Posts Tagged ‘farming’

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!


Ten Years ago

July 24, 2016

24th July 2006

This may look like a scene from the 1950s but it isn’t. It is perfectly possible that I could take photos of a similar scene today. We have fairly local farmers who grow long straw wheats for thatching. Combine harvesters trash straw so harvesting is in 1950s style with a tractor hauled binder (correctly a reaper binder). The cut wheat is ‘stooked’ up to dry and later a threshing machine is used to remove the grain from the ears. The straw is fed to a reed comber which makes up neat bundles of straw for the thatcher to use.

I didn’t see any of the mechanical processes on this day – but stooks of corn just look lovely anyway.



The binder has left neat rows of sheaves on the ground. It needs a team of workers to erect the stooks.


And there they were, away in the distance. It’s a labour intensive business.



Doesn’t it look grand? Maybe it would loom more 1950s if we converted it to monochrome.


For the record, what I saw operating that day was a combine!


I-Spy – on the farm.

July 18, 2016

We have not one, but two of these books.


One belonged to my family – it has my brother’s name in it. The other belonged to my wife.

The book was produced in the 1950s and gives a taste of what might have been seen on farms back then. I remain really pleased that we saw Dick Freeman who operated on the farm where we camped, spreading seed by hand. My brother has it filled in.


It seems we saw this highly prized, 50 point winning scene on 15th August 1957. My wife, much less rural than us, never saw such a thing. From her book let’s see milk collection.


My wife saw these on 22/23rd August 1962. She must have been on holiday in Dorset. She got 10 points for a roadside churn platform and another 10 for the lorry.

These days, of course, it is all bulk tank so the scenes depicted have now passed into history.

The old I-Spy books are a wonderful reminder of times past and in their day provided enough factual information to keep kids interested.

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!

The Irish Harvest

December 1, 2015

I am so pleased I visited the west coast of Ireland back in 1971. That is now more than 44 years ago, but in terms of what I saw, it was like stepping back  another 40 years on that. I, of course, speak as a person brought up in the prosperous South of England. The West of Ireland really was a case of the past being a foreign country.

Here we have a couple of chaps gathering the harvest, by hand.

image002 They are gathering cut corn and producing a bundle of it which we’d call a sheaf. With a few lengths of the same crop they bound the bundle so that it stayed together.


The bundles could then be stood up in what I have heard call stocks, stooks, shocks or shooks.


On some farms the stooks (that’s what I always call them) were arranged with the seed heads down. I couldn’t really imagine this helps to dry the seed.


On Furlongs Farm in Sussex I had seen farmer Dick Freeman open a field with a reap hook and do the same kind of tasks but this had been 15 years earlier and it was just one strip cut so that a tractor hauled reaper binder could do the rest of the field.

Seeing whole fields – admittedly small ones, done this way was outside my experience.

Dick Freeman

November 8, 2015

A part of my heart will always be at Furlongs Farm, on the South owns near Lewes. Childhood holidays there were a truly formative experience for me. It is still an area where I feel utterly at one with the world.

Back in 1969 I was introducing my girlfriend (now wife) to the delights of the place and had driven her down there at lambing time. We went to the farm and there was Dick Freeman, the tenant farmer, tending his charges just at the back of the cottage.


Dick was a true countryman. On the face of it he led a rough sort of life, occupying one room of this lonely cottage and sometimes heading off to a sister’s house a mile or so away. The cottage had limited amenities. Water was available but electricity and sewerage were not. I’m afraid I wouldn’t know the extent of Dick’s travels. Many a blog these days seems to imply you are incomplete if you don’t travel. Dick proved otherwise. Here was a wise and knowledgeable man on all sorts of issues. This was not just local knowledge. It truly was worldwide. Looking at the scruffy old man in the photo, you’d be amazed to know how many friends Dick had, but if you joined him, sitting on a log around his roaring fire, you’d have seen his wall of postcards which people he knew sent him. Amongst his friends were top rated artists for the bulk of his cottage was let out to such people. They kept in touch afterwards. My dad may not have been in that league, but from the time we got a car and sometimes went elsewhere for a few days, Dick always got a card from him.

I really couldn’t tell you where Dick picked up information, but I can tell you he was woefully lacking in knowledge of local bird life. Small birds in hedgerows had a generic name. Dick called them all linnets.

Time moves on. Dick and his wider family are no more. The cottage is let to I know not who and there is not the same incentive to visit. I find it hard to be a stranger in a place I once saw, almost, as home. However, the nearby field, where we camped is in a right to roam area and that retains all its old magic for me.

My first sheep

July 9, 2015

Back in 1979 I had a new neighbour. He married the girl next door and it was the parents who moved out and let the new couple have the home. The new neighbour was known to me. He was a young man into farming with knowledge and expertise. I was a bit older and had a field. Together we went in for sheep. He decided we should buy old ewes with a lamb at heel as a starter. That way we’d have some lambs to sell later and could make decisions about keeping some as future breeding stock.

Our fences weren’t sheep proof so I put up a temporary pen to hold the new arrivals. And here are my very first sheep. Of course, technically I should say ‘our’ because it was a joint venture.


So there we have the first sheep – and yet another photo taken on my little Canon Demi camera.

We can see it is still wintry for there’s a smidgen of snow on the ground within the pen and the tops of the downs look well covered.

I was a sheep keeper for about twenty years from then on and learnt to manage them ‘all by myself’. Those last three words were once a favourite expression of my grandson.

My former neighbour still keeps sheep on my field when it has grass for them to nibble but these days they are all his.

Mostly, sheep keeping was enjoyable and strangely one of the best experiences was always getting up in the middle of the night to check them during lambing time. In prospect it was awful, but once out there, alone with the sheep and nature, it was wonderful. Well actually, it can’t have been that wonderful because I don’t get up at three in the morning now!

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.