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Hay Drying in Iceland

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Hay Drying in Iceland


Fig. 1

Until late last century, drying in the field was the traditional way of making hay in Iceland. The hay was mainly harvested on uncultivated land, but also on small, semi-cultivated homefields. The grass was mown with a scythe. The snath was rather long with two nips, presumably originated from the Norwegian settlement in Iceland (see fig. 1). The typical scythe was about 55 cm long, home-made of hammered iron. Under favourable conditions the average output of a mower was 0,3 hectares per day, resulting in some 0,4-0,8 t DM(dry matter) per mower per day. 

In Iceland field drying was the dominating drying method. The well known rack pods etc. from W-Europe were almost unknown in Iceland. The limited sunshine in Iceland is partly compensated by the wind, making the field drying conditions more favourable than in the more wood-sheltered areas of Scandinavia.


Fig. 2

The treatment of the hay was a heavy and labour-consuming task. After mowing the windrows had to be tedded, spread and prepared for field-drying, for which a plain piece of the mown land was preferred. The hay was raked into thin windrows for drying, covering only around 50% of the mown area. The thin windrows were turned regularly by a hand rake during the day. The turning of the hay was a typical task of women, working in groups of 3-5 (see fig. 2). 

Because of unreliable weather conditions, the hay had to be protected from dew and rain, leading to rewetting and reduced quality. Therefore, in the evening the hay had to be raked into various types of thick windrows and cocks, being larger with increasing

Fig. 3

DM-level in the hay. The wettest hay was usually raked into windrows in the evening. The next step, depending on the DM level, was to gather the hay into small cocks, having ca. 10 kg DM in each (see fig. 3). There was a rich diversity in the names of the cock types (i.e.  dríli, föng, sátur, sæti, lanir, galtar and fúlgur). 

For protecting the driest hay from rain, some 5-10-15 haycocks were carried into a bulky stack (see fig. 4). After the disappearance of the dew the next drying day the hay from these stacks was spread, and turned in small windrows for drying throughout the day. The hay reached a storage DM during 3-5 effective drying days. The grasses from the home-fields were mainly graminae-species, but various carex-species dominated the hay from the uncultivated land, the latter being more easy to dry than the graminaes, particularly those from manured fields.

Fig 4

Fig 5

Around the year 1900 the method of covering the stacks out in the fields overnight or even for a longer period with sack or wool-woven cloth became popular (see fig. 5). These cloths, called hœrur, protected the hay from being damaged by rain and wind, while waiting for the next dry spell.


Fig. 6

Fig. 7

When sufficiently dry, the hay was either transported home for storage in a barn or a haystack outside or stored in a stack out in the field. When transported home, the hay was baled by hand, tied with a special type of rope, usually made of horse hair, and carried home on horse back (see fig. 6). Each bale (baggi) was made of 5 cocks of hay, thus weighing ca. 50 kg (storage dry hay). With two bales on each horse, the horse-load weighed approx. 100 kg. Until recently one horse-load  was the standard scale for the hay yield, and for measuring the winter-feed requirement of the livestock on the farm. 

When stored outside on the farm or in the field, the hay was usually covered with dried turf slices for protecting it during the autumn and the winter. On many farms special fences or walls were built of turf, or turf and stones for supporting the hay-stacks (see fig. 7). This was necessary because hay-barns were periodically almost unknown in Iceland.

Haying month (heyannir) is an old name of the period from late July to late August, but the traditional day of starting haymaking was Saturday in the 12th week of summer (usually July 5th-10th), lasting until the 23. week of summer (around September 20th).

Posted on scytheconnection.com 30 Apr., 2005.