describe the process by which they are preserved for use in a dry state, or made into hay. On every farm a supply of good hay, adequate to the wants of its own live stock, is, or at least ought to be, statedly provided. This is no doubt an expensive kind of food, but on the other hand it is highly nutritious, and conduces much to the healthfulness of the animals fed upon it. Many a valuable farm horse is annually sacrificed to a false economy in feeding him solely on innutritious straw or ill-gotten hay. The owners of such stock would do well to consider that the death of a horse yearly, and the impaired health and condition of the whole stud, more than counterbalance any saving that can be effected by using bad fodder instead of good. But the great consumption of hay is by the numerous horses constantly required in his country for other purposes than farm labour. In the vicinity of towns hay is therefore a staple agricultural product, and hay making an important branch of rural economy. It is one in the practice of which English farmers generally excel their brethren north of the Tweed. In the counties near the metropolis, in particular, this process is conducted with admirable skill.

In converting the grasses and forage plants into hay, the object is to get quit of the water which they contain, amounting to nearly two-thirds of their weight, with the lest possible loss of their nutritive qualities. In order to this the crops must be mown at that stage of their growth when the greatest weight of produce with the maximum of nutritive value can be obtained; and then it is necessary so to conduct the drying process that the inspisssated juices shall not be washed out and lostt by external wetting. A simple and sufficiently accurate rule for determining the first point is to mow when the plants are in full flower. If this stage is exceeded, both the quality of the hay and the amount of the foggage or aftermath are seriously impaired. It follows from this that mowing should be commenced somewhat earlier than the stage indicated, otherwise, before the whole can be cut the last portion will have exceeded the proper degree of ripeness. By cutting a part too soon a slight loss of weight is incurred, which, however, is compensated for by a better aftermath; whereas if part is allowed to mature the seeds, there is a loss of weight, quality; and aftermath. Haymaking, to be done well, must be done quickly, and in order to this a full supply of labourers is indispensable. As a good mower can cut on an average an acre in a day, as many must be engaged as can overtake the extent of crop while it isin the best state for cutting. It is of great importance, too, to have the grass cut close to the ground. A loss of from 5 to 10 per cent. on the gross produce is frequently incurred by unskillful or careless mowers leaving the sward too high. Now that efficient mowing-machines can be had, this work can be performed with a celerity and accuracy hitherto unattainable. To admit of accurate and expeditious mowing, whether by scythe or machine, care must be taken, at the proper season, to remove all stones and other obstructions, and to make the surface smooth by rolling.

Confining our attention, in the first place, to natural meadow grass, let us glance at the process as conducted by those who are most proficient in it. The mowers having commenced their work at sunrise, the haymakers, in the proportion of two men and three women to each mower, so soon as thee dew is off, shake out the swathes evenly over the whole ground, until they have overtaken as much as they can get into cocks the same day. This quantity they now turn and toss about as frequently as possible, getting it, before evening, either into a compact windrow, or forming it into very small cocks. Next day these cocks are again opened out, and as much more of the grass in swathe as can be overtaken, all of which is anew subjected to the same repeated turnings, and again, as evening approaches, secured from dew and rain by windrowing and cocking; that which is driest being put into larger cocks than on the previous day. If the weather is hot and parching, that which was first cut is by the fourth day ready for the stack, and is immediately carried. A large rick-cloth is drawn over the incipient stack until more hay is in condition to be added to it, and then, if weather favour, the whole process, from mowing to stacking, for a time goes on simultaneously, and is speedily completed. As the building of the stack proceeds, its sides are, by pulling, freed from loose hay, and straightened; and when completed it is thatched with the least possible delay. If the weather prove showery, the grass is left untouched in the swathe until it begins to get yellow on the under side, in which case it is usually turned over without opening out until weather again favour. To produce fine hay, care must be taken to secure from dew or rain by cocking before nightfall all that has been spread out during the day—never to touch it until dew or wet is off—to shake all out so thoroughly as that the whole may be dried alike—and never to suffer it, after being tedded out, to lie so long as to get scorched on one side. When these operations are conducted successfully, the hay is of a light green colour, delightfully fragrant, and retains its nutritious matter unimpaired. To accomplish this in our variable climate much skill and energy, and an ample command of labour, are necessary. The cost and labour of this process are now, indeed, much reduced by the use of machinery, consisting of mower, tedder, and rake, by means of which a man and pair of horses can do the work of ten scythemen, and another man and horse can toss, turn, and draw into windrows as much grass as could be overtaken in the same time by fifteen people. The hay-tedder, moreover, shakes off the grass more thoroughly than it can be done by hand. After the hay is gathered into rows, horse labour is also sometimes employed to collect it into heaps by means of a sweep, that is, a piece of plank with a rope attached to each end of it, by which a horse draws it along on edge, while two lads hold it down, and the hay is thus pushed forward in successive portions, which are then by hand labour made into orderly cocks. The yield of meadow hay ranges from 1 to 2 tons per acre, and the cost of making it is about 10s. per ton. In London hay is brought to market in trusses, each weighing 56lb, 36 of which are called a load. In cutting up a stack thse trusses are removed from it in compact cubes, which are then neatly secured by bands of twisted hay.In converting the cultivated forage crops, such as clover (either pure or mixed with ryegrass), sainfoin, lucerne, or vetches, into hay, the procedure varies considerably from that pursued with the natural grasses. A considerable part of these plants consists of broad tender leaves, which, when scorched by the sun, become so dry and brittle that, on the least rough handling, they fly into dust, and are totally lost. These crops, therefore, do not admit of being shaken asunder and tossed about like the natural grasses, a circumstance which unfortunately forbids the use of the tedding-machine in getting them. The swathes are accordingly left untouched until they have got slightly withered on the upper side, after which they are turned several times with as little breaking up as possible; made up first into small cocks, opened out again, gently turned, and made into larger cocks, which as speedily as possible are carried and stacked. These crops can be stacked with safety in a very green state by mixing with them frequent layers of clean dry straw, by which the redundant juices are absorbed, and injurious heating prevented. The straw thus impregnated acquires a flavour which renders it palatable to cattle; but is advisable, when this practice is adopted, to cut the whole into chaff before using it as fodder.When it is desired to save the seeds of Italian or common ryegrass, the crop, after being mown, is allowed to lie for a day or two in a swathe, and is then neatly gathered into sheaves, bound, and stoked, precisely like a crop of oats. When sufficiently dried, the seed is either thrashed out in the field, the straw stacked like other hay, and the seed spread thinly over a granary floor, and turned several times daily until it is dry enough to keep in a bin or in sacks; or the sheaves are built into small round sacks which stand until the seed is wanted, when it is thrashed out by machinery like grain.Of late years we have frequently secured considerable quantities of useful hay by mowing seeds that had been pastured by sheep in the early part of the season. In July we run the mowing-machines over such fields, taking care to set the cutting- bar high enough to leave the fresh grown herbage untouched, and to remove only that of older and taller growth. The mown staff is left untouched for two or three days; is then drawn together by the horse rake, and put into cocks for a short time, or carted at once to the rick-yard as weather permits. In this way much herbage that would otherwise go waste is converted into useful winter fodder, and a fresh grown clean pasture secured for lambs or other stock.

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