Subscribe and get an Emma Bridgewater mug! click here

A guide to small scale hay making

PUBLISHED: 08:11 28 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:43 28 March 2014

Andrew Rock sharpening his scythe

Andrew Rock sharpening his scythe

JUNE 5, 2013: While the sun shines, why not make hay? Andrew Rock gives some tips for very small scale haymaking

While the sun shines, why not make hay? Andrew Rock gives some tips for very small scale haymaking


I keep a very small flock of Jacobs sheep and last year I produced my own hay to see them through the winter. I couldn’t justify buying machinery so decided to step back in time and make hay the traditional way. After a small investment in some basic tools I was ready to give it a go and found the process far more practical and enjoyable than I had anticipated.

My sheep only eat a few bales of hay over winter. I had previously found that the quality of hay can be variable and buying organic hay difficult. By making hay myself I was able to control the quality and I knew that no chemicals had been used.

The first and most important step is to get a good scythe. I bought an Austrian scythe from a second hand shop but new ones are available (www.thescytheshop.co.uk). Traditional English scythes are heavier than the Austrian version and many are too worn out to be useful. The scythe blade must be kept razor sharp. For this you need a peening tool and a sharpening stone. As the blade needs regular sharpening, a belt holder for the stone is useful so it is easily to hand whilst cutting. Look on You-Tube for videos showing how to peen, sharpen and use a scythe.

After a little practice I was successfully cutting grass. There is a strange, almost medieval satisfaction in using a scythe that has to be experienced to be appreciated. The sharp blade makes a distinctive ‘swish’ noise as it effortlessly cuts through a swathe of grass. With practice it becomes a pleasant, rhythmic and relaxing task. After discovering just how quickly a scythe can cut, I now use an old one (not my best grass cutter) instead of my strimmer for clearing rough areas.

As the grass is cut, the scythe deposits it in neat rows. These rows can they be spread and turned during the following, sunny days, to dry the grass. I used a traditional pitch fork for this but I think an old fashioned, wide, wooden pegged hay rake would be better. I am looking out for one of these.

Once the grass seemed dry enough, my son Thomas helped stack it onto a raised platform made from sticks. This let air circulate underneath and a tarpaulin on top kept the rain off. We also tightly packed some hay into paper feed sacks. These are a convenient size and easy to handle but need to be stored under cover. Both methods have worked well and supplied my sheep with all the tasty, healthy hay they needed this winter.

Was this traditional method for hay making worth the effort? That depends on your point of view. Eight hours of labour to make about £16 of hay is not a great hourly rate, so from a financial perspective probably not worth doing. However, the satisfaction of learning a new skill that has been done by generations before us, combined with the high quality end product means that this year, once again I will be sharpening my scythe and making the most of the summer sunshine.

0 comments

Interact with other smallholders and post your questions

Visit our forums


More from Land

Monday, April 9, 2018

Jack Smellie looks at what to do when lambing and kidding doesn’t go to plan

Read more
April 2018
Monday, April 9, 2018

Smallholder Tim Tyne advises on the treatment of lambs which are hypothermic

Read more
April 2018
Monday, April 9, 2018

We feature a family who are committed to self sufficiency on their smallholding on an island in Denmark

Read more
April 2018
Monday, April 9, 2018

Debbie Kingsley outlines the rules and regulations for smallholding – this month identifying your sheep or goats

Read more
April 2018
Friday, March 9, 2018

Debbie Kingsley outlines the rules and regulations for smallholding – this month registering your holding and your livestock

Read more
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Expert answers to your questions. This time, how to wean kids from the mothers

Read more
March 2018
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Extend your growing season, says Kim Stoddart

Read more
March 2018
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What exactly is a smallholder? Tim Tyne reflects on this perennial question in his new series on the more challenging aspects of ‘the good life’’

Read more
March 2018
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

If you’re worried about contamination in your chickens’ water, look no further than the all new Cleanflo Drinker from BEC

Read more
Thursday, November 9, 2017

Vet Charlotte Mouland discusses ringworm in cattle, the disease to watch out for in winter

Read more

Most Read

Newsletter Sign Up

Country Smallholding monthly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

This Year’s Shows

Country Smallholding cover image

Don’t miss our comprehensive guide to rural events

Find out more

Like us on Facebook


Follow us on Twitter