By Mike Nealon
Driving along the narrow country roads near my home in County Sligo in the summer time, one is often delayed behind enormous tractors drawing equally huge machinery such as silage balers and wrappers.
Similarly, a glance over the hedge can reveal these machines in full throttle, mowing, baling, wrapping and transporting the bales into the farmyards.
The whole process – even allowing for ‘wilting’ time – takes about three days, as these fuel-belching monsters, shatter the country tranquility with a frenzy of activity. They then move on to the next farm, where the owner waits impatiently, throwing anxious glances at the leaden-grey skies.
It all seems so different to my youthful days of the sixties and seventies when silage – for us anyway – was unheard of and hay-making was a laborious, yet peaceful, process. In those days, national school continued until mid-July – nowadays they are ‘free’ almost a month earlier – but from early June – weather permitting – the hay making season began.
The first signs of activity began when my father hauled the finger-bar mower out of the shed, where it had been lying idle since the previous autumn – unless we’d had a dry spring and he had been able to top the rushes, otherwise he used the scythe – and sharpened the two blades.
The next job was to thoroughly oil and grease the mower itself. Then he inserted the blade and oiled it to make sure it was running smoothly (otherwise the blade would break), a tricky enough procedure, were a nasty cut – or worse – was possible unless great care was taken.
Once he was satisfied that the mower was in perfect order, he turned his attention to the tractor itself. We were far from the 80 hp tractors of today; our first was a MF 20 and later we progressed to a MF 35.
Again he greased and oiled all the moving parts; wheels, PTO, shafts and so on, ensuring everything was running smoothly. After that it was a case of listening to the long-range weather forecast on Met Éireann, waiting to hear of a ‘guaranteed’ dry, settled spell of weather.