Even during continued rain it is advisable, by tedding or turning with a fork, to keep the partly cured hay loose and open to prevent it from packing and becoming soaked. Its flavour and much of its nutritive matter are more liable to be lost if it lies in a sodden mass than if it is kept loose and open though wet. If the weather is dry and hot, it is important to cut and cure promptly. Hay dried by the burning heat of the sun is apt to lose much of its fine quality; it is best shaken out and dried by light winds. In dry, hot weather it is advisable to use the tedder immediately after cutting and at frequent intervals and to rake and cock while the fodder is still quite moist. Rapid ripening sometimes makes it expedient to defer hauling in favour of cutting and curing. It is then advisable to put it up in large cocks.
Because of the scarcity and cost of farm labour, approved methods of curing and handling have to be modified, and such implements as hay loaders substituted for hand labour and cocking. If hauling can be done from the windrow, as soon as the hay is sufficiently cured, good results are obtained.
Compared with the labour of hay-making by the early settlers, when cutting was done with a scythe, curing by turning with a fork, raking with wooden rakes, and loading and unloading by hand, modern hay-making is not arduous. Ten acres of hay meant a fairly large undertaking for the pioneer farmer; his grandson, with less help but more machinery, can make light work of five times that area. When operating his machines he is not troubled with stumps and stones. His grandfather built fences with them. Seated on his tedder, he can shake out as much hay in an hour as his great-grandmother and her daughters could in a day. The raking, loading and unloading are now largely done by horse-power.
The effect of meadow weeds: With the evolution of labour-saving machinery and transportation facilities have come the introduction and dissemination of farm weeds. The losses due to weeds in the fodder crop are not well understood. The farmer can estimate the depreciation in the yield of grain caused by weeds, but the total yield of cured hay may be actually increased by their presence.
Badly infested pastures are good places in which to study weeds. It will be observed that many kinds avoided by cattle are less objectionable to horses and are sometimes even relished by sheep. Some weeds, as Water Parsnip, are very poisonous. Others, such as the mustards, docks and daisies, are not dangerous unless consumed in considerable quantities or for long periods, when their poisonous nature is made evident by the chronic ill-health of the animals. When grazing, unless fodder grasses are quite depleted, live stock are not apt to consume enough weeds seriously to impair their health. When allowed to select their own food in fields, the animals, especially cattle, usually thrive much better than when provided with even more nutritious rations in the stable.
The acrid flavour of Wormseed Mustard, False Flax, Shepherd's Purse and other members of the Mustard family is well known. They contain a strong irritant, the effects of which, if the weeds are consumed in quantity with cut feed, are best understood by those who have suffered under a mustard plaster. When fed for long on hay or grain that contains only a small quantity of the plants or seeds, the effects are less acute. They are first noticeable in the urine; the animal finally breaks out in deep ulcers, which, like those sometimes produced by prolonged applications of mustard plaster, are slow to heal.
Most members of the Cockle family contain saponin, which is distinctly poisonous, and although they have not enough to prove fatal to horses and cattle eating cockle-infested hay, they conduce to an unthrifty condition indicated by imperfect digestion, loss of appetite, lack of vigour, a hot skin and gradual loss of flesh.
Buttercups are strongly acrid and blister the mouths of animals; stock will not pasture where they are prevalent. When consumed in excess, or for a long period, they are said to cause abortion in cows.
Many members of the Sunflower family arc known to be unwholesome, and some of them positively poisonous. Ragweed is a strong irritant. Its pollen is believed to cause hay fever. Ragwort (Senecio Jacobcea), which is common in some parts of the Atlantic provinces, has been shown to be the cause of the Pictou cattle disease. Like many other weeds poisonous to some kinds of stock and harmless to others, this is not injurious to sheep.
The objectionable flavour of weedy hay induces stalled animals, which have no option but to eat it or starve, to pick over their fodder and eat only the palatable part. To avoid this apparent waste, the cutting box is used to turn weedy fodder into cut feed. The feed so prepared is rendered unpalatable and often unwholesome by the weeds. Milch cows will eat only enough to allay hunger and will produce a gallon of milk of disagreeable flavour instead of three gallons of good milk per day. Chronic ill-health and a condition of unthrift in the live stock, particularly in the cattle, is often found on a weed-infested farm. The value of a fodder crop may be reduced or even destroyed by weeds. In establishing a meadow then, it is most important to suppress objectionable weeds before the fodder crop seeds are sown.
