More on Hay

As I am thinking about this haying season (and believe me, my dear bones are thinking about it!), I am reminded what a big deal hay storage has been historically, and is still. The ability to put grass by, to hold it over winter in good feeding condition, is the rock on which animal husbandry rests. If we cannot bring forage to the animals in the season when it ceases to grow, we can’t keep them. Meat, leather, milk (meaning also cheese and yogurt), wool, tallow for candles, grease for soap, and traction from beasts in harness, all these depend on keeping domestic animals. Even in our 21st century, we depend on the production of good hay to keep ourselves fed and comfortable.

So I went looking into the history of haymaking. Here is an image of haystacks on the Column of Trajan in Rome, created staging the expedition

in the year 113. The haystacks are to the right of the square rick of logs and left of the little tower. This is the bottom of the spiral of the column where the design depicts the troops of Trajan setting out on their expedition to conquer the Dacians. John Hungerford Pollen details this image in A Description of the Trajan Column (Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode, printers to Queen Victoria London, 1874 and made available online at

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/ Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/Trajans_Column/John_ Pollen/Description/1*.html#noteAText

Text and engravings are in the public domain.). (That is a really long URL, and I haven’t figured out how to make them live yet, so you will have to paste it into your browser to find the site. Sorry.) Pollen writes, “Between the guard houses are seen stacks of forage brought to a sharp point, and thatched with reeds or rushes of some length, the length lapping carefully over each other down to the ground. Besides corn and hay, firewood is piled up in logs, carefully cut and laid in opposite courses.” When Pollen says “corn,” he is not referring to corn on the cob, but to grain crops in general. Because it’s a little hard to make out the structure of the haystacks in this photo, here is a line drawing of the same scene:trajanscolumnhaystacks_cr_ct.gif

It is provided by the McMaster Trajan Project: http://cheiron.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~trajan/index.html

Imagine what an army it was, to carry its hay and grain and wood with it on campaign. But how else could they have kept the stock alive and strong? Later in the carving you can see how the provisions were loaded onto boats, and later still there is a scene of soldiers clearing forest and carrying logs from conquered lands; in the background are more haystacks.

clearing forest

Since these are competent, carefully made stacks already in the second century, we can guess the technique was perfected long before that.

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Published in: Uncategorized on July 10, 2007 at 1:57 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. You remind me that my one hay guy hasn’t called me back yet…hopefully, I’ll remember in the morning to call him and find out what the deal is, and if he isn’t haying this year, I’ll call the other guy! We figured that we didn’t have enough cleared land (not to mention, equipment) to hay ourselves, and if we bought it, we’d be dead before we paid for it, and it would cost much more than buying hay. Of course, that was when hay was $2 a bale. Now that it’s rising to $4.50 a bale, it’s getting more expensive to keep sheep! I keep thinking I need to cut back, and then, I see a beautiful ewe from a line I don’t have and…instead of cut back, I’ve increased.

    It rains, yet…pretty steadily for the last few days, and when not actually raining, very humid and warm, with thunderstorms that seem to go on and on and on for hours. I thank my lucky stars and all the gods that I don’t live in N.J. where it’s been close to 100, instead of the 85 I’m grousing about here in Vermont!

  2. Our very first year here we hayed our own pasture, because there was good grass and we didn’t have the animals yet to eat it. We did it with scythes and hay forks (and the help of our visiting friend from Finland, Henriette), and crammed the loose hay into the barn when it was dry. But we don’t have the acreage to grow our own hay for harvest now that we have animals to eat it in place. And, as you say, the equipment is expensive. It’s always been a bit iffy to find good sources for hay in the field. We’ve been happy the last 2 years to have hooked up with a man who keeps clean fields, calls us when the baler comes, and says, “Keep track of your bales and let me know how many you take. Stick the check in my door.”

    Temperatures: the last 2 days we beat 100 here. It’s supposed to drop to 90 today. I’m not sure it’s good news when you’re thrilled to hear it’s going to be 90F.

    S.


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