NOW: Ah, the scent of new mown hay wafts on the breeze and I see the tractor making ever smaller circles, the blade leaving even rows on the hillside. After five days drying in the sun the hay is ready to be baled. No rain this year while the hay is on the ground! A huge baler rolls the hay into large round bales which can stay in stacks in the field or be sheltered in a barn until they are needed to feed the cattle in the winter. Henry Smith wields each hay bale with the fork lift mounted on his tractor.
THEN: I remember when James Monroe lived here at Ashlawn-Highland enslaved field hands cut the clover with scythes and raked it into rows. If it rained the hay rows had to be turned with pitchforks to enhance the drying process. After the hay was cured part of the crop was stacked on ricks which looked like small pyramids of hay on legs. The rest of the hay was tossed onto wagons with pitchforks. Horses chomped peacefully on the stubble in the field, flicked their tails at flies and whinnied to greet other horse-drawn wagons that passed by carrying loose hay to the barn.
THEN and NOW: Farm machinery has changed dramatically in two hundred years but farmers still worry about the weather and haymaking is hot and thirsty work! I’m glad I’m here to provide shade!
POST SCRIPT: James Monroe wrote William Short in February, 1811: “I can assure you that I had made some improvements in the product & appearance of my property in Albemarle. I had sown much clover seed, & covered the ground with plaister of Paris, & derived considerable advantage from the crop of hay last summer & autumn. I had undoubtedly the best clover in the county, & most ground appropriated to it. My industry was a subject of mirth to the old planters & farmers at the commencement but they had ceased to laugh at my experiments before the end of the year.”
Quote from: James Monroe An Illustrated History by Daniel Preston