The duration of meadows and pastures depends on the kind of farming, soil and drainage. For naturally well-drained upland farms under mixed crops, short rotations with two years in Red Clover and grasses are recommended. As soon as the hay crop of the second year is removed, the meadow may be ploughed and fallowed for the balance of the year to suppress weeds. An application of farmyard manure, shallow ploughed or worked into the surface soil, should fit the land for spring planting with a hoed or other cleaning crop, which may be followed by a nurse crop of cereal grains, and again seeded to Red Clover and grasses for two years of meadow and pasture.
Because of the scarcity of farm labour, less intensive systems of farming are popular in some districts. Large returns are obtained from Alfalfa with much less labour. Hardy strains, particularly of Variegated Alfalfa, are available, and when farmers get northern grown seed from the best strains they can count on satisfactory crops for years, provided the land is well drained and not infested with perennial weeds. In districts where the crop is protected by snow the danger of winter-killing is reduced. In the Niagara peninsula fields of Variegated Alfalfa of more than thirty years standing still produce large yields of fodder. Unless well protected, pure Alfalfa is apt to be killed out by severe winters and few fields continue to give satisfactory crops for more than five or six years.
In wet, clayey soils and river flats it is often necessary or expedient to leave the land to permanent meadows or pastures for long periods. It is difficult to prepare low-lying wet soils for cereals in the early spring, and river flats are apt to be badly washed and furrowed by floods unless retained by sods The annual deposit of sediment from spring freshets usually maintains the fertility of river flats left in permanent meadow, and if the most suitable grasses are well-established large yields of good hay may be obtained for many years.
Fertilizing meadows of long duration is common in Europe, less frequent in the eastern provinces of Canada, and not at all general inland. A dressing of well-rotted farmyard manure applied in the early spring every two or three years is highly beneficial, and is the best way to maintain an upland meadow in good condition. The decaying manure spread over the surface forms a mulch that helps to retain the moisture. Clovers are often benefited by potash and gypsum or other form of lime, but are little affected by nitrogenous manures. Old meadows respond quickly to an application, at the commencement of the growing season, of nitrate of soda at the rate of about one hundred pounds per acre. On low-lying, naturally moist soil, good yields may be had by sowing every two or three years three or four hundred pounds per acre of mixed fertilizer or bone meal that is rich in nitrogen.
Permanent pastures yield a small revenue when compared with thorough cultivation and alternate cropping. If used for soiling, ten acres of good Alfalfa will give as much nutritive fodder as forty acres in permanent pasture. The waste due to tramping is much greater in temporary pastures, such as Clover and Timothy, than in permanent pastures composed of grass mixtures, but the yield is usually much larger and the forage is more easily available to cattle. Permanent pastures are of greatest value for sheep. On land that is easily tillable and productive under alternate cropping, they are not recommended for cattle, unless it is impossible to procure labour to cultivate the land.
Reseeding and renovating are seldom necessary when proper care is taken of a meadow and natural winter protection is provided. On some soils it will be found, however, that where several kinds of grasses and clovers are sown, one or two sorts will predominate, to the practical exclusion of the others. If a meadow of long duration or a permanent pasture is required, it may be necessary to supplement the kinds that have established themselves by re-seeding with other grasses. These must be selected with care and for a definite purpose; Red Top, for instance, might be chosen for bottom grass on moist lands where all other kinds except Timothy have been killed out. The seeding should be done in the early spring, and, if the land is dry enough, a sharp harrow, followed by a heavy roller, may be used to cover the seed and secure a smooth surface.
Hillsides and exposed places in newly-seeded as well as longstanding meadows and pastures often need renovating and re-seeding after a severe winter. A liberal re-seeding followed by the harrow or roller, or both, usually gives satisfactory results. If the soil on the re-seeded patches is apt to become hard and baked, a light dressing of well-rotted stable manure is necessary to insure a good catch.
Both new and old meadows are benefited by spring rolling, especially if they have been repeatedly frozen and thawed during the early spring.