There are many changes to the life and work of the farmer over the last 25 years. But none mark the changes for the livestock farmer more than barbed wire and hay bales. When I was a kid I spend an inordinate volume of time with rolls of barbed wire, stakes, sledge, hammer staples and crowbars in a transport box on the back of a tractor. It seemed there wasn’t a weekend that I didn’t drive along fence lines and ditches checking for breaks and holes. The barbed wire, as vicious as it was, was made in the UK when they couldn’t make iron product to save their lives.
You see depending on how much stock we had at any given year, would depend on the size of the field. So you’d be forever stringing new fence-lines. Now for those that have never seen barbed wire, it’s a two ply twist with an X barb every 6-8-10 inches. When it’s new, it’s in tight rolls sitting on a frame. And to string it what you do is insert the crowbar. Then drop the bar over the sides of the transport-box. And having earlier driven the stakes along the line you at the first stake attach the loose end to it then drive the new line with the wire spooling off behind you.
As I say the quality in the wire was crap so you never know the breaking strain. Ergo, the one thing you didn’t do was attempt to tension it with your body. Leastwise not twice. Anywoo, once you had the wire laid out you faced the tractor down the line and tied the wire to the front axle and reversed very slowly. That way if it gave, you had the glass screen between you and fast-moving pain. But if all was good, once you had it tight you could then staple it to the posts.
Of course rolling it back up again was another drama entirely.
Hay featured hugely in my life when I was a kid. In Ireland it was something of a miracle to ‘save’ hay without rain. The virtual shamaning BS that went on was something to behold. You see back then they – the forecasting people – were really bad at reading the Satellite photos. So you were basically getting as much info from Old Moore as you were from the Met Office.
Anyway, first you cut the meadow. Then allow it to wilt for a day or two after which you flicked it about the place where the wet bits came to the top. After a while of this, a week or so, you bale it.
Back then, it was small bales. Literally thousands of them. I must have handled a few hundred thousand to them, each at least four times. This before they were replaced with big round or even bigger square ones that needed the tractor to shift.
A few things brought this reminiscing about. Today Kimberly wrote about kids who never saw a Dog&Bone phone. But kids have never seen this farm work either. And both the bales and the barbed wire have for the most part vanished, and they were ubiquitous. The bales with the vastly bigger ones or silage, while the wire has been replaces with nylon tape with wire to carry a charge through it, electric fencing.

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9 Responses to Miscellany

  1. Kimberly says:

    Oh my gosh, just reading about rolling out the barbed wire made my hands hurt. 🙂 What livestock were you fencing in, sheep?
    When I think about the hay we have here, it’s soooo dry. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to get that with the amount of rain you have. It must have been a process.
    Over the last several years, I would imagine much of farm life has changed with technology just like everything else. I wonder if, like everything, it’s made life easier in some ways, but maybe a bit more complicated at the same time.
    I had to laugh at your take on the weather forecasting then. It hasn’t gotten THAT much better, even with the satellites. The forecasts here are always a joke.

    • V.H says:

      Cattle mostly but sheep too. You’d use a different wire to hold sheep, a long net type. If you google sheep-wire. Our hay is quite a bit different to yours. Here, the hay is made with a type of rye-grass where with you it’s a Lucerne or Alfalfa and yours dry quicker but is very hard to grow in a very wet climate. With us it’s the air-lower humidity that dry’s more than the sun.
      As to change, yes and no. I’d say the biggest change is the huge increase in productivity from better land management. Nowadays you rarely see animals on very wet ground. And all tractors have the big balloon wheels. Both these reduce the damage to soil structure from compression. This has the bonus of vastly reducing the volume of artificial fertilizers. Put it this way, the grassland is more gardened than grazed.
      On the weather, well you can look at it yourself on the computer and ishy get as good if not a better than from the telly totty.

      • Kimberly says:

        I guess here they don’t have to try too hard. Usually the forecast of clear, sunny, and dry is accurate, but anything beyond that they rarely get it right.

        Productivity is a great benefit, but I would have thought it would have the opposite effect – more production, more damage to the land. It’s good to hear that’s not the case.

        • V.H says:

          No, as I said the grass sward is treated like any crop. And with a crop of wheat the tilt or top three inches is the growing medium. With tilt there is a sweet point of hardness which allows swift root access without being too loose and letting it shift with rain and wind.
          In the past there was simply no way to prevent the excessive compression on grass and it eventually became like concrete.
          What occurred when the bigger tractors arrived was the bigger wheels were placing PPSI in single figures relative to the older generation even though they were three times the tonnage overall. Think of it like this, a sheep will put more pressure on the area she’s standing than will an elephant. The elle might be bigger in all ways but she’s putting less of herself on the ground cause her feet are vast.
          Ha, and the only day you actually needed it dry they had to go to measures just short of building a pressure vessel to keep them film diddums dry.

          • Kimberly says:

            Yes, and only here do we have rain as the top story in the news. I had to go to UCLA for a math conference on Saturday, and it was coming down in sheets – way more rain than on Sunday at the Oscars. No one put up tents and covered walkways for me! 🙂

  2. Ed says:

    You accurately described my childhood. The only difference is that we had a stretching tool for the barbed wire instead of using a tractor. Oh and our wire was American made so it never broke on you.

    At one point when I was younger, we used to put up about 50,000 square bales of hay a year. It seemed like the job that never ended all summer long. I got to where I would add three or four layers of patching to the thighs of my pants which I used to buck the bales in the mow and I could wear through those layers every two or three weeks and have to add more. Somewhere on my blog I’m sure I’ve written a post or two about putting up hay. Lots of memories.

    Although we used to fence every summer, we certainly don’t do near that much today. I guess the reason is people mostly use electric fence which is much easier and faster to put up and take down so it is more temporary in nature. The old barbed wire fences are slowly falling into disrepair and being bulldozed out.

    • V.H says:

      Yes, that’s it. Everyone the world over who had farms or worked on them will know the very particular rock caused by the flywheel of a small square bailer when the operating RPM was reached and the ram pelted through it’s cycle.
      And we had the stretchers too. But they were bloody deathly. Say there was a weak spot thirty yards from you and it went. That length could twine itself around you before you could run.

  3. Kelly says:

    When we enclosed our pastures some 10-12 years ago, we decided on barbed wire fencing. Fortunately, I missed out on that fun. My son was at the right age to “hire” him and some of his friends to help out.

    As for hay….we buy it in the big round bales that require the tractor to move.

    You’re right…there are so many things that have passed by the wayside that kids these days just don’t comprehend.

    • V.H says:

      The odd thing is I was at the very end of the medieval methods too. I’ve seen people work a sythe as it was designed. I’ve seen people make reeks of hay. And I’ve seen people hand lay hedges.

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