Farm buildings and farmyards can be lonely and quiet places these days. Long gone is the time when there was much coming and going of workers, horse-drawn implements, a mixture of cattle and pigs and poultry and long hours of manual effort. One “craftsman” with modern machinery can now achieve what ten farm workers managed to accomplish fifty years ago. Manual skills have been replaced by technical ability. Especially on farms where not much or even any livestock is kept the shout “Is there anybody about?” is likely to be answered by just a “miaow” from the resident farmyard cat.
It was therefore particularly exciting to visit a friend’s farm the other day, in a neighbouring parish and witness a scene of great activity. No less than six men were working as a team in an integrated rhythm. If one stopped, everyone would have to stop! The scene put the clock back many years. So familiar then, so unfamiliar now. The activity was threshing wheat, not demonstration threshing either, but the real thing. The only difference now and times past was the principle objective of the work. Then it would have been to thresh out the straw for the grain, with the bi-product of straw being relatively unimportant. But on this occasion it was the straw that was needed and the grain and chaff playing second “fiddle”. The straw, of course, was required for thatching. It was necessary to harvest and process it with as little damage as possible otherwise its suitability for thatching would be lost. Thus it was cut with a binder, “shocked” in the field and carted to the farmyard to be stacked awaiting the threshing tackle to be set up. Even the variety of wheat seed used was of the outdated “long strawed” variety, with a low yielding grain. Now I stood in the yard watching the process and listening to the “wouff” of the drum as it was fed the sheaves and the precious straw coming out one end and the grain into sacks the other end. Added to this was the “slap” of the large driving belt from the tractor pulley (not a steam traction engine now) to the drum. It was all so evocative for me of many years ago. The dust, too, was as it ever was! The only effective way of communication was by shouting or arm waving. Perhaps, after all, as I came away I was privately relieved that I was not a slave to that monster any more!