Saturday 19 October 2013

Smallholders Question Time. "Is it animal, mineral or vegetable?"

What am I?"
I pulled this farm implement from under one of our Fuchsia hedges this morning.  Do you have any idea what it is?  I think I will paint it up for a garden ornament.  Number one son wants it for his scrap metal pile.

Do you know what it is?

I always like reading about the people farming long a go.  One piece of equipment that you would see in any haggard (where the cowshed and haystack lived) was a Furze machine.  This was turned by hand.  You would pass Gorse ("Furze") bushes through it to crush it an make it palatable for the farm horse and cattle.  I believe you can cut down "Furze" with the loppers and bash it with a wooden mallet.  Anybody ever fed it to their cattle or horses?

Any road.  Many years ago.  When a bachelor met a young spinster at a dance.  He would always check if she had all her fingers.  "Why"? you ask.  It was very common for a milk maid to lose the top off her finger from the blade on the old "Furze" machine.  She would be know good for a wife for the farmer.  She wouldn't be able to milk his cows.



  1. Can't guess what that strange-looking implement might be for, presumably to be pulled by a horse and operated by walking along behind it. No doubt some old-timers will know, I get the impression there's some parts missing?
    Too good to become part of a scrap pile though, it'll look good painted up as a garden ornament, and somebody might even be able to identify it.

    Most farms had (and some still have) a scrap yard with ancient rusting pieces of implements and equipment, usually over-grown with nettles and brambles, being dumped there years or decades ago and just forgotten about. I bet most of the horse-drawn stuff would still be salvageable, cleaned up, and operable, it was blacksmith-made to last. Maybe they're waiting for the oil to run out?

    Contrast one I saw on the idiots lantern, a machine to harvest peas, just one machine, starts into a field of peas, and the peas come out ready for the tin at the rate of 30-40 tons per hour. Downside is the £385,000 cost.

    Never heard of feeding anything on gorse, but then there's not that much of it locally, so never seen a furze machine, nearest thing I can imagine would be a turnip-chopper, the cutting drum turned by a diesel engine, a good one to keep your fingers away from.

    Most fearsome thing I ever saw was at a paperboard-making plant, which takes logs in at one end ant spits big rolls of board out at the other, about 600 yards away, cornflake packet type stuff, I think about 20 tons per hour.
    The logs are about 8" dia and 8' long, de-barked then fed into a chipper which converts them into chips about the size of a cigarette, it's gravity-fed, the logs hit the blades and don't even slow down, just a shower of chips come out.

  2. It is horse drawn Cumbrian. The front bit may give you a clue what it does. The turnip chopper would be chopping the same vegetable.

    You're right the old farm pieces are made by blacksmiths and some yuppie pub in the countryside would probably pay good money for them.

    Ireland is full of furze. It's also very good for firewood. I have seen quite a few hand turned slicers and choppers. Still waiting for mine to be made into a pulper. We are hoping that we can grow beet some next year. Rang up a fodder beet supplier yesterday. They only sell it in fifteen ton loads.

    Your paper making machinery sounds awesome.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. No, that one's got me beat, at least from photo, unless it somehow lifts turnips?
    Another winter job nobody volunteered for, snigging tunchies it was known as, a wonderful way to lose fingers if you weren't careful.

    The turnip chopper was originally a hand-operated device, some handy farmer, probably a bit like your son, had managed to add a diesel engine to turn it, one of the Lister or Petter type, single cylinder hand-start big heavy flywheel job with decompression lever, a good way to dislocate the thumb when it kicked back. It would probably turn on a belt driven from the front drum some tractors had, Fords I think?

    Yeah, the paperboard machine is an awesome piece of kit, full of endless ways to commit suicide or lose limbs. The tonnage produced is unbelievable, and the power it uses could keep a town going, they just built a bio generator, it's supposed to burn small pieces of wood, just twigs up to 1" dia, it's got to be seen to appreciate how big it is, but using small twigs harvested I believe at 2 years, means its eco-friendly. A throw-back to the coppice system?

