For those of you who are not from The Dale, this loosely translates as “What are you doing in my hay-crop young Jimmy? I would like you to leave, please”.
Up until that moment grass was just, well, grass, and grass was for playing in. Arnold taught me that grass grown for hay is a crop, and a vital one too. Come the winter, Arnold and all the other sheep farmers rely on hay to feed their flocks. Up in the hills it is essential to insure that you have a good stock of hay in case spring comes late because there may be no fresh grass until well into lambing time or beyond.
If the supply of hay is short it can become a very expensive commodity... a long summer drought makes for a poor crop but too much rain can be a problem too, especially if it makes it impossible to cut and dry the hay before it loses all it’s nutrition.
|After the hay cut, grazing with sheep.|
There’s another good reason to make hay while the sun shines. It’s a slow process taking two to three days of turning and shaking before it can be gathered in. In Arnold’s time the work was done by hand using scythes, pitchforks and rakes and a horse was used to pull the sled that carried hay to the barn. Later he had and his brother bought a little Ferguson tractor to replace Robin the horse. Today’s hill farmers work in teams using quad bikes to race between three or four fields that are cut on the same day.
|A hedgehog in the hay meadow.|
|The Sailing Club meadow at Paxton Pits.|
The seeds of buttercups turn from soft green to hard black when they are ripe but another good indicator plant is yellow rattle. In May the bladder-like pods that contain the seeds will be soft and silent but, when the time is right, they dry and harden to become little rattles. That’s how we know when to cut the hay.
|The meadow at Paxton Pits in May.|