Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

The big baler

August 31, 2016

What a transformation in the last 30 or so years. After the corn harvest by combine harvester, a baler would go round and compress straw into bales of a size a man could lift. That no longer happens in this area. The process is the same but the scale is different. These days the bales are enormous and need power lifting gear.

I took my suburban grandson to see harvest in operation on the edge of Salisbury Plain. The combine seemed to keep away from us but soon the baler arrived and grandson was impressed by the size of it.


I was surprised that the tractor drove along with the huge row of cut corn, as left by the combine, between its wheels.

Soon the first bale was issuing from the back of the baler.


Compared with days of yore this is a high speed process. It’s a big field, but it seemed in no time the combine had finished and there was a spread of bales across the field.

At this time of year farmers make use of time and so the next night, after dark, I could see tractor headlights in this field and I knew the bales were being collected into piles.

Since then a field a bit closer to home has been cropped and baled. This time it was a large round bale machine that was used.

I think harvest around here is now all but over.

The incubator

August 29, 2016

My paraffin egg incubator was already a museum piece when I acquired it nearly 40 years ago. I used it when I was a poultry keeper but it has been unused for more than 30 years, for much of that time occupying space in my coal shed which is now, rather more a log store.

It has just been brought to the surface and dusted off ready for a starring role in somebody else’s life story. It is a fab bit of kit which solved the problems of egg incubation in a simple but effective way, using a paraffin burner as the warmth source. Let’s see this item outside on a bright sunny day.


So how can a simple paraffin stove maintain a steady temperature of 103o Fahrenheit for hens eggs, be adjusted to 102o for duck eggs or about 99.5o for goose eggs. The answer is simple and all depends on the capsule which is this little chap below.


This item sits on a shelf high up in the incubator the gas in the blob in the middle expands and pushes the metal outwards. A rod rests on the capsule and passes through a tube and out of the top of the incubator.

Here it can push the weighted bar up and down. Adjustments can be made by altering the screw or by moving the weight on that horizontal bar. At the end of that bar a lid hangs over the heater.


If the capsule thinks the incubator is cold the rod is slightly lowered and the lid shuts over the heater which diverts heat and combustion products into the incubator. As it warms, the lid rises and heat just escapes into the air. Amazingly, it works well and it can be checked by reading off the thermometer which hangs in the incubator.


This thermometer – and the whole incubator – was made by the Gloucester Incubator co ltd of Woodchester which is near Stroud.

This particular model is the Gloucester Junior.


And there we see the closures that give access to the inside for turning eggs and filling water trays.


Now as an extra, when we got this incubator we popped into our local Ministry of Agriculture Office to see if there was any information on how to use it. Yes, they had one which included this picture.


It looks remarkably familiar!

Delivering the black stuff

August 7, 2016

As I write this I have no definite idea as to what the black stuff is but for some days huge tipper lorries have appeared – just occasionally – and tipped black stuff on a prepared patch halfway up Salisbury Plain. This, of course, is in view from my house and here is a scene with two lorries in view.


That’s the scene with a growing pile of black stuff and the two drivers approaching one another for a chat.


Now they chat – well we assume so for this is half a mile from my home.


I really ought to get up there and find out what the black stuff is. Is it very well rotted manure, soot or what?

Quite possibly it is biochar – effectively charcoal. That’s a trendy thing to use to improve soil fertility.

Any ideas out there?


Having taken a closer look it is not biochar. It is a slimy looking mud – looks a bit like silt and it stinks to high heaven!


Small round bales

March 29, 2016

Bales of hay seem to be something from the past as many farmers feel silage made in big round bales and wrapped in black (usually) plastic is a better, more guaranteed option.

Bales of straw produced from what comes out of the back of a combine harvester have become enormous and need machinery to handle them.

Time was, not so long ago, that the small cuboid shaped bale was the thing. A bale of hay was heavy, but a decent farmer could pick them up with no problem. Straw is much lighter and they were easy.

Of course, before that and really before my memory in the prosperous south of England hay had been stacked loose. Straw was stacked in sheaves with the ears still attached to await threshing. In both cases the stack was then thatched to keep the rain out.

Back in the 1950s I recall seeing, somewhere near Firle in Sussex, some small round bales, probably of hay. I recall my dad commenting on their advantage of being like thatch and the shape meant rain drained off them. He also pointed out the disadvantage that round bales, inevitably, leave gaps when stacked. The small round bale didn’t seem to catch on, but I did see some on another occasion, near Alton Barnes in the Vale of Pewsey. This was in 1973 and I had by little Canon Demi camera and got a photo.

