Campaign Diary: Making hay while the sun is shining? It can be tricky in Cumbria | Agriculture


AAt least three days of warm, sunny weather are needed to make hay, and good weather is often rare in Cumbria. We had been greedily looking at our weather apps and a window popped up. The grass had grown long enough to make hay, the seeds had grown and there were no nesting birds in the fields, so it was all gone.

My son had mowed the grass and “climbed” it every day. As the grass is turned over and wilted, the seeds can return to the meadow. The sheep’s hooves will trample the seed and help it germinate to revive the grassland. Unfortunately the starter was gone on the tractor – all of our equipment is second hand, and most of it very old – and I was queuing at the mechanic’s parts counter when my son called to say it was raining on the Blencathra side where he was a shepherd, and he was going to run home to bring in the hay.

Andrea Meanwell’s son takes a break after he and his friends bring the hay bales into the barn. Photography: Andrea Meanwell

Getting the grass cut, chipped, rowed, baled and stored in the barn is one of the biggest and most important jobs of the year. When I arrived home with the role, four friends from my son’s Young Farmers’ Club were helping out and had already borrowed a neighbor’s tractor. We are delightfully old-fashioned in this valley; if someone needs to borrow something or needs help getting a job done, it’s never a problem. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a good farming community to harvest the hay when it starts to rain.

The bales were getting slightly damp, so they were placed in the barn and spread out to dry. It will take about a week, but they will be fine. They can then be stacked in our 18th century barn until we need them to feed the sheep and goats over the winter. The smell of hay is overwhelming in the barnyard. As soon as you open the farm gate, the smell hits you. Usually after haymaking, everyone is so hot and skinned that we jump into the river. This year everyone was wet so it was cups of tea for the Young Farmers before they went to play football at Great Asby in the Westmorland Dales.

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