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

Norway is a land of water, with almost 1 million lakes and ponds of all sizes. Join us in exploring the 5 largest of her lakes, and some more Norway facts.
The Norwegian landscape is wild and beautiful. And it is a lot more than just fjords and mountains.
In the year AD 1537, King Christian 3 of Denmark-Norway embraced the Lutheran Reformation, and the Norwegians went from being Catholics to Protestants. The king confiscated the Catholic Church’s considerable wealth, a welcomed addition to the royal coffers. Norway more or less ceased to exist as a sovereign state and became a province under Denmark.
Ljå is a Norwegian noun that means a scythe - an old agricultural cutting-tool used when mowing the grass to make hay, or when harvesting the grain crops.
The oldest wooden buildings in Norway are almost 1000 years old - like Urnes stave church in Luster. How come these buildings do not rot away and disappear?
What beautiful needlework. A bonnet from the collections of Slottsfjellsmuseet - in the city of Tønsberg.
Skigard is a Norwegian noun that means wooden fence. It is made of split tree trunks, using simple tools. Fence making and mending was a task for early summer.
In this video-collection of historical photos, we visit the west coast of Norway and the region of Sogn og Fjordane. We recommend that you watch with the sound on. Enjoy!
Bondegård is a Norwegian noun that means farm. In informal speech and in many dialects, people only use the single word gård or gard.
When humankind first appeared in the Norwegian landscape – sometime after the last ice age – the search for food was their primary motivation.
In Norway, the first traces of iron date back to 400-300 BC. The country has significant iron resources, and making tools and weapons from this new metal was a significant step forward.
Norway's mainland coastline, with its many fjords and islands, is the second longest in the world - next only to Canada. Here are some more facts for you.
Like all buildings on the old Norwegian farm, the stabbur had a clear purpose: it was a building designed for the storage of food.
In the old Norwegian farming society, a husmann was a man who was allowed to build his home on a small section of a farm’s land, and pay with his labour instead of rent.
Watch some lovely vintage photos of mankinds's many good friends.
The wild ocean world of Værøy in Lofoten, Norway, was the birthplace of Mimmi Benjaminsen – born in 1894. Here are some of her childhood memories.
For more than a thousand years, Norwegian farmers sent their livestock to feed in the forests and the mountains. Today, this way of life has almost disappeared.
In a cold country like Norway, warm clothing is essential. This is a refined and old version of a woollen sweater from the district of Setesdal.
Here are 12 historical photos representing the fascinating Sami culture - with deep roots in the Norwegian and Nordic landscape.
In olden Norway, the farm-animals were sent off to the mountains and forests all summer. With them came a herder to guard them, and a maid to turn their milk into cheese and butter.
In 1942, Hans Hyldbakk wrote the history of the local cotter's holdings in Surnadal, Nordmøre, Norway. The book was updated in 1966.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history