I wish I had photographs of us as kids working and playing amongst the straw and hay bales in the fields as they were put one at a time onto the trailers to be brought back to the farmyard. Many of my childhood memories revolve around the straw and hay – between bringing picnics to the field, stopping for icecreams on the way home if it was a long draw, the blisters on the hands, the sense of a long hot day going on forever – the straw and hay making seemed to be the highlight of the summer.
My main memories involve being hurt or terrified! ?I remember my dad was buying straw bales from a neighbourd. For some reason, our workman wasn’t around. We had borrowed the neighbour’s trailer to draw them up (I think that was part of the deal ie if you give us your trailer, I’ll buy your bales) so it was a much more significant load than on our small trailer. ?I was on the trailer, lifting and pushing the bales into place while my dad was spronging the small square bales up onto the trailer. I was going higher and higher with each row. After about 7 rows which was probably about 20 feet from the ground, the ropes were put in place to secure the load and it was time for me to scramble down. ?My dad has moved away to talk to two men who came into the field. I looked down the back end of the load (where I normally scrambled down) and felt I was going to go end up sliding down rather ungraciously and hitting off the ground! I walked to the front of the trailer and reckoned if I wriggled down and held on I’d be able to get a foothold in above the raised bit at the front of the trailer (about 3 foot high at the front) and would then be able to jump from there to the ground.
I started to slither, I was holding onto the straw bales at the top, my toes were looking for a toehold but I had forgotten that the bales of that row jutted out over the edge of the front of the trailer – there was no toehold and the straw I was trying to hold onto was v slippery. The next thing was I heard a thud (which was me hitting the ground) and I looked up to see three very worried faces looking down at me. I was inches away from the steel towbar that links the tractor and trailer – if my head had hit that, I was dead!
Moral of the story – when climbing down from a high loads of small bales, always climb down the rear of the trailer!
Will I Stay Or Will I Go?
Another straw memory was when my dad and I were drawing in bales on our old small trailer (I was about 1o or 11). We were only driving along the road for about a mile from the farm. The last load was only 4 or 5 bales high and I asked my dad if I could ride home on the top of the trailer. As it was a small load, we weren’t bothering with ropes to secure it but he said I could. I felt ten feet tall as I sat on the bales as the tractor moved along.
Then the trailer hit a bump and the bales started to move. I was sitting in the middle of the trailer and it really felt as though if the trailer was to bump again, the bales might actually leap into the air. Would they land back on the trailer or would they land on the road? Would the bales on the right land on the road and would the bales on the left land in the ditch? Which was the best option – to risk being stung alive by nettles or being run over by a car?
I wriggled up to the front of the trailer on my tummy and sticking my head ‘over the parapet’ I shouted at my dad. Apart from the fact that his hearing isn’t the best, he was totally oblivious as he bumped along in the old Massey ?Ferguson tractor never once looking around to see if his eldest pride and joy was still alive or not. I wriggled back to the middle and held on as best I could.
Then we started up the hilly lane to our farm and it felt as though the entire trailer load of bales was going to shoot off the back of the trailer. I lay in a star position, tummy down, and I’m sure I prayed for that 400 metres. When we got to the farmyard and I discovered I was still alive and well, I was most perturbed to hear my dad say that there was no way the bales would have moved!
Stacking bales and bringing them into the sheds was so labour intensive then. Now, huge round bales are moved by a huge tractor bale fork but back then, men would use sprongs to lift the bales and women and children would end up with blistered fingers as they’d use their hands to lift them.
We used to bale hay for elderly neighbours too and we used to love going there. They had lots of small fields with overgrowing hedges and they always seemed more mystical and mysterious than our fields. We’d always end up with some pocket money too at the end of that week!
Bulls in Dungsted!
I was about 8 or 9 when both of our bulls ended up in the dungsted/ slurry tank. ?We were doing the annual herd test and the bulls were left till after all the cows were done. Somehow, one bull broke out to where the other bull was and as bulls do, they started to fight, and fight and fight. One bull drove the other one back, he fell against the gate and both of them ended up in the dungsted. All my dad and the other men could do was watch as the bulls spent the next few hours lunging at each other through the dung, then disappearing down for a few minutes until they gained the strength to propel themselves out of it again. It wasn’t the best thing to watch two animals worth a considerable bit of money in such a situation and not able to do anything. They ended up going over to the outfarm to test the cattle there and after about four hours, both bulls had managed to get themselves out. Both were so exhausted they couldn’t fight any more!
A Little Journey
My cousin from Kerry was staying with us one summer and we had run away from my younger sister, up through the wood, through a field and out into ‘Garrendenny Lane’. I was never the best at finding my way anywhere (I’m still useless) and when we came out at a road, we weren’t sure where to go but we didn’t want to go back. Walking down the road, I suddenly realised where we were and we’d come to the neighbour’s house (from other end) that we frequently visited and helped them to make hay etc.
Surprised to see us and with no phone, they decided they’d better bring us home but their only transport was a small blue Ford tractor with a small blue transport box behind. How I now wish I had a photo of John O’Neill in his tractor! ?They put a bale in the box and we were delighted with ourselves chugging along the road. My sister ran out to see who was coming and I can still see her mouth fall open in amazement to see us arriving in the blue transport box having last seen us disappearing up the wood.
Bringing in the cows
I started bringing in the cows when I was about 8. ?I can remember going for the cows with my dad to a field past Lynup’s Hill. The cows normally travelled home along a path at the low side of the hill but for some reason most of them took off up the hill. My father exclaimed in annoyance (very politely, no swearing at all!) and told me to follow home an old lame cow who had no intention of going the long way home up the hill.
‘But I don’t know the way’ I said (told you I’m useless at geography). ‘Just follow the cow, she knows it’ was the reply. I can still remember walking along the dusty path beside the wood behind the old lame cow, marvelling how well she knew the way home and we were probably the same age!
A year later, I was bringing in the cows on my own. The next year was a much wetter summer and I can remember getting stuck in the deep mud coming up to the milking parlour and my dad having to come and lift me and my wellies out of the mud!
That’s enough memories for one night I think. What’s your best farming memory as a child?
I must get some old photos from my mum and scan them in – I will do soon! I’ve included photos from when my own kids were smaller in this post. I wonder what their memories will be of? We are so much more safety conscious now but then again, there are many more dangers – machinery is bigger, faster and there’s many more of them. Going to the outfarm to collect conkers every autumn will be a good memory. Why collect conkers? Well, when they have been roasted in the oven and dried so they don’t go mouldy, they make great pretend silage etc for a little lad to move from one side of the living room to the other!