Farming in the Second Half of the 20th Century
Having a herd of cows even if they were grown for beef and therefore did not need milking, was very time consuming. Heifers are not ready for breeding till 14-18 months old and the gestation period for a calf is 40 weeks. About seven months after the calf is born it is weaned and for the next 6-10 months it will forage and graze.
They cannot however just be left to get on with their lives. They have to be watched carefully for the onset of disease. The cows in Lowsey Mead were prone to disease, two in particular: Fog Fever and New Forest Eye. Fog Fever is a disease of autumn when cattle are moved from dry summer pasture to a lush autumn one. It causes acute pneumonia, which gives severe breathing difficulties and results in the affected animal often separating itself from the herd. New Forest Eye, unlike Fog Fever, affects young cattle and is a bacterial infection causing conjunctivitis and eventually corneal ulcers. Another disease which happened occasionally was Lown, a bacterial infection between the two halves of the hoof which the vet had to treat with penicillin.
At Forest Farm, they kept Friesians, the black and white cows which are a common sight in the English countryside. The heifers were always put to a Hereford bull for their first mating, because Hereford bulls are smaller than Charolais. On their second mating they could be put to the Charolais bull. Charolais cattle, a French breed, were introduced into Britain because their meat, having been bred for pulling ploughs rather than for eating, is very lean, which is what the eating public wanted. Charolais cattle have large heads and cows sometimes had difficulty delivering the calves, which were also difficult to get going. They would be born alive but sometimes, as Sue put it, they didn’t seem to have the will to live. The Bradfords had to blow up their noses and occasionally the vet would throw a calf over a gate to stimulate it to breathe. The two Charolais bulls were called Algernon and Loomy.
The cows were fed on hay in winter, and were kept inside and even in April were still being fed hay. They were moved out into the fields as soon as the new grass was showing and had to be moved from field to field as they ate the grass.
Barns were cleaned out after the winter use by the cows and in Spring the new heifers were drenched. Drenching is a process by which chemicals are given to cattle for a variety of diseases such as lungworm, warble fly or deficiencies. Warble fly burrows through the cow’s body and emerges at the top, thus making a hole in the skin and spoiling the hide. Drenching can be done by squirting the stuff into the mouth of each cow as it is held in a cage, as at a rodeo, or the cows can be given it by hypodermic needle under the skin. The cattle were drenched again in November for warble fly and tested for brucellosis and TB. Keith once accidentally stuck himself rather than the cow with the hypodermic needle. Fortunately it did him no harm.
The cows had to be fed CIO which is a balanced food supplement high in magnesium. The soil here is deficient in magnesium which causes Staggers in cows. It can be administered either into the main artery by hypodermic needle, in tablets for them to lick out in the fields or by spreading Epsom salts on the field. The advantage of giving an injection is that you know how much the cow has had. Each cow was given 2 oz of magnesium ocode or calcined magnasite a day.
Other jobs which took up much time and energy were de-horning the young cattle, maintaining a good water supply for them, cleaning out the calf box ready for the birth of calves in July, fixing ear tags on them and branding them, and cutting hay for winter feed.
A story which illustrates the sometimes extreme conditions people had to work in was one told by Keith.
One very cold night, Keith went out to look at the cattle and felt there was something wrong, because the cows were distressed. In the field there was a sewer trap which had been fenced round but Keith found that the cows had pushed down the fence. One of the calves was swimming in the hole full of water where the sewage had been. When James Garson was called he said they would have to shoot it, but Keith said no, he’d ring the Fire Brigade, which he did.
It was so cold that night that diesel was freezing in the engines of the tractors. The Fire Brigade turned out and said they could use one of their hoses flat under the calf and pull it out that way. The question arose as to who would put the hose under the calf. It would entail jumping into the freezing sewage pit. Keith said he would do it but James Garson said he would and he did.
When the calf was pulled out none of the cows would have anything to do with it but Keith took it into the shed and cleaned it up. Meanwhile James went home and used all the hot water in trying to get clean. His wife, Faith, couldn’t have a bath the following morning because there was no hot water. Sue brewed copious amounts of tea and poured plenty of whisky in it for the firemen, to warm them up. Keith was full of admiration for James Garson’s behaviour that night.
The beef herd was sold in 1981 soon after the Pick Your Own started.
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