Farming: the sound of the ground, pinging wool, and noise

Farming: the sound of the ground, pinging wool, and noise

It is almost spring (really!), and that means many people are thinking about soil and seeds and such. Remember back to my posts about Mark Smith and his work on the social roles of sound in society? Well, today we will learn how farmers in the ‘olden days’ used their ears to make decisions about their farms.

tudor farmers1

                                             tudor farmers2My wife discovered a wonderful series of BBC videos about life on a Tudor farm. As she watched, she noticed that every once in awhile they made interesting references to sound, and so she forwarded the videos on to me. There are 4 video snippets that I want to talk about. The first one is this one. Starting at about 25:05 you can hear them reading from a Tudor-era husbandry book, which gives instructions for deciding when to plant peas. What it says is very interesting. Listen carefully. It reflects a very different sensibility than our approach to farming now.

Then there is this video, where the discussion is about the qualities of wool. The farmers take their wool to the local monastery. Starting at about 31:00 you will hear what the monks have to say about identifying the quality of the wool. Again, listen carefully. (It is interesting to note that the monastery itself would have been ‘ruled’ by sound too – by the ringing of bells. Bells were used to call the monks to prayer, and to all daily activities. You can watch part of another of these Tudor videos here to hear more about the role of the bells in a monastery. And here you can read an article by Alain Corbin about the role of bells in establishing territory in Europe.)

There are other ways in which sound played a role at a Tudor farm. In this video, at 4:40, the farmers talk about dealing with birds that eat produce by setting up ‘bird-scarers’; and in the same video, at 6:30, you can find out how to tell when your dairy product has become butter.

It is interesting to hear about how sound played a key role in farming 600 years ago. But if we jump to farming in our own time, there is a different sound issue on farms – and that is the noise farmers have to deal with on their farms. Tractors, combines, trucks, livestock – all are having negative impacts on the hearing of farmers.

farmernowAccording to this article, “An estimated one-third of the nation’s three million farmers [USA] have some level of hearing loss caused by their inner ears’ daily bombardment from sounds that can rival a rock concert’s sonic impact.” (One example of livestock noise from the article: “a squealing hog, for example, can be as loud as a running snowmobile.” Imagine walking into a barn full of hogs?)

farmnoise       (NOTE: There is a typo in the OSHA list above; see “pig squeal” line)

And here the US government rules re: noise exposure for workers:

osha list Farm_Noisy_F_Roll_t607

So – sound and farming. We have gone from Tudor days (and probably before) when listening to the farm itself gave you important information required for your survival, to today where farmers are losing their hearing, and thus their ability to ‘hear’ the land. If you are a farmer, wear ear protection!




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