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Articles > Beith Reflections > Farmers Thoughts

Farmers Thoughts

Published by Richard on 2007/6/8 (892 reads)
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John McKechnie was born on 14 March 1925 in Greenock, a town of shipbuilding, sugar refining and heavy industry. From an early age, John had one objective in life - to become a farmer. As John it was was not unusual for town boys to choose this as a job, whereas now it is much more difficult, as the tie between country and town life was much closer in byegone days.

I left school at the beginning of the school holidays at the end of June at eleven o'clock in the morning and started work at the farm at one o'clock and have been working continuously there ever since. It was a typical upland family farm similar to Boydstone. The workforce was the farmer, his wife, myself and a girl servant who doubled as dairy maid. Hand milking was the order of the day and outside it was all horse work. Milking machines were in their very early stages of development and farmers were slow to take them up.

Until greater mechanisation came in and tractors were common place, farming was really a form of drudgery. When I started I got 7/6d a week including my keep, staying on the farm, where I worked from five in the morning until six at night. I earned another 2/6d a week, bringing my wage up to what would today be 50p a week, by bringing in the coal and wood for the fires and boiler which heated the house and dairy.

It was more than work getting up at four o'clock in the morning seven days a week, but I enjoyed it. Back in the 1920's and 1930's agriculture was in the doldrums and with an Empire and Commonwealth, Britain imported a great deal of its food. Cheap grain flooded in from the Canadian Prairies, United States and even countries like Rumania and Hungary. Lamb, cheese, butter and the likes were also imported. Milk, being perishable, could not be imported at that time.

With unemployment and poverty, large towns and cities were beset by rickets, so the authorities were pushing for milk to make up for the lack of calcium in folks' diets. I remember, that if everyone helped at the milking, fifteen or twenty cows could be milked in an hour. Even the children would sometimes help by milking the quieter cows. The milk was cooled by placing the milk cans in cold water, or if there were forty to fifty gallons, running the milk through a cooler. This was a radiator like device through which cold water flowed and the milk flowed over the veins into the can below. It was then carted to the local station to meet the six o'clock train.

The late Mr Holmes, who farmed East Netherhouses down below Boydstone, often talked of the six o'clock deadline at Lochwinnoch Station. If you missed the train you were left with the milk which in those days wouldnae keep for long, not having been properly cooled. There were creameries at Lugton, Dunlop, Stewarton and Kilmaurs which were farmer-owned. The milk would be taken there by horse and cart and would be properly cooled, after which it was sold on to City Dairies, usually being moved there by train to the creamery. The farmer was getting around four and a halfpenny a gallon from the creamery for milk.

Milking was like this up until 1933 when the MKilk Marketing Board was formed, although the milk coolers were used until the 1960's when bulk tankers came into being.

As a young man in the 1920's, my late neighbour Jimmy Holmes often told me about when he walked beasts to the Storie Street Market in Paisley. He would be up at five in the morning and go as far as the Lochwinnoch Roadhead and perhaps meet up with Parker of the Hall or the farmer from Auchengowan comin' doon the road wi' some beasts. They would gang the gither; and walk up as far as Howwood and ithers wi' stock would join them. By the time they got to Paisley there would be anything up to thirty beasts with maybe 20 men driving them. That is a distance of about 11 miles and the men would return to Lochwinnoch by train.

Most of the horses which we used were bought at horse sales, for most markets did them. Ayr market had a big horse sale once a year and Glasgow had one every week. For between Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock there were thousands of horses. The small farmer could buy horses fairly cheaply in Glasgow from the Railway Companies or heavy haulage firms, if the horses were maybe getting on a bit. They could be used on the farm where life was a bit easier and the ground softer. The horses started disappearing fast at the outbreak of the war, although it was 1956 before we got our first tractor at Over Hessilhead, so we had been working with horses right up until then.

Like a lot of small towns, Beith did have its own slaughter house.. It was located down in Mains Road where there is now a small scrap yard. Butchers then would buy live at the market and have them delivered to Beith by train. The beasts were driven up King's Road from Beith North Station often ending up in the closes at Janefield Place or Viewpark, then down Mains Road for slaughtering.

Turnips were grown a lot then for winter feed for the beasts and thinning turnips was one of the worst jobs, for it had to be done crawling along on your hands and knees removing weeds and turnips to leave a healthy plant every 12 - 14 inches in rows 28 inches apart.

Strangely enough, every spring tramps would appear as if out of nowhere to earn a few shillings and their keep for working at the thinning. It was reckoned it would take a man 24 hours to do an acre so it was a time consuming job. These men, some would be alcoholics and some would be well educated, for you knew when you spoke to them, had opted out of society and travelled the country sleeping in barns and hay sheds.

I well remember one chap who would be working away, then suddenly he would burst into tears and would be crawling along crying his eyes out. Another would stop every so often., shake and rub his head complaining about the noises. Of course, there were none. I was just a boy and with the cruelty of youth indicated to the others that these characters were just daft. With hindsight I now know that they were shell shocked having survived the horrors of the First World War.
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