Hay Making and Machinery

Mary Taylor
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Barns are empty and crowds of people no longer work in the meadows. The vocabulary of hay making will soon be lost and machinery lies rusting in fields. This article describes its many stages and processes and how farmers endeavoured to assist back-breaking manual work by mechanization. Scarcity of labour also contributed to this. Processes known by local names have been italicized to aid understanding of these complex operations.

Hay, which is dried grass, was essential to feed cattle and very often sheep through the winter when grass was no longer growing. Care had to be taken to make sure the hay was properly wilted and dry; if not it could set on fire when stored in the barn because of heat generated by the composting process.

During the war Father had to grow corn in the best meadow at the bottom of the limestone valley but this was soon put back to grass and he re-seeded with hay seed from the threshing bay of the barn. Not many farms in the dales had meadows fit to grow corn. I remember sitting under the corn stooks and seeing Uncle George with hands raw and blistered from tying the sheaves when the knotter on the old rusty reaper broke.

In the winter of 1947 Father took the milk in kits (churns) to Ingleton on a sledge pulled by Major, our horse; he had to cross the river and make gaps in the walls for the three mile journey. After the thaw he had to rebuild the walls. He brought provisions back in the kits. I remember him staggering in, utterly exhausted and covered in snow after coming home in a blizzard. This was the year he bought a new grey Ferguson tractor and converted old machines to be drawn by it. I remember a very old larger tractor that had once been blue. My brother, then nine, drove the Fergy almost straight away and the boys from the next farm learnt to drive on our tractor. Many of these early hay-making machines had iron seats. They were very uncomfortable and were usually padded with an old hessian sack.

The Cutter Bar Mower

Mowing was done by a cutter bar mower that had to have the blades sharpened regularly; some larger meadows were still mown in settings, areas small enough to be worked and made into hay before the weather broke. Grandfather Will, Father’s father, mowed round the outside of the meadow with a scythe to harvest every blade of grass; he called this pikeing. The cutter bar was succeeded by rotary mowers.

The Swathe Turner

The new-mown grass had to be wilted and dried by the sun. The swathes were left for a day and then turned over with the damp side up, on adjacent dry ground between the swathes. Parties of family and friends turned the swathes with wooden hand rakes or a machine was used. This was called a Swathe Turner and was dark blue; it looked rather like two spiders with long, thin metal rods called tines or teeth attached to heads mounted side by side facing backwards. The machines were pulled by the tractor but were powered by their own wheels turning cogs and chains.


When both sides of the grass had wilted it had to be scaled, spread, scattered or strawed - all different terms for the same thing. The grass/hay was spread out of the swathes, all over the meadow to aid drying by the sun; usually it had to be spread more than once until all the grass was dry hay. Workers scaled it with rakes or hay forks. Grandmother Polly, Mother’s mother, who lived in a town told of how she went each hay-time to help her sister’s large family who farmed near Settle. She said they all went along the swathes, bent double, throwing the grass back over their shoulders - with slugs and worms dropping down their necks - until she had the better idea of spreading them with rakes. The first scaling machine I remember was pale blue with tines attached to two long horizontal heads which were lowered for work and raised when not working. Another machine was a wuffler or tedder that turned and fluffed up the grass so that it would dry more quickly.

Cocks and Pikes

Weather was always the problem. If the grass or hay was not ready it had to be raked up into small heaps called cocks and then spread out again when the weather improved, which was not popular at all. In a bad summer the hay was made into pikes, which were small conical stacks, sometimes made on a big sledge and covered with a weighted-down sack. The hay was then secure and could be pulled inside in the winter. I only remember us making pikes once when Grandfather was there, Father was far too impatient. Irishmen came into their own for this work. Some neighbours employed young men who came over from Ireland for hay-making; they were hired for a month and some would not do any work except hay-making, so if the weather was bad they were paid for a month of idleness. A friend near Settle told me that a very old Irishman came to their farm for a month each year and was really too old to work but her father liked him so he came every year.