  4. It's a Turnip sower, Cumbrian. The front bit makes ridges and you placed the seed in the round cup in the middle then the roller covers the seed. I have never seen one working. But it does sound a very useful piece of equipment. If you had a cart, plough, harrow, turnip seeder and a scuffler. You would produce lots of crops for next to nothing. Oh if we could go back and see those horse working farms of yester year.

    I was looking at a pto driven chopper the other day.

    I have read a bit about coppicing. There was always a market for hurdles and walking sticks. There are quite a few farmers growing Miscanthus and Willow ("Salix") for the wood pellet stove market here in Ireland. Like you say its eco-friendly and renewable. They harvest it with massive combine systems and they are not interested in small farm plantations. In Sweden they collect slurry and make it into electricity.

  5. Like a lot of things, it becomes obvious when it's pointed out, is this the Jethro Tull prototype?

    Yes, it would be nice to see a return to the real countryside, the smells of cut grass rather than diesel fumes, and the sound of birds singing instead of diesel engines.
    Men instead of machines and real communities instead of holiday homes and derelicts.
    Yes, I know, it's got to happen, the oil's running out now, but I doubt we'll see it, it took 100 years to reach "peak oil" so it might take another 100 before reality dawns on the idiots in charge and reason takes over from profit.
    Keep hold of the horse-drawn equipment, you might find a use for it yet.

    At least the pendulum might have started to swing back, coppicing, even if on an industrial scale, seems to be a step in the right direction, hope they harvest it in winter? And a man could grow just enough for his own stove, coppiced on the old rotation system, might even generate interest in hurdles and other products, there's quite a demand for organic charcoal for barbeques. And stick-making is an art here, there's competitions for it at most Cumbrian shows, as well as the shepherds crooks made with the rams horns. Basket-weaving's another coppice craft, and there seems to be a market for the hand-crafted ones again, especially now the superstores are charging for plastic bags (witches knickers as you know them). I used to have a big log basket, picked it up from the tide-line, needed a little tlc then it lasted years, could be still in use even.

    The paperboard mill is Swedish-owned, they seem to have European dominance of forestry products. Even the bark, which used to be an embarrassment to dispose of, is now ground down and used as a base for potting compost and as a mulch, all good green enterprise.

  6. I was thinking of the band: Jethro Tull song 'Heavy Horses' when I wrote about the horses of yester year. The real Jethro Tull invented the seed drill didn't he?

    I get sentimental about the small tractors. Harry Ferguson's three point linkage and his little grey Fergie are agricultural icons. Not so keen on todays monster tractors. Wonder if anybody will get all dewy eyed about them in years to come. I believe people used to call the steam trains for all their pollution. Some people like diesel trains. Everything changes, be it car models, house interiors or even clothes.

    I have seen a few of the dying rural arts at shows. Willow makers, stick making, dry stone wallers and using a branch to turn spindles for rustic chairs.

    A lot of the supermarkets are in the news for so much of their fruit and vegetables getting dumped in land fill. I can't understand why so much is wrapped in plastic bags. The plastic will take hundreds of years too rot down, if at all. Why can't we go back to string and paper bags?

    See Britain is going a head with it's nuclear plants whilst Germany is closing them all down for good. The EEC bans the cutting of turf yet it allows nuclear plants- crazy!

    The Scandinavians seem to be the most peaceful and eco friendly people on Earth.


  7. As far as I know, the original Jethro Tull invented the turnip seed drill, but I've never seen one, unless your model is it.
    And I think the band just heard the name, thought it sounded good as a name for their group, and adopted it.

    So many of the old country crafts seem to be lost, or only just kept alive by a few enthusiasts, making purse nets for ferreting rabbits is one, I haven't seen one for years, and don't know of anybody who still makes them, that's if they're still allowed.

    I don't understand the fascination with plastic bags either, it's not as if they give protection to delicate fruits, just another un-necessary layer of wrapping; and I shudder to think how many milk cartons and pop bottles get consigned to land-fill daily.

    Nuclear power is a sore point in West Cumbria, with Sellafield on our doorstep, the nuclear dustbin of the world it's known as.

  8. I read recently if the Romans had nuclear power stations. They still would be radioactive today. There is no way that you can decommission a nuclear power station. Also they use sea water to cool the rods. This then goes back into the Irish sea/ St Georges channel.

