Thirty Years Farming on the Clifton Park System

How to supply Humus, Texture, and Fertility by the Aid of Deep-Rooting Grasses

by William Lamin

Chapter 8

Buying cattle in Ireland -- Bulling a hundred Irish cows -- Selling fat cattle -- Foot and mouth disease -- Feeding silage to cattle

After the slump, when we gave over growing a lot of potatoes and corn, we started to fetch cattle from Dublin, and my eldest son used to go over to Dublin every week at the back end; and I would go with him odd times, but only about twice during the season. Sometimes he would get a bunch of black Pollies, which were practically fat, and a few weeks at home, just to finish them off, would be all they required, when we could start to sell them. We had to send ten fat cattle to the Nottingham Fat Stock Market, every week all through the winter, to get rid of them. In those days they had not started weighing them live weight, so that you could use your own judgment if you were offered a bunch worth the money. We had several good years fetching these cattle from Dublin. We always bought them with plenty of meat on them, we never bought store cattle that wanted a lot of finishing. [Store cattle are young beef cattle in an unfinished condition.] We often got some that would get £lO in about a month. I remember quite well the first time I went with my son to Dublin: we went overnight and landed in Ireland, at 7 o'clock in the morning and got up to the cattle market about 8 o'clock in the morning. The first good bunch of black Polly cattle we got to, there were some dealers in the pen bidding for them, so my son said to me, 'You stop here and if those dealers come out you get in': but I could see they never meant coming out until they had bought them. In a bit more than half an hour my son came back and said every bunch of Poll cattle in the market is in price, so I said to him, 'We shalt not buy any cattle to-day without we give these dealers some profit'. So I said to the salesman, who was a very gentlemanly sort of chap, 'Do,you think those dealers will take a bit of profit on those cattle?' and he replied, 'Oh, I think so, I will do what I can for you.' So we stopped talking to the salesman until the dealers came back. When the dealers came back, we bought the bunch of bullocks at £25 each. And then we said, 'What more have you got?' and they took us to look at some bullocks and also some heifers: and to finish up with we bought forty-nine cattle, about two-thirds bullocks at £25 each and one-third heifers at £23 10s. each. They were a grand lot, very good sorts and full of meat. Those dealers only dealt in the best cattle, and they used to send a lot to Scotland. My son bought many cattle from those dealers afterwards. We found, after the first experience, it was no use going to the Dublin market when all the best cattle were in price: so my son would start on Wednesday morning, and get to Dublin at night, so that he could be in the market soon after 6 o'clock in the morning. I remember quite well another time I went with him, when we used to stay at the Four Courts Hotel, ready for early morning. We were having a good look round, and we spotted two heifers by themselves, and I said, 'There's two good heifers, see what he wants for them,' and he came back to me and said: 'He wants £27 each for them,' and I said, 'We shall have to have them if he won't bate.' He came back and said, 'He won't bate'; and I said, 'Go and tell him we will have them,' -- which he did.

I stopped about twenty yards off the heifers and my son had gone to look for some more cattle. A young chap came along and had a look at the two heifers; then he came to me and said, 'Where's that young chap that has bought those two heifers?' and I told him I did not know: then he said, 'I will give him £5 each for buying them.' But I said to myself, 'You are not giving him £5 each for them. Somebody else knows they are worth the money besides you.' I can't remember how many cattle we got that time, but we must have got a fair lot. We brought those two heifers home with the rest of the cattle and, as they were extra good heifers, we tied them up in a box by themselves and saved them for the Nottingham Christmas Fat Stock Show, which was in either the first or second year of being held.

Well, those two heifers won in every class we entered them in, and one of them got the silver cup for the best Butcher's heifer.. Altogether, the two heifers won £20 in prize money, beside the £lO silver cup. And they both made £35 each when sold at the auction, which was not so bad when they were bought as a commercial proposition.

We did very well fetching cattle from Dublin for a few years, until the three biggest companies that were importing the chilled beef could not agree with the lesser companies how much each company should import. So the three larger companies started to break the small companies and I understood they lost £3,000,000 over it. They also helped to break the English farmers by bringing the English beef down so low you could not make the cattle pay any more than the cake cost, but you got plenty of manure to grow corn, etc., at less money than pre-war.

About the last year we had, fetching cattle from Ireland, we wintered two hundred store cattle out on the leys, and fed them with silage and turnips and had a sale of store cattle and forty fat cattle. The store's averaged about £30 each, not quite.

The last year we had fetching cattle from Dublin, when we had the sale of store cattle, was the final year of the slump in the beef trade. Many of the graziers that bought our stores did not make any more money on them when they had got them fat than they gave for them.

After the slump in the beef, instead of ploughing the leys, when they had been down four years -- which we should have done, if there had been no slump in the beef -- and growing a lot of tares and oats for making silage, for feeding fat cattle, we let a lot of the leys stop down indefinitely and made silage of a lot of the leys. We started to bull more than a hundred cows, to calve down in the autumn or early winter. We would winter them out all winter and feed them on silage and turnips and then graze them on the leys in the summer: and it was surprising how well those Irish cows did on those leys of deep-rooting grasses; sometimes there would be a few which would not prove in calf and they would grow into great lumbering cows on nothing but the leys -- and most of them would come over from Ireland very poor. My son did not go over to Ireland to buy those bulling cows, as he would not be able to get enough cows right in their bags: so he would ask two or three cow dealers whom he could trust to send us a wagon, and, if they sent them satisfactorily they would get another order. We did not give them an order to send above one wagon at once, or they would soon be putting one or two in that were not quite up to the mark.

