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Harvest Mouse-means Terror in the Fields at Harvesting Time

Updated on August 6, 2015

Corn field nearly ready for harvesting


Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

Our region of West Lancashire is one of the best climates in the world in which to grow cereal crops, but one of the worst when it comes to harvesting. Throughout July and during the first week of August we have had much rain and cool conditions, a dismal start during the run up to harvesting time. The crops stand golden ready to be reaped but the ground conditions {and the grain} were to wet.

These golden seas of wheat and other cereals are being observed by anxious farmers that are awaiting the sun to prevail for long enough to gather the crops in, or at least a dry spell until they have received the fruits of their labour. Incidentally there is still hose pipe ban a here in the north west of England due to reservoir levels being low.

On may of our footpaths, that were baked hard by the hot June sun, mud is now the norm, interspersed with puddles a legacy of the numerous heavy showers we have endured of late. The trees are rich and green with copious amounts of fruit and the ground flora has had sustenance from the life giving rains.

Rowan tree heavy with fruit

The trees and hedgerows are heavy with fruit this Rowan tree is a fine example.Photograph by D.A.L
The trees and hedgerows are heavy with fruit this Rowan tree is a fine example.Photograph by D.A.L
photograph by D.A.L.
photograph by D.A.L.

A flourish of activity

Then came three or four days of consecutive dry weather which saw a flourish of activity in the cereal fields. Once this sign of activity started I made my way to a hill that over looked this golden zone of corn. Being a countryman I find something soothing in the sight of the Combineharvester employed in their annual labours. This has been with me since the days of my childhood, when I sat observing similar scenes with my grandfather. Times seemed so much more relaxed then and we spent many hours just watching these agricultural machines, a cool canopy above and a warm sun on our backs..

These mellow autumn spells encourage the song thrush to sing his refrains, but his autumn melodies are only a pale shadow of his vibrant spring carols. The robins' weak trill from the thicket and the skylarks' song from the clouds were his only accompanist. Yet these songs need to be savoured at this time of the year for they will become much rarer as the autumn advances.

It was in such an ambiance that my grandfather would reminisce about his own youth. He recalled the times before the advent of these huge modern combines when the threshing machines undertook their annual rounds, separating the grain and husk from the stalk. These cumbersome noisy machines took a lot of the labour out of the fields but deprived many farm workers of their livelihoods. Before this new technology was invented the grain had to be separated by hand with tools known as flails. {these are still used today in some countries for crops such as rice}. It was a time consuming job that was carried out by scores of men {and women} in each field. Flails were basically two or more large sticks attached by a small chain. One was held while the other{s} were swung around to strike the grain loosening the husks. I was informed that the early types of threshing machine were hand fed and horse powered.

The archaic threshing machine

photograph by Ben Franske courtesy of wikipedia.
photograph by Ben Franske courtesy of wikipedia.

The time of terror for mammals

However, I digress, back to observing the present day combines devouring the stalks has I have mentioned is a soothing past time , yet within those forest of stalks many feathered and furry creatures will soon realize the true meaning of terror. Man of these creatures will have known no other world than these standing stalks which afforded them dappled shade and security. Partridge, field vole, harvest mouse, leveret, hare and rabbit are the tenants of these whispering Allie's.

Modern day machines make short work of the harvesting

photograph courtesy of U.D.A.
photograph courtesy of U.D.A.

Ancestral instincts

Their ancestral instincts drive them to the center of the field away from the sound of uncompromising whirring steel blades which has invaded their universe. But soon the sound is upon them devouring their "never ending" stalks of safety have met their demise. One can only imagine their heart stopping terror as the deafening whirring swords of steel send those that are still capable fleeing into a bright open world most of them had never seen. Has they fly and flee some of these creatures are met with an explosion of fire from the barrels of farm hand guns,which are after a rabbit, partridge or hare for his pie or casserole.

Thank fully this practice seems to have diminished {at least locally} over the last decade or so. Those animals that escape this agricultural Armageddon will never forget this day when man gathered in his harvest.

The Flail

Flail-photograph courtesy of wikimdia
Flail-photograph courtesy of wikimdia
old painting of flailing. courtesy of wikipedia.
old painting of flailing. courtesy of wikipedia.


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    • Joy56 profile image

      Joy56 7 years ago

      Hi love the hub... it was in some way relaxing,the paragraph about the birds singing was poetic. It must have been nice to observe the harvest with your past generations, and compare the differences.

      I am at my son's near Stockport, and it has rained torrentially the whole time i have been here, since Thursday night although there was a short sunny spell this morning.

      Do you know the song Harvest by Neil Young, it came to mind when i read your poem. Look out for a harvest hub soon,

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      jandee, your very welcome thank you , again, for leaving your appreciated comments.

      MMMoney, thank you too, for reading and for taking the time to comment.

      Seakay, nice to meet you, thank you for reading . Best wishes.

      2uesday, times have certainly changed in the agricultural world and no doubt will continue to do so. Thank you for your kind comments.

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 7 years ago

      The photos in this are very good and as always the writing is a pleasure to read.

      Even the appearance of the bales in the fields has changed with time. The more common now being the ones that are large cylinder shape, though there are still the odd farm or two with the oblong bales.

      The reference to the old style of harvesting made me recall Thomas Hardy's descriptive writing of harvest time ( I hope that is where I read it).

      Enjoyed reading this.

    • Seakay profile image

      Seakay 7 years ago from Florida

      Good read! Great presentation except the harming of the animals. (Of course, I'm a vegetarian so I guess I'm a bit prejudice.)

    • MMMoney profile image

      MMMoney 7 years ago from Where U Can Make More Money

      very nice article thnaks

    • jandee profile image

      jandee 7 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      D.A.L Your writing is very-am I repeating myself ? Must be true-very poetic and relaxing with a taste of sadness for the little ones scared by machinery ,thanks jandee