The Isle of Whithorn Agricultural History

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Baling Hay near the Isle of Whithorn
The Isle of Whithorn

The Isle of Whithorn

The People who worked on the Land


Nowadays most of the farms are worked by the farmer and his family with some hired help, much of it in the form of contractors who deal with various work such as harvesting, silaging, sowing manure, crop spraying, and slurry spreading. The contractors often come from some distance away with their large machinery and their own labour.

In days gone past however things were very different - then all the work, with the exception perhaps of the visit of the threshing mill - was undertaken by the farm staff and locally sourced casual labour. Up to the 1950’s most of the farms had 6-8 regular employees, and with two cottages on Cutreoch; one (in earlier times) on Boyach; three on Stannock, and two on Isle Farm, most of these workers lived in the village. Farming was much more labour intensive in these days, and the farms were small communities in themselves where whole families worked, some full time and some casually at the busier periods.

Farming is a much lonelier job nowadays, a very different job in many ways. Today people working on the farms have to have a multitude of varied skills - a general farm worker now has to have the ability not only to feed and work with stock; drive a tractor and often a forklift or small digger; but to be able to treat the stock when ill, repair the machinery when broken, and comply with the ever increasing number of rules and regulations which add to the stress factor. Years ago every farm had, depending on their stock and crops, a dairyman, milkers, stockmen, horsemen, tractormen (when tractors became popular), a pigman, etc. and although they would all help with general farm tasks, they each dealt with their own specialisation.

Another noticeable change has been within the womenfolk on the farms. In the early years women made up a considerable percentage of farm labour, many hand milking twice daily; hoeing and shawing turnips; helping at hay, harvest and mill days and some even working horses.

The farmhouse was a busy place also, with many mouths to feed, never mind the cleaning and washing. It was very common for the farmhouse to have a live-in maid and often extra daily help. In many families one daughter remained unmarried and helped with the chores and to look after her parents as they became older. What a change a century has wrought!

Now most farmer’s daughters head for university or college and high-powered jobs. Even if they do return and marry their “handsome farmer”, most continue to work, and although lending what help and support they can, life in the farmhouse is definitely different. The pattern of meals and the food eaten has also changed considerably. Even in 1960’s a dairy farmer’s day would commence with tea and home-made cake at 5.30 am, followed, after milking, by a breakfast of porridge, bacon and egg, and toast. A mid-morning cuppa with a fresh scone before, at noon, home-made soup, meat and two veg. and a baked or steamed pudding.

Work would go on until 4pm when there would be a tea - a selection of scones with cheese and home-made jam and a variety of cakes and buns, freshly baked of course. After evening milking, perhaps poached egg or fish would be enjoyed and then to round off the day, tea and sandwiches at bedtime. A far cry from today’s cereal breakfast, soup at lunchtime, hastily grabbed chocolate biscuits and crisps and a good substantial main meal at night - although often only one course! It seems a healthier diet but are today’s farmers healthier? Is their health dictated by the food they eat or the more stressful and solitary lifestyle they lead?


 

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