A Little Look Back...
This is the second page republishing a series of articles written by local farmer Derek Little ( note the lovely play on words in the title!) for The Stillington News. Derek farmed at Ravensdale Farm near Stillington and has now retired.
Our thanks to Derek for allowing us to copy these very interesting retrospectives on 20th Century farming.
July is the time to make good quality hay with the long, hot days and very little dew in the mornings. In recent years as the weather has become less reliable, the crops have changed from meadow to heavy yielding Italian Rye Grasses, which are less reliant on the weather. (We haven’t time to wait!)
Going back in time, when the grass cutting was done by horse and cutter, small areas were cut at a time and left to dry: then the grass was turned by hand. All the family turned out for the job. When the hay was dry and then swept by horse draw sweeps (a set of wooden tines) that went under the haycock (or piles) and taken off to the farmyard to be stacked loose in the yard and thatched or forked up into lofts of the cow sheds ready for the long, cold Winter days.
The hay in stacks was cut by hand with hay spades. With early cutting - a small area at a time - haytime lasted for several weeks. Hay turning machines (horse drawn) became available in the 30s and 40s.
In the late 40s and early 50s things began to change: tractors did the grass cutting and the first baling machines came on the market. In 1951 I remember sweeping hay (with a tractor) to a baler. It was a Jones Wire baler where you shoved a needle and fed wire through and back, then tied the wire off. These bales were heavy: it took two men to lift one onto a trailer.
As we entered the 60s pickup balers were seen on the farms: these made light work of hay time. Larger areas could be cut at a time and sadly the old meadow pastures disappeared in favour of higher yielding grasses.
Today hay is baled mainly into large, round bales (haylage) which consists of almost dry grass with no dust in it. Ideal for horse feed.
If we look back and try to compare the tractors of today with the early models of the 20s and 30s the advances over the years have been great and the man who started it all was probably...
Up to about 1940 tractors couldn’t totally replace the horse - they did a similar job, pulling heavy loads but not much more, until engineer Harry Ferguson turned his mind to the task
Harry first teamed up with David Brown Tractors of Huddersfield. They produced a joint model in 1938, but poor sales due to the price of the tractor and a depressed economy led to a parting of the ways.
Harry went to Ford’s Tractor Group, who saw the potential in his designs, and they in turn brought out their Ford-Ferguson. It was at this time that he perfected a hydraulic ram which could lift a plough up into the air and lower it onto the ground - and also transfer the weight onto the rear wheels to stop wheel spin. Ferguson’s invention was simple - he found a way to put oil under pressure.
Ford were not suitably impressed so he joined the car company called Standard Motors. This was the start of a great future for the Little Grey Fergie. Over the next ten or fifteen years many hundreds of these tractors were sold at home and abroad.
First came a petrol model with the basic hydraulic single or two furrow plough. Next came the TVO model followed by the diesel TE20. Soon a full range of machines could be fitted to the hydraulic arms - drills, side hoes, hay equipment, harrows and cultivators.
The Ferguson system, as it was known, was eventually taken over by the Massey-Harris Company. By this time all the patents had run out and all machinery companies were producing their own hydraulic equipment.
It is sixty years since World War II started. Do you remember what happened to agriculture in those days?
Here are my thoughts, as I remember them.
Firstly the government set up the ‘War Ag’ as it became known. A local farmer was appointed by the ministry of Agriculture to visit every farm in his area and instruct the farmer to plough out pastures to grow corn and potatoes in an effort to make Britain more self sufficient in food: making sure we had enough food for troops and all those who worked in factories producing armaments etc.
The person appointed for Stillington was the Late F. Brooks, and for Sutton on the Forest - M. D . Knowlson. This was not an easy job, to go onto farms and tell farmers they had to plough up certain fields. Their popularity would soon decline!
For instance M. D. Knowlson insisted the park at Sutton Hall be ploughed up. Fancy telling the owner of ‘The Hall’ to plough the parkland out! At this time a lot of pasture land was put under the plough.
