The Milk and Human Kindness: What I’ve Learned of Tri-Pod Haymaking
by Suzanne Lupien of Thetford Center, VT
My Thoughts and Experiences with Tripod Haymaking
Over the past year this publication has printed descriptions of two farmers’ forays into tripod haymaking and I’d like to add my own: the result of many years of study and thought, and periodic practice.
I have no doubt that when the time comes we are going to need to know how to make hay this way, whether it be this Proctor Tripod method, or the French rack method illustrated in André Voisin’s great book “Grass Productivity” or the Scandinavian “Swedish Rider” method of tightly strung wire “fences” for hay to dry on. Each method has its pros and cons, and it’s my belief that the “Swedish Riders” is the easiest to learn and the Proctor Method may be the most difficult.
I can’t give you exact dates but I believe that Alexander Proctor, a Scot, had his method perfected and his business in operation between the two World Wars, but in any case Newman Turner and Friend Sykes, two legendary English farmers were immersed in the Proctor Method just after the 2nd World War. Proctor did print a little informational booklet about his method, but it was not a how-to booklet. He sold the tripods and trestles to you and sent out a representative from the company to teach you how to set them up and fork hay onto them properly, stating most emphatically that it could not be mastered without his instruction. That made a big impression on me! Newman Turner’s book “Fertility Farming” devotes a chapter to the Proctor method with murky yet illuminating photographs and in Friend Sykes book “Humus and the Farmer” you see magnificent fields of oats tripoded. Friend Sykes had 2,000 sets of tripods.
I am not an expert by any means. I wish I were! I have built quite a few sets of tripods and trestles by pouring over the photos in “Fertility Farming” and as I have found that size of the tripod and correct proportions of the parts have a major effect on the success of the stack, I want to share this with you in the hope that it will contribute, in turn, to your own trials and mastery. Effective practice of this method is going to make it possible for folks to keep a cow, or a horse, someday when baling hay is no longer possible.
1) A twelve to eighteen hour window of dry weather is needed to mow the hay and ted it once.
2) The hay needs to be long stemmed
3) Proctor’s tripods are ideal in heft and proportion, a critically important point for practicality, functionality, and durability. In the field as well as in storage. When erected the legs of the tripods need to splay just right, to stand very securely and still maintain an attitude of verticality. The height and splay are essential to carry the load of hay and to provide the correct skeleton for building the hollow, vertical sided haystack for successful curing. Stability through heavy winds is a factor, especially in Great Britain. Sheer verticality is an equally important factor to shed rain. Bear in mind that curing time may require three weeks. Newman Turner writes that he regularly moved his cured tripods with a rear tractor sweep to a central location for stationary baling or direct feeding. This information adds more understanding of how stout these tripods should be. Poles 7’ long and 3” in diameter must be about right; debarked, smooth poles; uniform.
4) The trestles’ function is to establish air channels into the hollow core of the stack during forking up the stack, and then to be easily removed when the stack is complete and carried forward to the next naked set of tripods to build the next haystack. Proctor’s tripods are made of wooden slats, 1”x2” and 2”x2” for the uprights, with diagonal bracing; overall dimensions something like 2’ high and 2 1/2’ long: probably hinged at the top rather than wired together. My guess is that the middle upright acted as a guide for the finished thickness of the hay wall.
5) The wire on the Proctor tripod skirted the tripod in two places in addition to the wire which bound the poles together at the very top. It must be heavy gauge, yet malleable. I drilled holes in my poles for the wire to pass through so I could ensure proper placement of the wires.
According to Turner, and Sykes, and Proctor this method is weatherproof. With the 12-18 hour window of clear weather to mow and ted and build the stack, no amount of rain subsequent to this would injure the stack; and that over a period of about three weeks the hay would be cured. Period. The key to the method is in proper set up of the tripods and how the hay is placed on the tripods. The wires keep the hay off the ground and provide a structure to keep the hay from sliding downward. Lightly forking the hay to create as much air space in the hay itself, while maintaining a hollow core and a vertical sided stack are the key ingredients to building a stack that will cure and not mold. The trestles are not part of the haystack. They are only there to create air channels and help to build uniformly thick walls of hay. You will remove them, as I said earlier, as soon as the stack is built. Do not let the hay settle below the tops of the poles, or water will collect there and ruin your hay. The top of the stack needs a good forkful to get a convex shape. I heartily agree with Newman Turner. There is no better hay than properly made tripoded hay!
In my next article I will write on butter making A-Z, tending your cow’s hooves, building a medieval covered hay storage structure, and more!