I should say these bales were no more than18 inches in diameter but the shape of the end shows they have been rolled rather than compressed and so water will drain off well.

Thirty years on, in 2003, and in a similar area, this was the scene.


Well clearly bales are now much bigger – and cameras have improved as well!

Harvest at Furlongs

June 25, 2015

Yesterday I wrote about my model little grey Fergie tractor. Today I thought I’d show one of these beasts at work. And here it is. The harvest is being gathered at Furlongs in Sussex.


This photo would have been taken by my dad some 60 years ago and in truth I can’t be 100% certain this is a grey Fergie but it certainly looks like one. Who knows – somebody might be able to tell me about it, if the painted on registration means anything. It appears to say FPM 321. The PM part of the registration indicates the tractor was first registered in the Guildford area.

The scene is, of course, from the past. The tractor is pulling what we always called a binder although it should really be called a reaper-binder for it did both jobs.

Perched on the little seat on the binder and controlling that device is Dick Freeman. His nephew Julian Freeman is on the tractor.

The same team of men were still doing the same job in 1964 when colour photography was in use. The tractor is different though.


An expert might be able to tell me more about this tractor. Oh, this method of harvesting was really well on the way out by the time dad took this picture.

This is all very happy memory time for me.

Sunlight Year Book

May 8, 2015

If you are like me, any time you come across the words Sunlight Soap you’ll begin to hum or sing alternative words to a well-known Christmas Carol – While shepherds watched.

While shepherds washed their socks by night
All seated round the tub.
A bar of sunlight soap came down
And they began to scrub.

But never mind that. Let’s look at my Sunlight Year Book for 1898.


Yes, it has suffered some damage. I wonder if somebody found it a handy place to put down a hot saucepan.

Inside you’ll find everything you might want to know. This includes a full list of all the members of parliament and all sorts of other things. I’ve picked on some of the line drawings to give a feel.

For those folks of 1898 keen on keeping cattle there was advice and numerous drawings of different breeds.


Keeping on an agricultural theme you could discover what crops were grown in Britain.


You could learn about the latest fashions.


Or how to read a gas meter.


Your maids could discover how to do the washing.


How splendid! There is even some information about railways.


Just for the record, regular trains from Newport to Paddington take about 1 hour 57 minutes these days. That’s an average 0f 73.5 miles per hour. Kings Cross to Newark is more impressive at 1 hour and 13 minutes these days or about 98 MPH!

Now I think that book is lovely. I hope you do too.

Rural Delights

September 3, 2014

One of the pleasures of living in a rural area is being able to watch the developments in farm work.

Even more of a pleasure is the occasional reminder of past times that we can see.

A local farmer still harvests in the way I remember from childhood. He uses a tractor drawn reaper binder (which we all just call a binder) to cut his crop.

This then gets stood up in stooks to dry off before carting off. Even on a dull, lousy day it makes a sight which really is redolent of the 1950s.


I saw this as I was driving to a former colleague’s house to celebrate her retirement. I do hope that, like me, she finds it a wonderful life.

Up on the hill we can see the more modern method of harvesting has been used with huge lines of crushed straw from the combine (which really is a combined harvester).

You see, those stooks still have to go through a threshing process – a labour intensive and time consuming process which may well take up some of the winter. It must cost our ‘old fashioned’ farmer a fortune.

But out of it he gets an extra valuable crop. Not only can his grains of wheat enter the food chain but his straw won’t have been crumpled up. It will emerge from the threshing machine in neat bundles, all ready for a thatcher to use on houses. So what looks old fashioned is, in fact, done for commercial reasons but I dare say the farmer is an enthusiast for old machinery as well.

That straw up on the hill will, no doubt, be baled up, stacked to what looks like an impossible height on big lorries and it will trundle down to Devon where it makes winter bedding on dairy farms. It’s a very low value product.

Last of an age

March 12, 2014

Back in 1971 we camped, for a while, in Connemara on the West coast of Ireland. It really was, back then, moving back to a past time – and a delightful and friendly time too. But here is an example of the past in agriculture.


The rather ramshackle haystack on the right is what now catches my eye as something from the past. I may have seen haystacks like it in my extreme youth but if I did, I have no memories. In my experience, haystacks were made out of neat bales of hay, stacked well and securely and then covered with something. In truth, the ideal cover was often a Dutch barn – one of those curved roofs on legs. This haystack is made of loose hay. I can only imagine it has been cut with a hay knife.

It has to be said, that my old ‘I Spy book suggests that loose hay was still normal enough.


