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Hay And Hay-making

The Grass-crop of this, as of many, if not most, other countries, is

undoubtedly the most important of its annual products; requiring by far

the largest area of its soil, and furnishing the principal food of its

Cattle, and thus contributing essentially to the subsistence of its

working animals and to the production of those Meats which form a large

and constantly increasing proportion of the food of every civilized

ple. But I propose to speak in this essay of that proportion of the

Grass-crop--say 25 to 35 per cent. of the whole--which is cut, cured and

housed (or stacked) for Hay, and which is mainly fed out to animals in

Winter and Spring, when frost and snow have divested the earth of

herbage or rendered it inaccessible.

The Seventh Census (1850) returned the Hay-crop of the preceding year at

13,838,642 tuns, which the Eighth Census increased to 19,129,128 tuns as

the product of 1859. Confident that most farmers underestimate their

Hay-crops, and that hundreds of thousands who do not consider themselves

farmers, but who own or rent little homesteads of two to ten acres

each, keeping thereon a cow or two and often a horse, fail to make

returns of the two to five tuns of Hay they annually produce,

considering them too trivial, I estimate the actual Hay-crop of all our

States and Territories for the current year at 40,000,000 tuns, or about

a tun to each inhabitant, although I do not expect the new Census to

place it much, if any, above 25,000,000 tuns. The estimated average

value of this crop is $10 (gold) per tun, making its aggregate value, at

my estimate of its amount, $400,000,000--and the quantity is constantly

and rapidly increasing.

That quantity should be larger from the area devoted to meadows, and the

quality a great deal better. I estimate that 30,000,000 acres are

annually mowed to obtain these 40,000,000 tuns of Hay, giving an average

yield of 1-1/3 tuns per acre, while the average should certainly not

fall below two tuns per acre. My upland has a gravelly, rocky soil, not

natural to grass, and had been pastured to death for at least a century

before I bought it; yet it has yielded me an average of not less than

2-1/2 tuns to the acre for the last sixteen years, and will not yield

less while I am allowed to farm it. My lowland (bog when I bought it) is

bound henceforth to yield more; but, while imperfectly or not at all

drained, it was of course a poor reliance--yielding bounteously in

spots, in others, little or nothing.

In nothing else is shiftless, slovenly farming so apt to betray itself

as in the culture of Grass and the management of grass lands. Pastures

overgrown with bushes and chequered by quaking, miry bogs; meadows foul

with every weed, from white daisy up to the rankest brakes, with

hill-sides that may once have been productive, but from which crop after

crop has been taken and nothing returned to them, until their yield has

shrunk to half or three-fourths of a tun of poor hay, these are the

average indications of a farm nearly run out by the poorest sort of

farming. Such farms were common in the New England of my boyhood; I

trust they are less so to-day; yet I seldom travel ten miles in any

region north or east of the Delaware without seeing one or more of them.

Fifty years ago, I judge that the greater part of the hay made in

New-England was cut from sour, boggy land, that was devoted to grass

simply because nothing else could be done with it. I have helped to

carry the crop off on poles from considerable tracts on which oxen could

not venture without miring. It were superfluous to add that no well-bred

animal would eat such stuff, unless the choice were between it and

absolute starvation. In many cases, a very little work done in opening

the rudest surface-drains would have transformed these bogs into decent

meadows, and the product, by the help of plowing or seeding, into

unexceptionable hay.

There are not many farmers, apart from our wise and skillful dairymen,

who use half enough grass-seed; men otherwise thrifty often fail in this

respect. If half our ordinary farmers would thoroughly seed down a full

third of the area they usually cultivate, and devote to the residue the

time and efforts they now give to the whole, they would grow more grain

and vegetables, while the additional grass would be so much clear again.

We sow almost exclusively Timothy and Clover, when there are at least 20

different grasses required by our great diversity of soils, and of these

three or four might often be sown together with profit; especially in

seeding down fields intended for pasture, we might advantageously use a

greater variety and abundance of seed. I believe that there are grasses

not yet adopted and hardly recognized by the great body of our

farmers--the buffalo-grass of the prairies for one--that will yet be

grown and prized over a great part of our country.

As for Hay-Making, my conviction is strong that our grass is cut in the

average from two to three weeks too late, and that not only is our hay

greatly damaged thereby, but our meadows needlessly impoverished and

exhausted. The formation and perfection of seed always draw heavily upon

the soil. A crop of grass cut when the earliest blossoms begin to

drop--which, in my judgment, is the only right time--will not impoverish

the soil half so much as will the same crop cut three weeks later; while

the roots of the earlier cut grass will retain their vitality at least

thrice as long as though half the seed had ripened before the crop was

harvested. Grass that was fully ripe when cut has lost at least half its

nutriment, which no chemistry can ever restore. Hay alone is dry fodder

for a long Winter, especially for young stock; but hay cut after it was

dead ripe, is proper nutriment for no animal whatever--not even for old

horses, who are popularly supposed to like and thrive upon it.

The fact that our farmers are too generally short-handed throughout the

season of the Summer harvest, while it seems to explain the error I

combat, renders it none the less disastrous and deplorable. I estimate

the depreciation in the value of our hay-crop, by reason of late

cutting, as not less than one-fifth; and, when we consider that a full

half of our farmers turn out their cattle to ravage and poach up their

fields in quest of fodder a full month earlier than they should, because

their hay is nearly or quite exhausted, the consequences of this error

are seen to diffuse themselves over the whole economy of the farm.

* * * * *

From the hour in which grass falls under the Mower, it ought to be kept

in motion until laid at rest in the stack or the barn; keep stirring it

with the tedder until it is ready to be raked into light winrows, and

turn these over and over until they will answer to go upon the cart. In

any bright, hot day, the grass mowed in the morning should be stacked

before the dew falls at night; while, if any is mowed after noon, it

should be cocked and capped by sunset, even though it be necessary to

open it out the next fair morning.

I have a dream of hay-making, especially with regard to clover, without

allowing it to be scalded by fierce sunshine. In my dream, the grass is

raked and loaded nearly as fast as cut, drawn to the barn-yard, and

there pitched upon an endless apron, on which it is carried slowly

through a drying-house, heated to some 200 deg. Fahrenheit by steam or by

charcoal in a furnace below, somewhat after the manner of a hop-kiln.

While passing slowly through this heated atmosphere, the grass is

continually forked up and shaken so as to expose every lock of it to the

drying heat, until it passes off thereby deprived of its moisture and is

precipitated into a mow or upon a stack-bottom at the opposite side;

load after load being pitched upon the apron continuously, and the

drying process going steadily forward by night as well as by day, and

without regard to the weather outside. I do not assert that this vision

will ever be realized; but I have known dreams as wild as this

transformed by time and thought into beneficent realities.

I ask no one to share my dreams or sympathise with their drift and

purpose. I only insist that Hay-making, as it is managed all around me,

is ruder in its processes and more uncertain in its results than it

should or need be. We cut our grass rapidly and well; we gather and

house it with tolerable efficiency; but we cure much of it imperfectly

and wastefully. The fact that most of it is over-ripe when cut

aggravates the pernicious effects of its subsequent exposure to dew and

rain; and the net result is damaged fodder which is at once unpalatable

and innutritious.