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The Scythe

Garth Brown |

Before I started this year's project I fantasized about putting up a day's worth of hay with my scythe. With that data in hand I could compute how many days I'd need to toil under the hot sun to feed my cattle herd through the winter if I didn't have access to diesel and big tractors. I've been busy though and it looks like I'm not going to get that precise with my numbers, largely because I don't want to devote even half a day to mowing by hand. Mowing is hard work and I don't do it often enough to be really good at it. I can lay down a swathe reasonably well, but I know I'd be a lot better, smoother and faster if I devoted myself to the task for a month or two.

Some observations about scythes -

They need to be really, really, really sharp to work as intended. I've read that in days of yore scythe wielders would pause to sharpen their tools every five minutes or so. Experience tells me that this is well worth doing.

Scything is best done early in the day both to avoid the heat and because the dew softens grass and makes cutting easier. This is unfortunate for the homesteader because the time of day grass is mowed can affect the quality of the final hay. Grass cut early and very late in the day has less sugar in it than that mowed between roughly 11 am and 3 pm. The more sugars one captures in the sward as it's cut the better the resultant hay. The speed of modern machines means they often can mow at the optimal time.

Scythes are sort of scary. They are ungainly to carry about until they're swung into the proper mowing position. Wallace Stegner's book, Angle of Repose, has a vivid scene in it about a scythe injury one guy inflicted on another by accident. I read it years ago and have never been able to get it out of my head when I walk about with my huge blade on a stick. I do have a second scythe fantasy I'll share too - I sometimes dream of donning a big, hooded, black gown and mowing next to the road early in the morning while the fog hangs thick in the valley. I would love to see passersby swerve at the sight of me... alas some of my farming practices are unorthodox enough as is. I don't need to add to list of my eccentricities.

I wish I used it more than I do. I bought it as a way to mow strips of grass around the perimeter of my pig paddocks. At the time I had a weak fencing energizer and it couldn't tolerate much vegetation load before the shock it delivered shrank to almost nothing. Stringing the temporary fences over short grass also helps cue the pigs into the presence of the wire so they hit it less often. I don't use the scythe for this anymore because I now have a really powerful energizer that easily shocks through a lot of grass. And I use the big orange thing (see below) when I need to mow strips. With it I can mow a week's worth of paddock strips in just a few minutes. The scythe would take me hours to cover the same ground. 62 horsepower running through the PTO does the job a heck of a lot quicker than one guy with scythe.


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