I’m sitting on my veranda having a cool drink and watching the round bales of hay pop out of the baler in the field across the way near St. Margaret’s Church in West Bay Road. Am I wishing to be there with them on this hot summer day with hardly a breeze blowing? Hardly!!!
Like the iceman, my mind began to wander back to the Margaree Hay Meadows when we were teenagers and wished we were anywhere but there. Things weren’t very mechanized in those days, and the whole operation was one of drudgery. The haying season would start sometime around the first week of July and continue on until sometime in September. Although there was a tractor cutting hay, it had to be very dry before the decision was made to put it in the barn. This meant a great deal of turning and twisting with hay forks and smelling, to make sure the hay was properly dried.
Of course several weather forecasts had to be listened to, for fear that rain was looming somewhere in the distant future. The blue jay was our menace as “he called for rain” even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Upon hearing his shrill cries, the operation came to a standstill. When the loads of loose, tramped hay were finally made, we made a pell-mell dash for Teddy’s Carroll’s pool and a quick cooling off. Then the race was on, up the shortcut, through the woods to beat the loaded wagon to the barn for the next phase of cruelty.
If you were lucky enough, you were sent to the sweltering hay mow where pitch after pitch landed and had to be spread. As the pitchfork rope was old, there were continuous breakages and splicing before the season was finished. As each load was finally in the mows and scaffolds, out came the salt and maybe even a little holy water. There was great fear of spontaneous combustion. We prayed hard for rain on the days before the Antigonish Highland Games and the St. Ann’s Gaelic Mod. If the hay was in poor condition, we would be almost guaranteed of getting to these very special events.
My, how haymaking has changed. Today, it is a highly mechanized operation with all tractor-driven equipment. The mower neatly aligns the cut hay into neat windrows. High-speed rakes turn and twist the hay, and balers take no time in turning the whole hayfield into round or rectangular bales ready for the barn. Just a few years ago, the round bales made an appearance, further reducing the amount of manual labour necessary.
Nowadays, I’m not even sure it we need barns for the round bales are packed into plastic sleeves and left in the fields. I am sure that there are not many farmers today that pay attention to St. Seithin’s Day or whether the rain will come. This summer, with a goodly amount of rain and sunshine, the dairy farmers have already taken several cuts of hay off their fields.
Prior to the coming of tractors and tractor-powered mowing machines, double teams of horses did all the work. As farmers got older and ran the farms by themselves, they sought out hay boys to help with the harvest. I had the good fortune of working for Harold MacFarlane one summer in Upper Margaree.
He was a bit surprised when I showed up for work in shorts and bare feet. He was even more surprised to watch me running on the fresh-cut hay stubble. As I was making the loads of loose hay, he soon took a great deal of pleasure in pitching thistles, mice, wasp nests, and even snakes up to me on top of the hayload.
Yes, haymaking has changed drastically over the years. Probably the drudgery of the haymaking season turned many young people away from a career of farming. To us who never have to face the tasks of getting that important summer crop into the barn, we think it is wonderful to drive through the country and smell the fresh mown hay, never realizing the work involved past and present.