La Fin De La Traction Animale Translates As The End Of Animal Traction. It’s a French Video About The Demise Of Ploughing And Other Tasks Performed By Farm Animals. Romantically Nostalgic In Some Senses It Is a Re-enactment That Hides A Brutal Way Of Life That Was Not Yet Only a Memory When I Was Born.
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In the recesses of my mind I recall going with my grandfather and seeing horses pulling carts, that were being loaded with hay, in the hay fields near his home. The would have been the late 50s, and was even then a rarity, as tractors had largely taken over between the first and second world wars.
The romantic notion of Marie Antoinette as a shepherdess, or farm labours enjoying life toiling on farms, is nothing more than a myth. Farm work consisted of unrelentingly long hours, hard labour; working in wind, rain and extreme cold; with no health and safety to speak of. It was one of the most dangerous occupations matched only by mining and working fishing boats.
As a young man I enjoyed ploughing with tractors. It is an experience that’s is hard to describe when the furrow is straight and the gulls (and occasional bird of prey) descend behind the plough. But when you’ve spent a week in heavy rain, in winter, ploughing steep land in Devon, without the benefit of a tractor cab, the romance of it all recedes. The only warmth was the heat from the gearbox you straddled. Sacks across shoulders and knees kept some of the rain off, but not nearly enough. In those days there were no heated cabs, stereo systems and on-board computers.
So though this isn’t pure gardening, it is a similar to the way gardening changed in the big houses and gardens between at the wars. Life changed at a speed unknown before. People left the farms and work as farm labourers. With it many lost the understanding and experience they had of farming and gardening.
Learning the old ways, then merging that with research and technology, is the way forward today for gardeners and farmers.
Ox & Horse Power Nostalgia
Imagine how it was when ox were the motive power in the mountainous areas of the Dordogne and Lot?
Life was tough. It wasn’t a rural idyll. Certainly not the one shown in the video below.
But the video is one I love. Despite knowing the truth it brought back many memories from the buried recesses of my mind. And recent events sometimes trigger them same memories, because some of them are still reality.
For example someone on Facebook recently asked what a strange tool was used for. It looked like a long-handled fork where the tines were bent at 90 degrees to the handle. Clearly it couldn’t be used for digging .. but what was it used for?
The video reveals the answer. Though hard to see there is one being used to pull animal manure out of the back of a cart in one of the field scenes. The tool is a muck or dung fork and it usually has 4-5 prongs.
Another fork is also seen in the video. It’s a hay or pitch fork. These are usually two pronged. It’s used to move loose hay or sheaves of corn. I used to use one to move bales of hay in the hay fields. The art was to spear the heavy bale, swing it in an arc and get it above your head so it could be pushed high up on the trailer being loaded. At the same time you tried to avoid the debris that fell into your eyes and hair. It’s why many farmworkers wore a flat cap or other hat (one day I must write an article on the different hats worn on farms 🙂 )
In recent years I have spent many weeks in the beautiful landscapes. seen in the video. I’ve stayed on farms high in the Aubrac, explored those farms and the farming methods employed. Many are little changed except modern machinery has been introduced. The cattle are still the Blonde d’Aqitaine and Aubrac breeds. Today the Blonde d’Aqitaine are a beef breed, but started life as a draught animal, having been crossed with the Blonde de Quercy, Blonde des Pyrénées and Garrondaise breeds. Even some of these are previous crosses with older breeds.
Video Content: La Fin De La Traction Animale
Being made in France the language is of course French! And so are the subtitles. I’ve tried to translate what was said, though my skills are very limited. But hopefully, though I’ve written it from an English perspective, and added some explanations in brackets), the essence of the video comes through.
The music evokes a story of its own, but you have to listen to it to enjoy this aspect of the video.
If any of my French friends wants to correct my translation I’d be delighted to hear from them.
English Language Transcript
Our story takes place at the end of the 40s in the country of bastides (country houses) in the hilly land that undulates between the Dordogne to the north and the Lot region further south. It was a calm and limpid life lived according to the season’s generosity. The scenery has not changed much over the centuries on these family farms that pass from father to son. They worked hard, helped each other and hardly travelled beyond the surrounding villages.
Agricultural tools improved slowly, but perhaps a little faster in this post-war period. But it was still the pace of the cows that punctuated the work of men. Because in this region we have always entrusted the work of fields to cows and to the progress of the tough and docile Blondes d’Aquitaine ( a local breed of cattle now seen as beef animals in the UK). Though sometimes neighbouring farmers descended the Cantal mountains to show off their cattle’s beautiful brown colouring and their majestic horns.
Animals trained for work are able to provide up to 8 hours of intense effort (in short bursts).
So we are almost in 1950 and armies of tractors are about to invade the area. They appear in nearby regions with many questions and doubts but they will impose themselves and take, in a few years, all the work of beasts and be the end animal traction. It’s a major shift in the activities of the peasant world and all in just a few years.
Sixty years later a team of farmers, owning cows, set up a site of still operable old tools and half-opened the gates of remembrance to make us relive that time when the cows were still workmates. Therefore, as if the most natural thing in the world, they have hitched their animals to carts and to the famous ploughs. And they have gone back to the fields to reenact those harsh days when we got together because it needed a lot of arms (labour). Though these days that looks like a holiday!
She (the video?) tells how much of this is in the past. Even if one has the feeling of living today, in another world this look is also a question about how working the land has lost conviviality and solidarity.
Traditional Farming In England – 2023
Having seen the corn in sheaves and stooks in the video it’s interesting that just a few hundreds yards from me today are stooks of corn stood in the field. Harvested with a binder made in the1930s it is used for thatching ridges on modern day thatched cottages in Devon. See the image above.
Enjoy the nostalgia.
Tag: La Fin De La Traction Animale
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