Scythe Buyers' Guide
When grass is mown with the scythe it will inevitably end up laying in windrows (photos 2,3,4).
Depending on regional customs, these rows are then spread by hand, with a hay fork, hay rake or with the scythe. The drying process depends on maturity, density and composition of the stand and, of course, on weather conditions. We can speed up the process in two ways:
a) through initial spreading, i.e. the more uniformly the grass is spread the more effectively it will begin to dry.
In areas where rains are frequent, various methods of protecting the partly dried forage have been devised. They all entail the consolidating of the material so that only a small portion is exposed to external moisture. Most of them provide for the curing process to continue, often for many days or even weeks.
The simplest method is the building of so-called "cocks": shapely piles sitting simply on the mown stubble--already discussed in the Haymaking Article.
Considerable improvements are those systems that make use of some simple wooden or wire structure, elevating the curing hay above the ground. Of the several methods we've tried here in New Brunswick, Canada (where summer rains are very frequent) the following is our favourite one.
The Curing of Hay on Racks.
The dimensions of our average racks are:
The commentary to the pictures below must be considered as only an outline, rather than bona-fide "complete instruction". In time we may expand on the details. Interim some principles can be gleaned from the Haymaking Article.
After sufficient pre-drying (to perhaps 30-40% moisture) the hay is gathered into piles close to the rack. Hay forks and wooden rakes are both used to accomplish this step. (photo 7).
Begin by laying the hay on the lower bars (photo 8).
Continue adding hay alternately to both sides, keeping it fairly level. Packing down should be minimal, especially if the hay's "readiness to be racked" is borderline, i.e., nearer the 35-40% moisturex (photo 9).
At this point hay is added to the ends, over the middle cross bars which will join the two sides, making a continuous level all the way around (photo 10).
Keeping the top wide, level and slightly conical, continue in that manner. How much more is added once the top of the rack is no longer visible depends again on how dry the hay is. Because this section will receive less air circulation than the sides below, the driest forkfuls should go here (photo 11).
This batch of hay is relatively dry (25-30% moisture) so considerably more can be added from this point on (photo 12).
The space beneath is big enough to crawl through and allows air to circulate throughout (photo 14).
How much hay can be cured on one of these racks? We have weighed some average ones which were ready for storage in the barn (20% or less moisture). They were around 70 kg. (150 lb.) each. Small racks (built with greener hay, especially very early or very late in the season,) may be only 35 kg. (80 lb.), while large ones may be over 100 kg. (200-300 lb.)
"Homesteaders" without draft animals, wagons or pick-up trucks can haul in the hay on garden carts. I can put 140 kg. (300 lb.) of loose hay--about two racks--on a standard sized cart, but it takes some skill to build the load so it won't topple over and is well-balanced, thus relatively easy to pull. (On uneven ground a rope tied tightly across the top helps considerably.) Here, cured hay is loaded onto a cart (photos 15, 16).
In our climate it would be unrealistic to expect that exposed (i.e. spread to dry) and partially cured hay will never get rained on. Especially if the cut grass was relatively young (i.e. early in the season) or it is/was mature grass which had not yet had a chance to dry very much after being cut, I do not worry about it getting a shower or two. It may turn brown from the top, but if handled carefully thereafter will still be leafier and more palatable than hay we could buy.
In photos 18 and 19, such weathered hay is being raked up. This batch was deliberately left to turn extra-brown to provide a contrast background to the lettering of our "war protest artwork". (Faye is seen in photo 20 working between the letter A and the peace symbol, near the bottom of the sign. Ashley, near the top end within the dove, is making rough piles which were left to "air out" during the day and picked up toward evening when the dew began to creep in again (photos 18, 19, 20).
Apart from being of various sizes, the finished shapes are not all the same. After a week of rain and wind these racks have settled, as they always do. The one in the foreground has retained the ideal shape better than the two behind it. Grass cut after that week, having been spread for a day, is being raked up and consolidated into piles for the next racks (photo 25).
Another example of well-shaped racks is given in photo 26.
Photo 27 ilustrates a rack that was a little more squat and had a thin layer of greener hay added on top, something we occasionally do for better weather protection.
Fairlight and Ashley performing farmer's style aerobics on a frosty September morning. Making hay out of grass this mature is not exactly what we plan to do, but it happens... At that time of year in this location, getting grass to cure well enough to be baled, or even brought in loose by the conventional methods, would be nearly impossible. This, in addition, is a slightly wet field of predominantly reed canary grass which produces a lot of succulent second growth after the first generation has gone to seed. With this system we can still turn this crop into hay which our donkeys like very much - and actually prefer to June-made clover hay (photo 28).
Nobody else around these parts makes hay for nearly five months out of the year. We start when the dandelions are still blooming (late May) and finish the last scraps in October when the snow is beginning to fly (photo 29).
16 Apr. 2005