But even that shows bales in a Dutch barn. Inside there is loose hay to illustrate the elevator.


In feint pencil it records that UI saw an elevator at Beddingham on 15th July 1957. At that time it wouldn’t have been hay making and certainly wouldn’t have been loading loose hay. There was always an elevator in the farmyard where we camped. It was used sometimes to help build stacks but I was more likely to see a corn harvest and the building of corn stacks made of sheaves.

But back to Connemara in 1971. It was, actually, our honeymoon and of course, I was a good and dutiful husband in those days. So when my wife said, ‘Ooh! There’s a beautiful donkey in the field down there’, I did my duty. I carefully reversed back round a blind bend on a narrow road with a rocky cliff on one side and a drop away on the other until we found ‘the donkey. It turned out to be that truss of hay wrapped up in a dark cloth in front of the haystack. So I took the picture. The incident is well remembered by us although the precise location is not. And it was much more recently that I realised it was a kind of ‘last of the past’ picture.


November 28, 2013


OK, I know that correctly the piece of agricultural kit that both cut corn and tied it up into bundles was called a reaper-binder. In my experience, though, the fact that they reaped or cut the crop was taken as read. They were always called binders.

I associate them, very much, with ‘camp’.

Back in the early and mid-50s the sight of a binder working the fields with men following and stoking up the sheaves was commonplace. To me, as a child, it was timeless. As a child you imagine that things are as they always have been so to me a tractor hauling a binder with a crew of two must always have been what happened. I did know that historically, horses had provided the motive power but that was before my time and I probably guessed that it might have been alongside the Stone Age, rather than having been the norm for my dad.

However, the future was with us, and I remember my brother and me dashing up to the top of the downs to see a new-fangled combine harvester at work. My dad, sensible as ever, recorded the binder scene and here we have one of his charming photos.


So, a classic scene from 1955. Driving the tractor was a young man called Julian Freeman.


The farm we camped on was managed by his uncle Dick and he normally managed the controls of the binder, but on this occasion, I don’t think it is him.


In fact I really don’t know who that is. Julian’s father, George would have been helping at the harvest and his other uncle, Harry would have been around as well. But this isn’t either of them.

As the fifties drew to a close, the binders began to get swept into oblivion. My dad, realising this had another go at recording the scene at ‘camp’ using a colour slide film.


This was actually in 1964. Julian is still on the tractor but this time it definitely is Dick Freeman on the binder.

But the binder never quite died. In Wiltshire, where I have lived all my adult life, a few farmers grow long straw wheat and cut it with a binder. This keeps the straw in good order, and after the grain has been threshed out, the straw can be sold for thatching

So here we have a 21st century binder resting after harvesting a local field.


Rural Life

September 11, 2013

I am very lucky to live where I do. I’m on the edge of a village in mid Wiltshire. The village has all you need for day to day living – a co-op shop, a chemist, a post office, a newsagent, hairdressers, pubs and takeaways are all there.

From my vantage point on the sandstone ridge I look over the village and onto the chalk downland. I have a perfect view of the changing seasons – both the natural world and that of the farmer.

Yes, there are minus points. Whilst we have an excellent medical centre in the village, it pays not to need accident and emergency services. They are miles (20ish) away. And of course, you can’t expect village shop prices to be as low as in town supermarkets.

For some, an unexpected sound is that of shells, mortars and machine guns. The top of the chalk downland is Salisbury Plain which has been a military training area for 100 plus years. We locals barely notice the military noises which is only occasional anyway. It usually causes no real disturbance in local life.

Now here’s a photo, taken from my home in late August 2013.


This shows the slope leading up to the top of Salisbury Plain and agriculture is in progress on the slope. A huge tractor is hauling a huge seed drill. The fields, harvested such a short time earlier are already being planted with a new crop.


Modern cameras are good, but this is half a mile away from me, the photographer.

Up on top of the hill there is a bit of military installation.


It is obviously some kind of communication tower – it may be some microwave device to help guide aircraft. It is topped off with two little red lights which in our house we call Uncle Gordon’s light. Uncle Gordon was a town dweller although old age has made him move in with his rural dwelling daughter. He found the bleak emptiness of pitch black Salisbury Plain quite intimidating and regarded these lamps as a little bit of friendly civilization in the wilderness.

I, personally, am not a great lover of the military area for I’d love to be able to roam freely. But in terms of wildlife preservation, the fact that the area is de-peopled is a godsend. An occasional shell burst in this vast tract of land does very little damage and the wild life thrives.