Crops


The main cereal crop was oats. Graham Andrew remembers his father sowing oats with a fiddle. A bag was attached to the fiddle which held two bucketfuls of seed. Graham’s job was to help refill the bag from the large sacks of seed that had been left across the field.

Cahal Boyd described the harvesting of corn: ‘A field of corn was mowed by a scythe and a boy went after him tying it up. And then you had to stook it, and then hut it [build the stooks into a small stack], and then carry it in if you hadn’t a horse.’



In some places a little wheat was grown, while barley did not become popular until the late 1950s. Other crops grown included turnips, cabbages and kale. Billy Robson recalls his father growing mangels, a crop which resembled sugar beet and which was used as a winter feed for livestock. Around Toome the growing of grass for its seed was important. ‘Grass seed was a great thing’, remembers Edmund O’Donnell, adding, ‘there was a great demand for it’. George Laverty echoed this, pointing out that there was a good trade for it. As John Milliken pointed out, Islandmagee ‘wasn’t really a cropping district’ and there were not large acreages of potatoes or cereals so the harvest was not as important there as elsewhere.

Hay was the main fodder crop. Frankie Dale remembers that haymaking, which he describes as ‘six weeks’ steady, heavy work’, was an anxious time of year for farmers due to the unpredictability of the weather: ‘The worry of saving hay long ago shortened people’s lives cause you could lose your hay, and if you lost your hay, where were you? … People don’t understand the pressure the farmers were under … the pressure was intense.’ ‘There was many a field of hay lost’, reflects Mary Moore. The following extract from the Kilbride preachers’ book of 1 August 1920 illustrates just how wet one summer of yesteryear was: ‘It has rained almost constantly for the last six weeks. A severe thunderstorm today and the heaviest rain seen for years.’ Although silage became increasing popular in the 1950s and 1960s, John Milliken points out that hay had its advantages in that it was more portable. Most beef cattle would have been kept outdoors for the majority of the year and it was easier to take hay out to them in the winter.



Billy Robson commented that buck-rakes attached to the backs of tractors greatly helped with silage harvesting for it saved having to lift silage by hand using forks or graips. A subsequent innovation was the ‘green crop loader’ which was like an elevator that lifted mowed grass up on to a trailer where two men built it. In the early days of silage production, silage was made in round containers which were roughly 12 feet in diameter and 12-15 feet high. Grass was forked into these containers – and forked out again. Later on silage was put into trenches with a wall built along each side. The silage was graiped off the trailer – these were the days before hydraulic tipping trailers – and then levelled and flattened with another tractor.

South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: