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Hay - Day
Agriculture in Co. Mayo's old days
For some reason the farmers in some parts of Mayo left the cutting and harvesting of the hay crops until later in the year than was generally the norm in other parts of the country.
In late April or early May farmers spread 'top dressing' on the fields they were going to 'reserve'. In layman's terms that meant spreading the accumulated pile of animal dung and rotted straw that resulted from keeping livestock indoors for the winter period. Each day the stables, or barns as they were universally called, had to be cleaned out and fresh bedding, usually straw, strewn on the floor. Incidentally, only on the most inclement of days were the livestock being stabled kept in all day; usually they were let out during daylight hours thus facilitating the chore of cleaning and re-bedding the barns.
All through the summer the growth of the grass crop was studied and analyzed in detail and the prospects of a good yield debated ad nauseum. Along with the weather itself and the fortunes of the Mayo football team the likely quality of that season's hay crops was a staple item of small talk whenever two or more adults met up together. The kids did not give a damn as they all knew only too well that the coming toil in the hayfields would mean sore hands and aching limbs but still they all looked forward to the haymaking as it brought a bustle of activity and excitement about the place.
Finally the time came when conditions were right to begin and one of the farmers and his trusty little grey, Ferguson tractor were landmark sights as he went from farm to farm cutting sections of the meadows as directed by the owners.
Firstly, one was at the mercy of the elements in the growing season. If the crop of meadow to be cut had good growing conditions the yield return was possibly twice as much as in times of wet and cold weather.
When the priest at Sunday Mass intoned a prayer for fine weather in the weeks ahead you could be certain that the responding "Amen" same from the heart and soul of everyone present! The saving of the hay crop and to a lesser extent the turf took precedence over all else.
Now, with more money in the economy, farmers have by and large discarded the old, manual methods of saving hay and use balers and silage cutters to harvest their winter fodder but even so fine hay weather is all important and the priest's prayers at Sunday Mass at this time of the year will be echoed as fervently as ever!