VII. GRASS AND OTHER FORAGE
Grass in the traditional culture
There was a greater balance between the species and number of livestock at each farmstead and the pastureland available in the traditional agrarian society. In other words, there was a better balance of what is now known as the stocking density. And even though nearly all domesticated animals ate grass as they were herbivore, special mention should be made of the role of cows and sheep as they were greater in number.
Even though it is not as marked as on the Mediterranean side of the watershed, the seasonal nature of the weather of the locations along the Cantabrian Coast does limit the growing cycle of the pastureland.
Grass grows most in spring and in early summer, meaning that the production of the meadows exceeds the amount eaten by the livestock of the farmstead, either when grazing or after the grass has been cut and taken to the manger. That surplus is stored to be fed to the animals at the time of year when the grass barely grows or the growth is very limited, which is always at the end of autumn and in winter, particularly if the weather is poor, and to a lesser extent in summer when there is an intense and prolonged drought.
Until the new silage technique was introduced at the end of the 1960s, the only way to store that surplus was by making hay, capitalising on the fact that the maximum growth coincided with the period with the most hours of sunlight. In those days, furthermore, the grass was mown once it had ripened. The drying work therefore started in June and, particularly, in July, a very warm month, with little rainfall to jeopardize the drying process and hardly any dew at night.
The work to gather the dry grass went on for much longer in the past, coinciding with the time when the dairy livestock would see an increase in herd size. The work days were exhausting, as the labourers often had to work for long hours and because many of the tasks had to be carried out in the sun.
Therefore, rainy days were a relief, despite the possible damage to the hay that was drying in the fields. It was also important to have enough people on the farmstead and receive help particularly from relatives who had moved to live in the city and who took advantage of the summer holidays to “lend a hand” to their family.
Changes in the 1960s
At the end of this decade, the land consolidation processes meant that the considerable fragmentation to be found on private properties and which was a drawback, could be reorganised into larger plots. It should be noted that livestock specialisation was starting. This led to a progressive exodus from farming and the small surface area of the fields within the inherited land made them difficult to manage from the new parameters.
The consolidation not only managed to increase the surface area of the plots, but also new roadways were opened up that were wide enough to access all the land. This all make it easier to introduce machinery, specifically, tractors with trailers, which quickly ousted the traditional wagons drawn by pairs of draught animals.
Yet the most innovative change was the arrival of silage, a new way of storing the grass. It involved storing the green grass, thus maintaining many of its qualities and not requiring warm sun to dry it. This was an important advantage, given the local climate.
The involvement of local priests was decisive in the implementation of some of the aforementioned changes, such as the land consolidation and silage, along with another that was fundamental for the growth of livestock in Carranza: the setting up of feed cooperatives. The priests worked on convincing the locals by means of meetings that they held in the vestries of the many parish churches of the Carranza Valley.