Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter III - Section 9

Mode of hay-making

THERE are few agricultural practices, in which this county is more defective, than in hay-making, except in very few instances, and those I fear accidental; I never saw what I would esteem well-saved hay; the cutting is almost always too long delayed; if the weather is dry and sunny, it is turned so frequently, that it is completely bleached and sapless; even in this state, instead of making it into tramp-cocks, or drawing it home, it is the common practice to throw it into small cocks of about a hundred weight, in which it lies perhaps for a fortnight or more to soak, and probably at the end of this period it is again turned, and made into the same-sized cocks for another fortnight, thus receiving every shower at the top and sides, and, if in bottom meadows, damaged underneath. The farmers say their hay would heat, if put up sooner, not considering, that hay, until it ferments moderately, has not arrived to a state of perfection; but if a farmer, on putting his hand into a cock, finds it the least warm, all his men are immediately summoned, and the hay is unfortunately spread out again to be sunned. I would by no means recommend that high state of fermentation, which turns the hay brown, and which English obstinacy in some counties prefers to green hay, but that, which gives the saccharine fermentation, and delightful perfume, without injuring that fine green colour, without which no hay can be good.

If the grass is cut with rain or dew on it, it should be immediately well shaken by hand after the mowers, and in about two hours should be turned; after remaining about the same length of time, it should be made into small grass-cocks, without permitting the dew to fall on it, and made on a smaller base than the slovenly practice of this county dictates; for this purpose the bottom should be well pulled, and the handfuls laid across each other on the top to help to throw off wet; if put up dry, it may remain two days in these cocks; then, if the outsides are dry, three rows should be brought into one, which may be easily done by a man sticking his fork with long prongs (which by the bye I never saw in this county) into the cocks, and carrying them into the middle row; there should be people stationed to shake out the hay immediately with their hands; in about two hours it should be turned, and, after lying about the same time, made into field cocks of about a ton each. This method is calculated for dry weather; if it is showery, the process must be more tedious, but in this county it is always more so than it need be. Every attentive farmer should go frequently through his field cocks, and try, by putting his hand in a good way, if the proper degree of fermentation is going on; if the heat (which is seldom the case) is too great, the cock must be taken down, and instantly remade. If the grass is perfectly dry, when cut, there is no necessity for throwing it out of the swath until the following day, when the dew has evaporated, and the same process pursued as just now advised. This mode to an Englishman would appear tedious and unnecessary, but the grass in this moist climate is much more succulent, and there is not that drying quality in the air, that prevails in England; even here in some dry uplands, where the grass is thin, and the weather very hot, much of this turning may and ought to be omitted, for I would guard against the sun-beams as much as against rain.

It is astonishing, how careless the proprietors of meadows subject to be flooded are; scarcely a year passes that immense quantities of hay are not spoiled by neglecting to draw it to high ground: they also suffer great losses by permitting their hay to remain too long in the field after having been made into cocks. In a country, where hay is so valuable, one would imagine a more careful management would be pursued. I have seen hay, more than once in the same season, caught by floods, yet still permitted to remain.

The method, pursued in the north of Ireland, of making their hay into small lap-cocks, is a very superior one; but the mode I have presumed to suggest is more likely to be adopted, and will not alarm their prejudices so much, as directions how to make their hay into muffs. The lazy custom of shaking out hay with forks should never be permitted; the hands will do it much more effectually.

When hay is in a fit state to make into tramp-cocks, it is an excellent method to draw it home to the stack-yard and make it into the same kind of cocks; these should be ranged on each side of the place intended for the rick, and will save a great deal of labour in pitching, &c. Circumstances will often occur, such as a continuance of wet weather, want of hands, &c. &c. when some deviation from the method prescribed must be made, but the nearer it can be approached, the better.

Considerable injury is done not only to the crop, but to the ground, by the universal practice of mowing too late in the season; if grass is let in corn acres, it is invariably deferred to a very late period, frequently the end of October. I have seen several fine corcass meadows, that were fit to cut in June, mowing in October; by this means the hay was not only greatly injured in its quality, (the bottom being quite decayed,) but there was a loss of the after-grass, which often lets for a guinea per acre on those meadows, that are cut in July, and finish cattle of the largest size for Limerick market. A gentlemen in the county of Mayo has put an excellent plan into practice to prevent this wretched mode; he lets his grass to be cut the first of August, at which time, or before he knows it will be fit, he receives one-third earnest, which is forfeited, if the meadow is not cut before the first of September; this practice deserves universal adoption, for the sake of both buyer and seller.

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