I’ve always had a memory for stuff that intrigued me at the time. I can still remember one old chap talking with my Dad. They got talking about growing what the old chap called ‘kibble corn’. That to him was mixed wheat and barley. There was nothing fancy about how they (or anybody else round here) grew it back them. They borrowed a seed drill from a neighbour (which had initially been designed to be pulled behind horses and had a metal drawbar fitted to it and the shafts removed. It was a good drill, I’ve used it myself, perhaps ten years after this conversation. After drilling the seed, you just went over the field with spike harrows to get the seed down deep enough, chain harrows to bury everything and then roll it.
At the time they were talking, the combine had arrived so the whole lot went through the combine and into the store. Obviously you had to pick a wheat and a barley variety that ripened at the same time, but he swore by it as a feed. Just a bit richer than barley but not as powerful as wheat.
From memory that chap was the first person I’d see use Propcorn or propionic acid to preserve barley. Normally you’d hope for the sun to dry the crop, but on this side of the country that is often a faint hope. What had happened was that they’d harvested their grain and tipped it in a store they’d made. The old chap would keep an eye on it and even climbed into the store to make sure the grain wasn’t heating up because he’d been a bit doubtful that they’d managed to get it dry enough. Basically with damp grain you can get yeasts, moulds and mycotoxins and all sorts of nasties. The minute he’d spotted it getting warm they’d shovelled it out of the store (by hand) and then augered it back in. But they’d applied Propcorn to it through the auger. This stops the yeasts, moulds and suchlike, and it has the advantage that propionic acid occurs naturally in the bovine rumen. Microbes help ferment the starch to produce lactic and propionic acid which they can use. So a little extra propionic acid in the diet is neither here nor there. But it stinks, stings, makes your eyes water and I’ve worked with nicer stuff. But still we have one chap who had one foot firmly in the pre-war years yet was one of the first in to use new techniques.
Then round here I’ve seen what the Scots call Mashlum. Oats and peas planted simultaneously. They used to reckon on planting six stones of oats and four stones of peas per acre. I’ve seen it growing but wasn’t there to see it harvested. Apparently when the plants are young the sturdy pea plant protects the young oat, and as they grow older the oat provides support to the peas.
Whilst the Scots grew oats and peas, I’m sure the one I saw was barley and peas.
Again you just waited for both to be ripe (which meant you had to pick your varieties carefully) simultaneously and then go in with the combine. To feed it to livestock you’d have to roll the barley. For those who’ve never fed cattle, you roll grain to break the grain kernel. This allows the microbes in the animal’s gut to get access at the central bit of the grain where all the food is. You can tell if you haven’t rolled barley properly, the whole grains will go straight through the animal and come out whole in the muck. Rolling the barley will obviously break up the peas as well which is probably no bad thing.
The Scots used to grind the oats and peas mix to make a flour. This would be used to make a flatbread or pease-bread for human consumption. For anybody who fancies it, you apparently make it by mixing the flour of various cereals and pulses then baking it on a hot plate. Apparently you could add more or less conventional flour to your mashlum, depending on personal taste. You’d mix it with salt and water and bake it into round cakes about an inch thick. They are flat bread as they won’t rise.
The Scots also used it as a cattle feed, so much so that questions were asked in the House of Commons. Hansard records that on Tuesday 4 November 1958, one Arthur Woodburn, Labour MP for Clackmannan and Eastern Stirlingshire asked “The Secretary of State for Scotland (John Maclay, 1st Viscount Muirshiel)
1) What consideration has been given to the substitution of mashlum for hay as the principal crop for feeding stuffs in the expansion of cattle population in the Highlands;
2) Whether his attention has been called to the fact that the cultivation of mashlum instead of hay as the mainstay of cattle feed in the Highlands could increase the possible cattle population up to eight times;
3) And what action he proposes to take in this matter.
The Viscount’s reply was measured. “I am sure that the possibilities of this valuable crop have not been overlooked by the College Advisory Officers in any area in the Highlands where it could be grown successfully. I am advised, however, that mashlum could replace hay only to a limited extent.”
Now you’re far more likely to see the combination grown for silage, if you get it right, it can increase the protein of the silage meaning you need less bought in protein.
Another thing I’ve seen is ‘pea haulm hay.’ Names vary, the term pea haulm straw is also used. They don’t grow peas round here, but one farmer round here had contacts with a haulier/hay and straw merchant from over on the east side of the country where they did. If you get a few good hot days at the right time of year you could bale your pea haulms. One wagon load was always sent across here. The farmer I knew had fitted hayracks in his cubicle house. (Which is something I’ve never seen before or since) He’d put his bales in the hayracks and just let his milk cows eat what they wanted. What they didn’t eat, they could lie on which meant he never had to bed them.
That’s the joy of farming, it’s amazing what can work for you if you believe in it.
Then again, what do I know? Speak to the experts.
For this collection of stories, our loyal Border Collie, Sal, is joined by Terry Wogan, Janis Joplin and numerous dairy cows. Meet pheasants, Herdwicks, Border Collies, and the occasional pink teddy bear. Welcome to the world of administrative overload and political incomprehension. All human life, (or at least all that hasn’t already fled screaming for sanctuary) is here.
Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!