The old fashioned baling machine, pulled by horsesForking the hay into the baler ready for winter feed for the horses

It seems to be a basic characteristic of human nature, along with hunter-gathering and nest-making, to long for a little piece of land to cultivate. Here in Chile where the mountains rise up on either side and small flat patches of rich alluvial soil run down between the sides of the rocky ‘cajon’,  cultivable land has a special magic.  I had the opportunity to rent a small parcela with two colleagues, local arrieros, or horsemen. It was here that we first kept the horses which work in Horse Riding Chile holidays and day tours.

The four little fields, my colleagues decided, could be used to grow alfalfa. This is a grass that is so vigorous that you can expect to cut it about four or five times a year, and thus grow enough feed for the horses in winter.

grass mower pulled by horsesTwo horses needed to pull the grass cutter

The cascades of blackberry bushes, which made wonderful impenetrable hedges, had to be trimmed back and the ground ploughed. Apart from the ploughing everything was done by hand or horse. A horse wasused to pull branches along, ruffling up the soil. Then a pole was attached and pulled along the ground at intervals to mark straight lines and sowing widths. Then oat seed was scattered by hand, walking up and down between the lines. Then brushwood, from the wild acacias that grow here, was pulled over the seeded soil to partially bury the seeds. Fortunately it then rained, this being still winter, and so the seeds began to germinate.

For the next month the time was spent clearing the defunct drainage system, so that when spring came water could flow. Then we waited for growth. When the oats, which we had planted as a strong protection for the young alfalfa, were about three inches high, the first watering took place. This is always the hardest as the channels have to be made and also the ground must not be too heavily flooded before the plants are strong enough to resist. Some plovers who lived on the land had laid their eggs on a nest in the middle of one of the fields. So a spade was fetched, the nest delicately lifted and earth packed underneath to raise it above water level. A week later 2 baby plovers appeared, from the four eggs.

The plover babies were the first offspring of the plot, and a week later appeared a little foal. Then, all in a rush because it was spring, came a baby goat. So the land burgeoned, not just with plants.

oldfashioned rake for turning hay, horsedrawnOld fashioned hay rake, pulled by a horse with driver on metal seat, for turning hay

One of the tyrannies of the Chilean agricultural system is watering. If there isn’t money for mechanical watering it all has to be done by hand. The alfalfa must be watered every 8 days in summer, which lasts for 6 or 7 months with no rain. Then comes cutting and baling the hay for storage.

We managed to buy quite cheaply the basic machinery for harvesting, and this with a plough and a horse or mule, is self-sufficiency. The greatest joy, apart from the animals on the parcela, has been the machinery which after some initial problems has functioned well.

Making hay in Chile

It all dates from the fifties and is exceptionally picturesque, and also, although some of it is mechanised, it all requires a lot of labour and genuine horse power.

First comes the grass cutter, pulled by two horses. Then the rake, pulled by one horse.

the old baler designed in the 1930sThe baling machine for hay, used on our parcela

Then, when the hay has been put into clumps by hand, the baler. This machine is the most fantastic of all. It is a design probably of the thirties, but made in the fifties of the last century. It needs two horses to pull it. We have to draw on all the local talent for repairs when needed, as they are all true obras de mano, or handiwork.


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