Finally, in 2012 as part of our Diamond Jubilee Exhibition, Liz Prince made a comparative study of Moreton’s farmers based on her own and other people’s experiences of living and working on local farms during the 60 years since the present Queen came to the throne. Here are her comments.
Pattern of Farms in 1952:
There were over 50 farms and smallholdings; half owner-occupied and half tenanted. Nearly all farms were centred round the farmhouse and barns: the farmer’s land was all around him. The farmyard would be alive with poultry, animals, working people, farm dogs, and the ever-present dung heap.
Now: In the last 30 years a much more scattered pattern has developed. Land has been sold off separately from the farmhouse and many old barns converted to dwellings. Acreage has increased and the number of farms decreased. Small holdings have almost all gone – absorbed by the remaining farms. Farmyards are much less lively – no dung heaps and no gander to come hissing at you with neck outstretched and wings open! (‘I always ran away so never discovered whether they would actually attack!’)
Beef cattle have always been the mainstay of farms in this area and still are. Perhaps the main difference is that South Devons were the traditional breed and were used for both beef and milk. Modern breeds are more specialised and many new strains have been introduced to achieve higher production.
Milk in 1952:
Out of the 50 or so farms in the Parish, around 40 were in milk production. In the early 1950s traditional hand milking limited the numbers of cows kept, which ranged from only one or two ‘house cows’ in milk to the largest farms perhaps 17 or 18 milkers for market. The Milk Marketing Board (set up in 1933 and famous for its advertising slogan ‘drink a pinta milka day’) guaranteed a regular good payment for milk and the “milk cheque “was a life line to most small farmers”.
Now: There are no milking herds at all in the parish. Following the dismantling of the Milk Marketing Board, savage competition from much larger dairy herds in other parts of the country (and even abroad) resulted in very low price per gallon. Many farmers gave up milking in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. The last dairy farmer in Moreton called it a day just after the Foot and Mouth epidemic in 2001.
Sheep in 1952:
Nearly all hill farms reared sheep for mutton, lamb and wool. The favoured breeds were Whitefaced and Greyfaced Dartmoors.
Now: Breeds have changed somewhat but the big difference is the extremely low price now paid for wool. One typical recent payment was £120 for 150 fleeces.
Poultry and other stock in 1952
Chickens and ducks for eggs and meat were a really important part of the economy of virtually all Moreton farms. Also a pig or two would be reared for bacon – home cured and consumed. The sow and her piglets were fed on the excess milk left after the cream was skimmed off it. Carthorses were essential on farms to pull the ploughs, other machinery, and carts with heavy loads. Typically a farm in Moreton had around 2 in the early 50s but by the end of the decade they had all gone – giving way to tractors once petrol was no longer rationed and Fordson tractors could be bought on ‘the never never’. (‘Ahhh – Duke and Blossom, now long gone!’)
Crops in 1952:
Nearly all crops were grown (& still are) to supply winter feed for the animals. In the 1950s these were hay, kale, mangolds, swedes, turnips, oats and mixed corn. In June or July hay was saved and made into haystacks; at the end of summer the corn crop gathered in to be threshed later in the year by a contractor.
Today: Silage has largely replaced hay and fodder beet is the most common root crop. Kale is still grown, and some cereals but barley is more common than mixed corn or oats. Forage maize is the new “crop on the block”.
Potatoes in 1952:
Provided a cash crop. Post war rationing of food still existed and farmers were not free to grow exactly what they wanted; for example they were all obliged to grow potatoes – an average of 10 acres per farm in Moreton. This may not sound much but was it was hugely labour intensive, back-breaking work. By the 1950s a mechanical spinner attached to the tractor could lift and “spin” out the potatoes. This replaced the need to actually dig potatoes, enabling some farmers to increase production. But they still had to be picked up and sorted by hand. This was the back-breaking bit! Storage was on the farm in clamps – long mounds with straw and soil heaped over to protect the potatoes.
Now: I don’t think any potatoes are grown in Moreton as a commercial crop though some are still sold at the farm gate. The supermarkets dominate the market and the small local farms cannot meet their strict requirements in terms of quantity, price and even uniformity of shape!
Men and Machines
Machines have replaced manpower to a large extent and continue to do so. One farmer of a typical sized modern holding tells me he employs one full time person and between them they look after a farm of 300 acres. This (perhaps not typically) includes doing all machinery maintenance and repairs where possible, and all big jobs that contractors often do, including the shearing. The only farm as large as this in the 1950s had 7 full time workers. The former workers’ cottages and some of the former granite barns have been sold off and converted into modern living or working accommodation.
Women and Machines:
Traditionally certain jobs fell to women – in particular the dairy work. Milking was done by hand until the early 1950s when milking machines were universally installed and mainly powered initially by paraffin as many farms still had no electricity. Making butter and cream for sale locally was women’s work and required much time and skill. It was also aided and speeded in the 1950s by machinery such as electrically powered milk separators and churns. Rearing and looking after the poultry tended also to be women’s work, as did much of the rearing of young stock – lambs and calves, and of course everyone had to pitch in (literally!) to help with the hay and corn harvesting.
Today: Farmer’s wives contribute much to the farm’s income by running a bed and breakfast business and farm gate sales of eggs and homemade cakes.