Mixed farming in the 30s and 40s

from our December 2012 issue

By Bob Patmore – Oliver, B.C.

My dad and mom had a mixed farm in northwestern Saskatchewan. They had us three children – my two sisters and me.

Everyone in the district had some livestock and it was a real job keeping the animals fed and watered during the winter. We grew what feed we could but if it had been a dry year, people often ran short. My dad used to say you should have half your feed left at the end of February.

During the summer we all put up what hay we could. This was governed by the amount of moisture we got and how much land we could cut hay on. Wherever we could, we cut hay along the roadsides too.

In the early years, we cut the grass with the mower and raked and stacked it when it was cured enough. It was hard work, but it was healthy and we enjoyed it. If we had a lot of hay to stack and the land was fairly flat, we would use a ‘bucking pole’. This was a small log about 14-feet long with a four-foot ‘fence’ built on it.

We nailed on some 2x4s on the bottom, so it stood up. My sister and I operated this contraption. We’d hitch a team to each end of the pole and then drive them on each side of the hay coil. The pole would force the hay to slide along then we’d pick up several more in this way.

Unhitch team, then start again

After we got a stack started we put up three poles, leaning against the beginning stack, so the bucking pole would slide up them onto the stack. As the stack got higher, dad would go up on it with a fork, to build the stack and keep the hay flat, but higher in the middle.

When we got our load to the top of the stack, we’d unhitch one team and pull the rig off the stack with the other – and then start again.

If the hayfield was far from home, we stacked it there and began hauling it home as soon as there was a little snow so we didn’t have to haul it during the cold days of winter. These haystacks became very compacted and packed down hard. We used a ‘hay knife’ to cut through a section of the haystack, so we’d haul a section at a time – maybe two loads to a section.

When we got home with the feed, it was stacked near the corrals for easy access for feeding it to the cattle.
There was straw too. In the days of threshing outfits, there would be huge straw piles. Wheat straw had very little food value and was largely used for bedding, but oat and barley straw was better. At least straw furnished some roughage.

Most farmers fed at least a little grain along with the straw. Money was always scarce, so if you had a spare straw pile, you could sell it to someone who had a lot of cattle. A good-sized straw pile was worth $5 around 1938 to 1945.

Long, cold job on winter days

Straw isn’t heavy, so it was usual for a farmer to build a large hayrack, maybe as big as 10-feet by 20-feet, for hauling straw. It was often pulled by four horses.

It was a long, cold job on winter days to haul straw home to your feedlot from five or six miles away. If the weather was good, you could often haul an extra load to keep on hand in case of a bad snowstorm when you couldn’t haul feed.

During the threshing, a lot of cracked grain and weed seeds came out from under the threshing machine. This kind of grain wasn’t much good, but if feed was scarce it was mixed with a little other grain and often fed to the chickens too.

On cold winter mornings the prairie chickens would arrive at this little weed pile and pick away for food. Then the farmer had a chance to get a prairie chicken or two with his .22 rifle to help out with his own food supply.

Besides the hay, we usually grew some ‘green feed’. This was part of the oat crop, usually the latest, so it was still green at harvest. The green feed was cut green with the binder and stooked until it is cured enough to keep well. When stacking time arrived, the green sheaves were loaded on a hayrack and placed in round stacks in the feed yard near the corral.

When stacking sheaves, you always kept the stack a little ‘high’ in the middle to ensure that the stack will shed water. The top of the stack was finished in a high cone-shape and looked quite nice when finished.

When feeding green feed we rationed it so each animal got a little. This was good feed and the stock needed some ‘greenery’.