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Farming in the Second Half of the 20th Century


Jamie with the lambs at Last Cottage, 1990
Jamie with the lambs at Last Cottage, 1990

Until 1990, there were 1500 breeding ewes at Sescut producing lambs which were reared till they were half grown (a half grown lamb is called a store lamb). They were grazed on a one year ley system. This means that the grass was planted for one year then ploughed up. This gave fresh pasture for the sheep, which was beneficial because there were no parasites in the ground to infect the animals, and it provided a break in cereal production, which meant a clean start for the wheat.

The ewes were sold in 1990 and Richard Brown bought store lambs to fatten over winter on other people’s land. Stubble turnips were also grown on 60 acres of James Garson’s Home Farm land. These were planted after July when the arable crop had been harvested, and were left in the field for the sheep to graze on during the winter. There were up to 4,500 lambs, North Country mules: Swaledales crossed with bare-faced Leicesters, which give a high milk yield and are very fertile, producing two plus lambs each. These were crossed with a Suffolk or Charolais ram, giving a good amount of meat. The wool was worthless. It cost £1.50 to shear a sheep and the wool was worth only 50p. Shearers from New Zealand and Australia would come over, and one year a “golden shearer” from New Zealand came over, who could shear 150 sheep in a day. The wool was sent to Bradford.

For the last five years at Sescut there have been 300 ewes lambing early. They are reared for a year, bought at 6 months old in September and sold the following August to breed. This is done because it is the least amount of work. They are bought largely at Hawes, in North Yorkshire. There is a big four-day sale there where 50,000 lambs are sold every day.

When Kim and Richard lived at Last Cottage Kim had two jobs: she recorded milk – milk has to be sampled on a regular basis and checked for disease – and from January to March would go out contract lambing. Kim and Richard now have a small flock of pet sheep. They lamb them every year and have kept the ewes. Male lambs are castrated as soon as they are born, but one of the markets for them is the Muslim community, who regularly kill and eat lamb at the festival of Eid. Muslims like their lambs whole, not castrated, so this is a problem for sheep farmers.

Sheep usually live for about eight years. They are born with 8 milk teeth, two of which fall out the first year and are replaced with two stronger teeth. Sheep of this age are called “two-tooth”. The second year two more fall out and are known as “four-tooth”; the third year “six-tooth”; by the fourth year they have a full set of eight teeth. (This is on the bottom jaw. They have a hard palate on the top jaw.) By six years they start to lose teeth and by 8 years are broken mouthed, which means they lose weight, the end of their useful life.


James Garson was very keen on shooting. Although the Browns were responsible for the woods, they allowed James to shoot there. He kept a fulltime gamekeeper and in the early 1980s the Browns shared the keeper with him. James used to buy day old pheasant chicks and rear them and the partridges would be on Brown land.

Nowadays, it is a small family shoot. The Browns invite their friends over and it is a reciprocal arrangement. It is a communal tradition in this neighbourhood. They shoot mainly pheasants which go to a game dealer and are sold at farmers’ markets. The dogs they use are spaniels and as they no longer have a gamekeeper they buy in poults, eight week old half grown chicks which are put into pens. When they are fully grown they are released into the wild, but there are hoppers around the fields with feed for them. Wet weather can kill large numbers of them.

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