Saturday, 27 June 2009

Hay harvest and appropriate technology

After 4 days of intensive labour last Wednesday we finished the first part of our hay harvest. Inspired by the success of using our hay as fodder for the sheep last winter, this year we wanted to harvest as much hay as possible, even though the hay harvest is the most demanding work we have on the farm.

There are different ways of cutting the grass (and storing it when dried) and this is where the dilemmas come; deciding what is the most appropriate method of cutting the grass and how best to store it.
You need to take into consideration that only a small part of our farm is suitable for tractor use, most of the farm is on a steep slope and some fields have a many small rocky out crops. Hay harvest needs to be done whilst there is good dry weather and you never know how long the good weather is going to last. So once you have started you want to get it done as fast as possible in the case the weather changes, (the hay will most probably spoil if it gets too wet.) In choosing a cutting method we also take into consideration how sustainable the chosen method is, its environmental impacts, and the culture and tradition behind hay harvesting.

This year we used three different methods for cutting our hay, they were a hand held scissor mower, a strimmer fitted with a hay cutting blade and a scythe. The method we used in each area depended principally on the terrain.

José Luis (Andres's father) with the scissor mower.

Andres’s father came to cut our largest flattest field with his scissor mower. The machine (over 15 years old) is very well suited to moderate slopes, and it is by far the fastest way of cutting. One person goes in front to check the grass being cut doesn’t clog up the machine, one person guides the machine and one person goes behind clearing the grass which has been cut from the grass to be cut. It uses a relatively small amount of petrol for the amount of hay it cuts. This enabled us to get a large area cut at the beginning of the good weather period and start the drying process as soon as possible.

Dried hay waiting to be bailed

.I used our strimmer fitted with a special blade for cutting hay, this was done mostly in the areas where there are stony out crops. It would be impossible to use a scissor mower here and hard going with the scythe. The strimmer is the least environmentally friendly method and one of our more questionable practises, but it does help us maintain some of the species rich habitats and helps get the job done when time is a premium.

Nigel useing the strimmer in a stoney area

The scythe is the traditional method for cutting the hay and many small fields in Asturias are still cut by scythe. We started using a scythe last year for cutting the meadows and this year cut well over a third of the total area with the scythe. It’s a pleasure to watch a person use a scythe and is the most sustainable method. Most places can be cut with a scythe except in amongst the very rocky areas.

Hugh cutting with a scythe

We wanted to bale as much hay as possible this year as it can then be easily transported and stored. A tractor comes to bale the hay, but we only have one small meadow which is accessible for the tractor. The hay we cut from the other meadows we transported by tractor this year (as we were moving it up hill) where as last year we used a wheelbarrow to move about 300kgs of hay!

One of many journeys last year with the wheel barrow moving 300kgs of dried hay.

Jaunra moving 300kgs of dried hay in one journey this year

When you start to think about the different possible ways of cutting, transporting and storeing hay it’s a good point to reflect on appropriate technology.

Appropriate technology (AT) is technology that is designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social and economical aspects of the community it is intended for. With these goals in mind, AT typically requires fewer resources, is easier to maintain, and has a lower overall cost and less of an impact on the environment compared to industrialized practices. The term is usually used to describe simple technologies suitable for use in developing nations or less developed rural areas of industrialized nations. It is also often used by communities more interested in a sustainable lively hood. Appropriate technology usually prefers labor intensive solutions over capital intensive ones.

The term intermediate technology (coined by E. F. Schumacher) is similar to appropriate technology. It refers specifically to tools and technology that are significantly more effective and expensive than traditional methods, but still an order of magnitude (one tenth) cheaper than developed world technology.

Tiggy (one of our cats) inspecting the hay
So what’s the appropriate technology for us to use to cut hay?


Ian and Luis said...

A lot of work but well done.

Messi said...

I came to your blog just when I was surfing on this topic. I am happy that I found your blog and information I wanted.


Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.