July 25, 2019

Hay saving is an age old tradition that many farmers employ in the stocking of fodder for their livestock, as seen in this entry of Ellen’s Diary dated from July 25, 1958. The process of saving hay involves cutting long grasses, then drying them, and storing them until your other fodder stocks are depleted. In the 1950s, saving hay was still an arduous task. It took a great amount of time and injuries were commonplace. However, Ellen’s time period was significant for island farmers, as many started using more efficient and easier to use tractors instead of horses to aid in their harvest. This diary entry helps illustrate this important transition from horses to tractors.

“Gathering in the grain 1906” from Earles Picture Restoration Prince Edward Island.

“’And take your time!” James called after the help going on ahead in the truck to the field and the saving of hay this morning.

“He was harnessing the team for the rake at the time, buckling an end of the double reins to a bit, and adjusting the others in turn.

“’It’s the haste, Ellen”, he commented “that brings the accidents. There’s never a haying that there isn’t misfortune somewhere – falls and broken limbs, and other hurts. And there’s also those that come from poor gearing. I like to have everything in good shape, down to the smallest detail of it. They say ‘An ounce of prevention…”

“’!… is worth a pound of cure” we finished with a chuckle.

“’Well” he nodded, “there never were truer words than those when applied to the haying. A block half secured gives away, an old swing on the lift breaks or poor harness gives… and too late folks are in difficulties!”

“’You’ll ride?” we said watching him gather up the lines.

“‘Oh no, I’ll walk. The exercise will be good for me. I’ll be seated on the rake long enough!’

“Granddaughter, by choice, and with her assistance much appreciated, managed the horse in the lift this afternoon, enjoying it much.

“…Mack a steady little fellow, and with an adult close by, was allowed to drive the tractors on a level field, well pleased at this responsibility and his elders that he did it so well. So with all the help there was a great saving of hay, and by this evening first barns were full.”

June 13th, 1957

PEI’s soil is very acidic; too acidic for many common crops. In order to neutralize the soil’s pH, early pioneers found that mussel mud (clay from the shore with a high concentration of mussel and oyster shells) had an alkaline effect on the soil and made it viable for planting.

Later, as technology and trade improved, farmers made the transition from the laborious process of harvesting mussel mud to purchasing lime to be spread by tractor on the fields for the same effect.

In Ellen’s Diary entry from June 13th, 1957, she mentions spreading lime by tractor. Interestingly enough, she also mentions seeding with a horse-drawn seeder, illustrating how the mid-20th century was a true transition period in agricultural technology.

What a busy field it was there by the roadside at that other farm this morning! The younger farmer was spreading lime with tractor and spreader, Jamie following was harrowing it in, in nice sweeps of the machine. Rob was sowing with the horse-drawn seeder, James chore to keep him supplied with the ‘straight oats’ and the ‘grass seed, which went today to ‘seed it down.’’

‘Many hands,’ James smiled, obviously well-pleased with the progress of the cropping.”

Ellen’s Diary, June 13th 1957

“A man in 1930s with a team of horses hauling a manure spreader filled with Mussel Mud in Elmsdale Prince Edward Island” from Earles Picture Restoration Prince Edward Island. 

May 23rd, 1955

Ellen’s Diary on May 23rd, 1955 talked about letting animals out for the spring, but, more crucially, the love that some Island farmers maintained for horses, even though more efficient options (i.e. tractors) were available to help complete farm tasks.

“After months of confinement, some of the cattle-kind were let today to a spell of pasturing. And Sara, youngest mare of all, friend but not playmate of the children also saw blue sky above and felt again barnyard clay under-foot. It was a new experience for her, after long stabling, this spell in the open and the Family came to watch while in a fine play of spirits she tried out her paces.

‘Watch out! She may go over that fence,’ we called to the children in their door-yard. 

‘Isn’t she pretty!’ Granddaughter replied, quite lost in admiration for the moment.

“Elmer Gauthier 1950” from the personal collection of Marie Howatt

She has plenty of action’ James, nearer us, offered. ‘And I wouldn’t doubt,’ he nooded [sic] ‘a fair-good bit of speed!… There was a time in my life, Ellen, when to own the like of her, in the shape she’s in and idle, would be in the nature of a dream. But now, a driver on a farm is little more than a toy- there isn’t even time to break them! I’m sure ‘his thrift was coming uppermost now’ I don’t see why we keep so many. Still,’ he smiled, ‘I wouldn’t consider we were farming at all without them.’

Ellen’s Diary, May 23, 1955.

Source: islandnewspapers.ca