Haymaking | 10 July – let the haymaking begin | Norway

10 July is the feast day of Saint Knut - Knutsok - and marks the beginning of the haymaking season - høyonna - in the old Norwegian farming calendar.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
Haymaking in Geiranger, Møre og Romsdal, Norway in 1926. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - DEXTRA Photo cc by.
Haymaking in Geiranger, Møre og Romsdal, Norway in 1926. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - DEXTRA Photo cc by.

Focussed on animal husbandry

The historical farming in Norway was very much based on the keeping of livestock, for two reasons in particular:

  1. Only 3% of Norway is cultivated land.
  2. Norway has a cold climate and therefore a short growing season.

Utilising the mountains and the forests

With limited availability of land to cultivate, the historical Norwegian farmers made the most out of the 80% of mountain and forest land, and the rich grass and herb resources there.

The animals needed feeding indoors all winter

The animals stayed indoors throughout the winter, in some places for up to 8 months. To be able to feed them, the farmer had to harvest and store large quantities of fodder during the summer and early autumn.

Hay was the main type of animal fodder

Historically, hay was the main type of fodder. The grass was cut and dried, often in natural or man-created meadows located far away from the home farm, in the surrounding mountains and forests.

The annual haymaking period has a name

Høyonna is what the Norwegian farmers call the haymaking season. It was all hands on deck: men, women, and youngsters. Often, hired hands were called in to help.

Høyonna – pronunciation

Høyonna

Høyonna started at Knutsok

According to the old calendar stick – and later the almanacs – the haymaking season started on 10 July, on the feast day of Saint Knut – Knutsok. But it was the weather conditions and the growth that dictated the start-up time.

Best to cut the grass when it is wet

It is said that the best time to cut the grass using a scythe – a ljå – is early in the morning, when the grass is still moist with dew. The sharp scythe-blade bites better on the wet grass.

Drying grass on a haydrying rack

Depending on the weather conditions, the grass was either dried on the ground, or placed off the ground on what the Norwegians call a hesje – a haydrying rack. The hesje looks like a fence, with posts and several levels of connecting boards or wire.

The hesje was a safer option

Using the hesje was the safest option in unpredictable weather. The cut grass was tossed and layered evenly onto every level of the hayrack, away from any damp on the ground, allowing air to flow through to speed up the drying process. The top layer – vasstaket – was thinner and denser, aimed at stopping any rain from getting inside the hay and rather run down on the outside.

The hay was mainly stored in haybarns

The hay was usually stored in haybarns, either on the home farm or in smallish buildings placed next to the outfield-meadows. The latter was often brought home using a horse and sleigh in the winter. The Norwegian words for barn are låve or løe.

Did the Norwegians use haystacks?

Sometimes the Norwegian farmers used outdoor haystacks, or left the hay hanging on the hesje. But this left the precious fodder exposed to bad weather, wild animals, and the loss of nutritional value.

Sometimes there was a second harvest

In the parts of the country with more favourable growing conditions, there was also a second round of grass harvesting. More was always better than less, to avoid seeing the farm-animals starve in the spring.

Who was Saint Knut?

Knut – or Canute in English – was the Danish King Knud IV. He was killed on 10 July 1086 during an uprising, and later canonised by the Catholic church. Just like Norway’s own Saint Olav.

Left the Catholic Church

The Norwegians abandoned the Catholic Church in 1536, when they joined the Protestant movement. But the old Catholic feast days remained in people’s consciousness, and in the all-important calendar sticks – and later almanacs – who guided them through the year.

What does Knutsok mean?

Knutsok is derived from a combination of two words: Knut + vake = Knutsok = Knut + wake = Knut’s wake.

Our most recent posts

My Norwegian heritage

When the industrial revolution brought machinery to the Norwegian farms, it didn't just change the old working methods, it also changed the layout and look of the farmland.
Here are 12 historical photos representing the fascinating Sami culture - with deep roots in the Norwegian and Nordic landscape.
Some vintage photos - and more to come.
The Norwegians rarely allow alien species into their fauna. With one notable exception, the muskox - first welcomed in from Greenland in 1924.
With Christmas comes the turning of the sun, and the promise of a new year. Enjoy these traditional and vintage Norwegian Christmas cards - 24 in all.
The spinning wheel was a lifelong companion for most women in the old Norwegian farming society. Enjoy this video-collection of wonderful vintage photographs.
In Scandinavia, agriculture first appeared in the Stone age – around 2400 BC. The early farmers cleared their land by using simple tools and fire.
After the Black Death, it took the Norwegian communities centuries to recover. And soon, the country also lost its independence.
With the High middle ages came expansion and progress. But everything was about to change, in the most brutal way imaginable.
Uff da! is a Norwegian interjection, often used to express sympathy. For example when a child falls over: Uff da! Slo du deg? - meaning Poor you! Did you hurt yourself?
1769 was the year of the first complete Norwegian census. Today, Norway has a population of more than 5 million, in 1769 the number was 723,618.
After a troubled ten-year courtship, the current King Harald V of Norway finally got to marry his Miss Sonja Haraldsen on the 29th of August 1968.
To make sure he could tide the animals over the long and cold winter, the historical Norwegian farmer utilised all available resources.
The horse no longer roams wild in the Norwegian landscape. But it still has an important place in the Norwegian psyche.
After the end of World War 2, the Norwegians all took part in lifting their country well and truly into the 20th century.
Skårfast is a Norwegian adjective that means that a person or an animal is stuck on a steep mountain- or cliff-side shelf, and in need of being rescued.
In 1935, Aslaug Engnæs published a guidance book on how to milk the cow.
In the coastal districts of the old Norway, a strandsitter was a beach dweller - who rented a small piece of land - but owned the house he built on it. His livelihood was usually connected to the sea.
Are you hailing from Sykkylven in Møre og Romsdal, Norway? Well, then you might be related to the great film and television icon that was James Arness.
Kantslått is a Norwegian noun that means (1) the grass that is cut along the edges of a field, a road, etc. or (2) the actual process of cutting this grass. Traditionally, the grass was used as animal fodder.
The rose painted chests of Norway - a treasure that will live for centuries to come.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history