Home & Shop Companion #0060
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
A week ago, Molly was standing funny, her back leg held forward and outwards at a strange angle, and she mostly avoided putting weight on that leg. I watched her for a day, didn’t sleep much that night, and then she got a bit better and then a bit worse again, so I called the vet. She ruled out any neurological problems which was my gravest fear, calling it soft tissue damage. How it happened I am not sure, but seeing a big hedge clipping dropped from my neighbour’s hedge and the electric fence out of position, I suspect she got the two entangled as she tried to eat it and pulled back suddenly. So now she is on restricted movement, pain killers and isolation from Lucy so they can’t argue and aggravate the damage.
After the rain of last week, the ground is now drying rapidly, so I put Lucy in the hitch cart to bring back the little ballast roller to the house to refill it with water. Driving down the road with the roller, whether empty or full, is a noisy affair, and it is something Lucy had not done on her own before. When I only had Molly, whilst I was training her in the round pen, I got Liz to drag an empty one gallon can along the road, just the other side of the hedge from the pen, until Molly got used to it. When crashed down on the road and then dragged it makes a good simulation of a roller or iron-tyred vehicle. Later, when driving her in the hitch cart I dragged the tin behind, the advantage of the can on a piece of string being that you can start or stop the noise at any time. With Lucy, I didn’t bother with this stage, though I did purposely drop and throw an old metal bucket about in the stable when she was still quite young. When it came to driving her on the road with the roller for the first time, I had them both in the hitch cart, with Molly as a brake and a role model. As the roller hit the road Lucy just went at a quick walk for three paces and then carried on as normal. So I didn’t expect any problems this time, and didn’t get any either.
Once the roller was filled, we returned to the field where Lucy has been rolling the grass, particularly in the areas where I will cut hay. The roller is made for a quad bike and is only 4 feet wide, but it is still quite a pull. Usually I use both horses, because many hooves make light work, but it works OK with a single too. I started with the main body of the field which was already drying out fast, resting Lucy every couple of rounds, but in the wetter corner patch I had to stop every couple of minutes for Lucy’s breathing to slow down, spending just as much time resting as moving. It shows how much the draught can vary for the same piece of equipment as the conditions change, even in the same field.
Rolling grassland and chain harrowing are jobs I am ambivalent about; rolling certainly helps if you have stones which will argue with a mower, and a flatter surface makes for smoother running come hay time, but I doubt whether squashing the holes in the soil surface with the roller is beneficial, either for the porosity of the soil or for the soil organisms. With horses, timing the rolling is vital, witnessed by this week’s efforts where the main part was a bit too dry for this roller to make much of an impression, except in pushing down stones, whereas in the damp corner most of the soil surface is flatter but with some significant hoof prints in places where the soil was particularly doughy. Chain harrowing, on the other hand, does some superficial levelling, but it doesn’t completely flatten mole hills, and I have never been convinced of its espoused benefits of opening up the soil surface or whether there is much value in pulling out a thatch of dead grass.
With the rolling done, we returned to the plough, just Lucy and me. Before starting, I lowered the land wheel a little to decrease the depth and narrowed the furrow wheel to decrease the width of ploughing, swung the draught chain way over to the furrow, and off we went. Even though we were ploughing only a slightly smaller furrow than before, Lucy did fine, and by the evidence of her breathing and sweating, she was only slightly more exerted than when rolling the dryer ground.
With the ground for the potatoes turned over, we then ploughed what was the root bed last year, severing a few lost parsnips on the way. There is some couch grass that started to take hold here late last summer, so I am going to bare fallow this patch. If the spring turns out to be as dry as last year, I might be able to sow a green manure in the early summer once the weeds are dried out, but otherwise it might be early autumn.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.