by William Castle of Shropshire, UK
For the last ten years, I have made hay mostly with a single horse. This has not necessarily been out of choice, as at one time I had hoped to be farming on a larger scale with more horses, and certainly having two horses would make the choice of implements and the work itself easier. However, the small scale of my farming activities does not justify an extra horse, as it is very much part time.
My first experience of horse drawn haymaking, however, was on a ‘proper’ farm belonging to Geoff Morton, in the dryer eastern side of England. Geoff’s experience encompassed making hay both with early tractor implements and horse drawn implements, including using a hay loader towed behind a pike maker, a bee hive shaped cage on wheels, inside which someone trampled down the hay until it was full. Then the hay loader was unhitched, the whole cage was turned upside down, and a door at the back opened leaving the 10 feet tall ‘pike’ to stand in the field. By the time I worked there in the late 80s and early 90s, however, the hay was cut and baled with a tractor, so it was only the turning and tedding that were horse drawn. Both these jobs were done with a pair of horses in a hitch cart pulling implements made for tractors, the reason for which I would better understand when I came to make hay of my own, but at that time while I was learning to work horses, my attention was on driving the horses so as to not miss any hay.
The tedder the Mortons used was made by Nicolsons of Newark [England], and being a tractor implement, was wider than the horse drawn models, and its drawbar was offset to one side so the tractor wheels, or in this case the horses’ feet and the hitch cart wheels straddled one of the swaths. Their turner with six spider wheels was made by Lely in Holland in the 1960s, with a drawbar for a tractor, but some of them also had a big hook on the front for a singletree, the flat land in their country of origin allowing it to be used with a horse in traces, [though I would always want to have shafts]. When adjusted correctly this implement was light of draught and could obviously be pulled by a single horse, but with plenty of horses available, the Mortons hooked it onto the hitch cart, though slightly off centre so the horses did not trample the hay. With good judgement and the combination of these two implements which gently moved the crop, the Morton’s always seemed to make good hay.
When I came to making my own hay in 1999, as far as implements and power were concerned, I was starting from scratch. My Percheron filly, bought from Geoff as a weaned foal, was still too young to work, so for the first couple of years I got someone to cut and bale the hay on the two or three acres I rented, and borrowed a tractor to do the turning myself. This gave me some experience of deciding when to cut and when to bale without having to think much about the implements, but by the time Molly was three the possibilities started to increase, as I had done enough work with her to use her to gather the bales, and once I had a suitable piece of equipment, to turn the hay.
This first implement was a ground drive side delivery rake, which a friend found in a corner of a field, the greatest point in its favour being that it was free for the taking. In Britain most horse drawn side delivery rakes were made for use with a single horse, and could either put all the hay into one windrow, or by taking the centre section of tines out of each raker bar, could turn two swaths independently. In our essentially damp and not always very hot climate, this allows the hay to dry, whereas if the two swaths left by the mower were immediately put into a windrow the centre would probably never get dry. My rake, however, was made for a tractor, and had an additional gearbox to turn a completely separate mechanism which turned the right hand swath. The advantage of having these two sets of rakes side by side, is that with long grass the near side cannot steal hay from the offside swath, as can happen with the horse drawn models, but the extra weight and gearing means it is heavier to pull.
Nonetheless, it turned my few acres of hay, and in a light crop and reasonable weather it was all that was required. In heavy hay, however, especially when the crop had gone down and then re-grown, the intertwined clumps were slow to dry, so I would often go round the heavy parts of the field with a pitch fork and fluff up the hay by hand. Although this perhaps saved a day of drying, it was tempting to go round more of the field than was necessary, so the idea of getting a tedder became more appealing.
As luck would have it, later that year we stayed on the farm of a horse farming friend who had a single horse tedder which he wanted to sell, as he now had a newer tractor model which he used with a pair of horses. The ‘new’ tedder was surely the answer to my problems, but being at least fifty years old, it also had its own problems. The first was that my mare only just fitted in the shafts, so even when the shoulder chains were at full length, her hocks only just cleared the cross piece joining the shafts. Even when I lengthened the shafts, her tail was so near the revolving mechanism that a sudden grooming of her tail was a real possibility, so despite the presence of flies I had to plait up her tail, which was an extra job I would prefer not to do. With this machine it was not just the horse’s safety which was at issue, as the driver’s seat, perched above one of the wheels, was just inches from the revolving tines. From my point of view this was a serious design fault, and not being keen on the idea of a bloodied, dislocated or broken hand, before I ever used the tedder, I built a guard to prevent me from leaning over or falling off the seat and ending up as part of the mechanism! Thus equipped, we went and tedded hay, though it did miss bits where some of the tines were missing. Then one day when we out tedding, with a sudden bang we came to an involuntary and abrupt halt. This was caused by one of the bars forming the reel bending and hitting the frame, which stopped my tedding for that year. The reason this happened was that over the years all three of the angle sections forming the reel had had additional pieces of steel welded on at numerous places where the original metal was weak, and these pieces had also become rusty, and the welds were not much to write home about either. The best remedy, which with the advantage of hindsight I should have carried out before I ever used the machine, was to replace these bars with new steel, cut to length and drilled to accept the tines. But removing the old bars from the castings at each end proved to be a much harder job than making the new pieces, the electric drill almost burning out as I drilled very slowly through the big rivets which must have been hot riveted in the factory. Once the machine was back together, and a year later when I managed to find some tines to replace those that were lost and broken, the tedder did a much better job, picking up all the hay nicely and throwing it out loosely behind.