Side Delivery and Rowing up

If the weather had been kind and the hay was ready it was rowed up, two swathes making one row two swathes wide, either with hand rakes, or with a machine. I remember a Side Delivery; this looked like several rows of long iron rakes fixed to chains at each end, like a large upturned bicycle chain which turned the rakes, set at an angle to turn the grass. Later an Acrobat was used, which was tractor-mounted, with four yellow spider wheels which spun rather like the Side Delivery, but it was notorious for making large clumps, especially in windy weather; these had to be shaken out with a fork. There were several other ingenious machines; some could be adjusted for swathe turning or rowing up. Then came the Hay Bob - this is a marvelous machine still in use today for both scaling (strawing) and rowing up; it is powered by a take-off shaft from the tractor and has tines attached to heads facing down.


Leading hay was quite an art; one of the strong men pushed the row along with a long two-pronged hay fork. He then pushed the prongs down into this bundle of hay and lifted it onto a flat-bottomed cart or trailer where the loader, who didn’t need to be as strong, positioned each bundle round the outside edge of the trailer first, then into the middle until it was quite a height. The loader had to be skilled, or some, if not all the hay, would slide off before it reached the barn. Larger barns had a door opposite the main big door for leading out the horse that had pulled in the first cart; this made more room for a second cart to be backed in, especially useful if it was about to rain.


Mooing is a term for the process of stacking, specifically in the part of the barn called the Moo (mew) or Moostead. The bundles of hay were lifted off the cart into the Moo, or onto the balks, above the shippon, (byre) which housed cattle in winter. It was sometimes forked through a forking hole, a square hole near the top of the gable of the barn. It was mooed in the same way as the trailer was loaded with the bundles of hay tight across the front and filled in to the back. It was stamped down hard to exclude air so as to prevent spontaneous combustion of the dry hay.

Father bought a machine to pick up the hay from rows; it was pulled behind the trailer and dropped the hay onto the trailer. We also had a sweep, which was like a wooden sledge, but the hay was pushed in front to the barn. An easier way to lift hay onto the moo was by an elevator. Father made a platform with long pieces of wood between the beams; he attached corrugated sheets on top. It worked quite well, the hay came off the elevator onto the platform and father forked it onto the moo. This was all right until grandfather Will tried it in his clogs; he slipped off and fell onto the wooden boskin in front of the cow stalls and cracked his ribs.

The baler was a great invention, speeding up hay-leading. The bales were oblong and tied with two strings lengthways; there were quite often problems with these knotters. Mostly the bales fell off the back of the baler onto a metal bale sledge and were left in heaps to be stacked up ready for lifting onto the trailer or to be taken to the barn with a cage-like pick-up. Women and children helped with making these small stacks - the children loved rolling bales. The bale elevator, being narrower than that for loose hay could be positioned so that it took bales straight onto the moo.


Once the meadows had been cleared they had to be raked to retrieve every blade of grass. This was done by women and children with hand rakes. We had an enormous hand rake with iron teeth called a rover. The horse-drawn or tractor-drawn raking machine was pulled across the meadow in the raking position, and when the rake was full, the operator sitting on the hard iron seat pulled a lever to lift the rake and leave the hay on the ground. This was done up and down the meadow, leaving two or three rows of rakings which could then be taken into the barn. On farms with very sparse crops the raking machine was used for rowing up. Once, a neighbour’s son drove the tractor with mother’s female cousin on the raker, getting colder and colder as he determinedly raked up every last wisp of hay, probably because he liked driving the tractor. I don’t think any meadows are raked today.

Grass is still preserved for winter in the dales, and some is still made into hay, but mostly grass is preserved in silo clamps or as big bale silage.

This article was prompted by seeing a row of old hay-making machines near Bruntscar Farm, below Whernside. Mary Taylor lived at Twisleton Dale House (farm) in Chapel le Dale until she was 18 when she went to Botton Head Farm above Lowgill. Her two brothers still live at the old farm but in bungalows. Her nephew lives in the old farm house but does not farm.

Seat of raking machine
Seat of raking machine

Seat of raking machine

Seat of raking machine