Next, to help the farmer with all the extra work, remembering the young men had been called up leaving the farms short of labour, the government set up Agricultural Contractors in each area all around the country. I believe one was based in Easingwold near the Fire Station. Their job was to go onto farms at critical times, to plough and sow.
Further help came in the form of the Women’s Land Army. This brought girls onto farms to help out. Many had never been on a farm before and had to be taught the basic jobs around the farm.
The news of a sighting of a big cat in North Yorkshire, as reported recently in the Evening Press, reminded me of our cowman’s experiences in November 1994 and 1995.
As we take a look back over the years, remembering we are after all meant to be a nation of animal lovers,(having a favourite pet we walk every day or cat that walks in and out as she pleases), let’s look back at things we have done that we might regret.
The shooting of birds of prey until they were almost extinct; myxomatosis brought over from Australia which has been with us for 40 years now and still shows no sign of receding; the release of mink into the wild with all its devastating consequences as they kill everything they see including small mammals and poultry.
The release of large cats into the countryside: they haven’t harmed anyone yet as there are plenty of wild animals to provide them with food. There have been many sightings up and down the country, but surprisingly none have been shot.
In November '94 our cowman went out as usual at 5:45 am to fetch the cows for milking - the dog went with him as normal, she was looking for the cows way ahead of Mark following the hedgerow. All of a sudden there was a blood-curdling bellow from the undergrowth 25 yards in front of Mark. The dog shot past him, heading for home, her tail between her legs, whimpering as if in fear.
Mark was frozen on the spot, couldn’t move, the hair stood up on the back of his neck. In the half light he saw something moving towards him: suddenly it stopped within 15 yards and turned, slowly retreating to where it had come. In the half light it appeared larger than a good sized dog with a wide head and a cream or light coloured coat, and it moved like a cat.
The following November, this time at 4pm, the cows were already in the shed waiting to be milked when suddenly they went silly. They started milling around and then galloped up and down the building, falling over each other. Mark went to investigate why they were behaving so strangely. He went outside and saw a big cat lying down on the bank side of the field, not twenty yards from the buildings - a large, cream coloured cat with black around the edges of its ears and a black circle around its tail.
The animal just looked at him and watched as Mark came closer. When it decided Mark was close enough it got up and moved off at a slow pace. Next day it was sighted some miles to the north.
These cats are able to travel great distances, enabling them to move from one area to another quite easily. The recent sighting was of a black one, so there is more than one in this region.
We have looked back over the century and seen the progression in agriculture, changes in cattle breeding, improved cropping, the introduction of machinery and regulations - all for the benefit of the farmer and consumer.
What has the farmer’s wife gained in all this?
In the first half of the century the baking and washing took up most of her time. Remember the ‘side oven’ where bread and scones were baked every day? She was expected to feed extra men at threshing, hay time and harvest. It wasn’t until the 1960s that they provided their own or went home to eat.
Washing was done by a poss tub - next came hand machines which worked by turning a handle one way and then the other. When electricity arrived it must have been a Godsend!
Her other jobs included: pack-up for the children; feeding the dogs, cats, geese, possibly calves and maybe pigs; cleaning the dairy after milking and keeping the house fires burning.
The farmer’s wife’s workload has moved forward too. Her jobs around the farm have changed but there is still plenty to do.
So, if there are any young ladies out there engaged to a farmer, or just hoping to marry one please note the...
Ten Commandments for a Farmer’s Wife:
You cannot sort out cattle with your hands in your pockets!
You shall cook meals which will be served either 30 minutes early, or 2 hours late.
You shall learn to keep farm records.
You shall love the smell of new mown hay, freshly ploughed earth, sweet smelling silage and the stinging sensation of ammonia in a chicken shed.
You shall be long abroad to see the sun rise and relieved to see it set!
You shall learn to open gates, close gates and guard gates.
You shall thrill at the birth of a new calf and the sight of a bright new tractor.
You shall remember that a new grain auger is more important than a dishwasher.
You shall cherish meals together, with long nights waiting for the vet and discussions about ploughing the winter wheat.
You shall be exalted at the brotherly hand on your shoulder, the tender kiss on your forehead and these three precious words... ‘Thanks for helping.’