    There is also the terrorist threat of a nuclear power station being attacked or even blown up. It also means Britain's signed itself up to very expensive fuel bills.

    Plastic can easily be made biodegradeable. Never understand why organic vegetables come packed in plastic bags. You pay by the weight for your dustbin to be emptied here in Ireland. This means you pay for the packaging at the supermarket and then you pay to dump it in a land-fill site.

    My Turnips seed sower is relatively modern. I think it's from around the nineteen thirties or forties. Jethro Tull's would be probably made from wood.


  9. Yes, the original plant in West Cumbria was at known as Calder Hall, operated by United Kingdom Atomic Energy Ltd.. It was opened by the queen in 1957, she passed through Workington on her way back, I would be 6 at the time, us kids were given little Union Jack flags on sticks to wave along the route as she passed, in a big black car, no traffic hold-ups then.
    I believe the plant reached the end of its working life a good few years ago, and they still don't know how to de-commission it. I understand they're trying to dismantle the whole thing, but it's winning, it's just so contaminated they can't do a lot with it.
    I'm told it degrades slowly in a half-life manner, never completely disappearing, but they don't know what the half-life of it is, could be 1,000 years, as you say the Roman times contamination would be with us today.
    Sellafield, operated by British Nuclear Fuels, I don't understand exactly what happens there (some of them who work there probably don't either) except that it takes spent nuclear rods (plutonium I think) from world-wide, and either refreshes then for re-use or tries to dispose of them. They also generate a vast amount of contaminated waste themselves, some of it what they class as "low-level", whatever that means, but it all gets stored on their site in different ways. Eventually I suppose they'll run out of storage room and then somebody gets a massive headache figuring out what to do with it. As long as it's not me seems to be their attitude.

    Sad thing about the whole industry is that nobody knows much about it, the effects of Chernobyl are still making themselves known, at that's what the Russians allow us to find out about.
    So any major incident at Sellafield could have horrific and far-reaching effects, and not just on West Cumbria. I know they say they have a safety record second to none, and I don't doubt it, but the one in Japan that was damaged by an earthquake probably had as well.

    Anyway, suppose you're planning a turnip field for next year? Be a shame not to put the device to good use.

    Back in circulation yesterday, arrived home about 1800, Raggy came to Mrs first call, seemed pleased to see her, it fell asleep on her knee in front of the fire.
    Sunny morning here, blue sky but cool, autumn's arrived, more leaves on the ground than left on the trees, saw a robin on my walk this morning, and a few blackbirds digging among piles of leaves, they're all quite tame, let me within 8' before moving, and not very far either.

  10. Totally agree with you Cumbrian. Nuclear energy is a nightmare for future generations. I even read in the Irish media that some environmentalists over here are saying that nuclear is the only option. Especially with Ireland importing expensive fossil fuels from around the world.

    The sad thing about fossil fuels in England. Is that there is at least 200 years of coal left underground. Surely it would be more effective to use this first before going down the nuclear road?

    Hoping to grow fodder beet/swede next year. The device is very thin with rust. I was reading the other day that the rust that effects Leeks is the same rust that attacks metal. I don't suppose they suffer from rust in the warmer countries.

    Britain's supposed to be getting it's worst storm for 26 years on Sounday night. I think it's mainly southern England. We get some terrible gales here. I often wish we had a cellar or shelter to go in when its stormy.

    How was your break? Was it warm? We have to light the fire/range early now. At least it's constant heat unlike most central heating that comes on and off.


  11. Just an up-date on the bio plant, it uses 60 tons of wood pellets per hour. Wonder how long it'll take them to denude the whole of Scotland, or if they can keep the supply going with renewable, they'll need some acreage.

  12. She sounds "a mighty yolk", Cumbrian. That's a West Cork expression for most things mechanical. Could do with them thinning some of the trees along some of the roads. Leaves must cost a fortune in blocked drains and for them to be collected.

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Tightwad Leaky Wellington Boots Temporary Fix.

  My wellingtons have started letting water in the toe. But I am not going to throw them away just yet.  Oh no. I took a plastic pedal bin l...