THREE fine looking, well-thatched haystacks were out at Eglinton in the early 1920s. They were made by Eugene Bennett, who was a legend at constructing successful haystacks. This style was known as an English haystack.
Farmers made hay for use during the winter months. Haystacks were once a common sight in Bathurst and district in the fields, though today we see big round bales instead.
Once haystacks were true stacked hay, but it was a labour intensive process that often involved all family members and even neighbours. In those early days, building a haystack necessitated labour, determination and proficiency to finish it and for the hay to be usable later.
Farmers at the time of Federation endeavoured to cut their crop for making haystacks three times per year. Hay is dried grasses, hopefully full of nutrition for cows, sheep and horses.
Each farmer had their own ideas on the best time to cut their hay crop. For some, it was when flowers appeared. For others, it was just before flowers appeared.
After the crop was cut, the hay would be left on the ground in the field in linear rows for several days to allow it to dry or cure. The hay needed to be cured correctly in the sun because if the temperature inside the haystack rose too much, it could go mouldy, be of poor quality or cause a fire.
Farm workers always wanted to make hay in fine weather to avoid problems with dew, rain, humidity and wet ground. Experienced farmhands used their judgement about the moisture content in the hay and when it was ready.
Once the men were happy with how the hay had cured, the swaths were raked into windrows either by hand using a rake or pitchfork or with a horse-drawn mechanical rake. Generally, farmers would rake an amount of hay that they could use in a day to make the haystack. Sometimes the grass had to be turned over.
Once raked, the farmer and his workers had to pick it up with a hay fork and put it into a horse-drawn cart or wagon. When full, the hay wagon was taken to the site where the haystack was to be built. The ground would have been levelled on a slight slope - allowing for water to drain away in any later storms.
Judging by all the photos showing these stacks of hay, they came in all shapes and sizes and could be quite big and tall, so much so that a ladder would be required for the uppermost layers. Competent farmhands or stackers building the haystack knew that the hay had to be laid and sloped to the outside, so any dewdrops ran towards the outer edge.
The stacker would stand on top of the haystack, meticulously laying the hay. Farmhands knew that they had to keep the hay up to the stacker, using a pitchfork. The people throwing the hay up high were called forkers - this job was usually given to the taller lads.
The stack was constructed in stages until it reached the required height, the hay compressing down under its own weight. The stacker then finished off the top by thatching it to keep the rain out, before climbing down. He then combed the sides by raking any loose hay sticking out.
Children usually contributed towards running the farm by helping with seasonal activities like shearing, branding, dipping and marking, as well as helping at harvest times. This meant they missed out on some school.
The haystacks were an attraction to children, who could use them to climb on or slide down. These activities could lead to accidents and the Bathurst newspapers reported on nasty incidents where some young boy or girl fractured their arm or leg falling from a haystack.
When required, the farmer or farmhand sliced off the hay using a hay knife and fed it out to the farm animals each day. The top of the stack, which would be all weathered by the time it was ready to be used, would be discarded, some farmers putting it their house garden.
Generally, the stack would be fenced off from the rest of the paddocks so livestock couldn't start eating it. Haystacks notoriously attracted vermin like rats and mice, and sometimes a possum nest.
It seems the art of building haystacks began to wane after the Second World War.