(Host) Commentator Will Curtis remembers haying in the early 1950’s, after he and his wife Jane moved to their first Vermont farm.
(Curtis) We had brought a tractor and mower with us when we moved, but to Jane’s delight a pair of elderly workhorses went with that first farm and with them, an elderly mowing machine. One day in May that first year, Prince and Peggy, hitched to the old horse-drawn mowing machine driven by a neighbor’s son, and I with the tractor and the modern mower, set off up to the hay field. To my surprise by the end of the day Prince and Peggy and the neighbor boy had cut just as much grass as I had with the tractor, because the team went along slowly but surely, while the faster machine caused my cutter bar to clog up. It was annoying to have to get off my tractor and clear the cutter bar while the horses proceeded majestically past me, swaths of hay lying neatly in shining rows.
That summer, all our hay was put in the barn loose. In the field, with three-tined long handled forks, we pitched hay into a wagon, building the load carefully in the corners so it wouldn’t slide off. When we drove into the barn, a large hay-fork that hung from the roof was dropped by a trip rope and plunged into the wagonload. One of the horses, hitched to the rope, hoisted the load and pulled it along a trolley into the mow. And then, with a twitch of the rope, the load of hay was dumped just where we wanted it.
How we blessed a former owner for that mechanism – that we didn’t have to pitch the whole load into the barn by hand. If you thought it was hot outside in the sun, the inside of a hay mow up under the barn roof on a summer afternoon has to be one of the hottest places on earth, especially with hay seeds sticking to sweaty skin.
The amount of water we drank was astonishing but the best thirst quencher was that of the old days, switchel. The recipe was a gallon of cold spring water, a quart of apple cider vinegar, two cups of molasses and four tablespoons of ground ginger. Every morning a jug full of switchel went out with the haying crew.
We moved to a bigger and more efficient farm but even with a large flat mowing we kept to our method of producing the best hay possible. The records we made with our herd proved that we were on the right track. Romantic as working with Prince and Peggy had been, we had to add hay trucks and balers and elevators to our operation in order to feed our increased herd. But it was just as hot, just as sweaty and we drank just as much switchel as before. What didn’t change was the feeling of immense satisfaction when we got the last load of hay into the barn and knew that we had enough to feed our cows all winter.
I’m Will Curtis of Woodstock, Vermont.
Will Curtis is an author and naturalist.