About the best lot of cows we had sent us was from one of the dealers we bought the first lot of bullocks from, costing £19 each. The price was a bit too high, but they were a very good lot. He was more at home with the fat cattle. The bulling cows had to be bought in odd ones, so that the dealers could examine the bags of each cow separately. My son about always went to market to sell the cows -- as I wanted him to get plenty of experience -- but, one Goose Fair, we had got eight cows calved, just right for sending to the Fair. My son was going to Ireland to see some dealers about sending us some more cows, so he said, 'You will have to go to the Fair and sell those cows'; but I was not very fussy with my job, as I had not been to the Saturday market for a long while, so we sent them to the auction, and put them all together in a pen by themselves. When I got to market, I kept having a look at how they were selling in the auction and I did not think they were selling very well. In the meantime, a large farmer, Mr. Geo. Taylor, of Aspley, Nottingham, who milked a lot of cows and retailed all their own milk, came along and said, 'What do you want for those cows?' and I asked him £28 each; and he went and had another look at them and said, 'I will give you £27 each for, them.' So I sold them to him and he said that the cows would be milked and the milk sold that afternoon. So he must have been expecting buying some at the fair. After I had sold them, several farmers said they were waiting for them, but I thought I had had a fair sale. In the winter, if there were any cows that had not proved in calf, we would tie them up for a short while just to finish them off and they would always make a fair price, as we insisted when the dealer sent us any cows that they had to be young ones.

Just to show what good cows these Irish cows would grow into, when my eldest son had been farming on his own for a year or two, I was walking from the sheep pens up to the cattle auction, when I met George Harris, the biggest butcher in Nottingham, who would buy an odd cow to mix with his other cattle. He had been buying several of my cows when I had an odd one in the market and had given £27 and £28 each for them. He said, "Hello! Oh, William, you don't know how to feed cows; I had one of your son's last week, the best cow I ever had in my life.' And if it was the best cow he ever had in his life, it must have been a very good one, because he had bought many good ones. I said, 'I am not jealous, George. I am very pleased,' and I said, 'I have got one in the auction you will buy; come and have a look at it': and he gave £27 for that. I may say, that the cow of my son's that Mr. Harris bought had been fed with as many potatoes as were good for it. When cows are fed with a lot of potatoes, they do not kill with such a high colour as when they are fed with tumips, etc. The butchers do not like cows to kill with too high colour. When my youngest son started farming on his own, we had given one of our farms up. I bulled about thirty or forty cows, and I was left on my own to calve cows at night, as our cottagers were too far away to be fetched if a cow calved. One night, I had a cow calved and she turned wild and tried to horn the calf which was in a corner at the farthest side of the box, and I wanted to get the calf away so that the cow could not kill it. There was a wall and manger, dividing the box from the rest of the place, so I stood on the wall and lassoed the cow and drew her up to a post by pulling the rope round the post and every time the cow came a little bit nearer the post, I pulled the slack rope and got her to within two yards of the post; but as she had gone wild she made such a row that I had to let her go with the rope on. After that year I never bulled any more cows.

One year, when foot and mouth disease was very bad all over the country, we were unlucky enough to get it. My son had been to Ireland and there were two beasts that they could not get in our trucks without overloading. These two beasts went to the Midland Station at Nottingham, with some cattle of another farmer's; and if it had not been for these two beasts going to Nottingham, we should never have got it, as the Midland Station was a veritable hotbed. These two beasts were put with twenty to thirty more store cattle in a field by themselves so that we should be able to isolate them if they had contracted the disease anywhere whilst coming from Ireland. Some people gave it out that the disease was coming from Ireland: but I am sure it was not, as they had no foot and mouth disease in Ireland at that time -- and if they had had it in Dublin, with the amount of cattle that were coming over to this country from Dublin, it would have been all over England in no time.

I feel sure there is no doubt it came over from the continent, where they are overrun with it and let it take its course. The cattle get better in time; but I understand they lose a lot of condition whilst they are getting over it, and in the meantime it is getting spread all over the country. At first, when we got foot and mouth disease, the cattle were out in the field and had not been anywhere near the cattle in the buildings, and the butchers killed them in the orchard where there were some big trees to hang them on. They buried three or four, but all the rest went to Birmingham for human consumption after they had slaughtered them. When we had cleared everything away and disinfected everywhere possible no more cattle started it for a fortnight or more, and we began to think in another day or two the isolation would have been successful. We kept watching the cattle in the buildings for any signs of them catching it.

One morning we went in quietly after they had been fed and had settled down; there were a lot of black Polly heifers in one covered-in yard. One or two of them we could see shaking their hind legs as if their feet were itching and we felt sure they were starting with the disease. So we rang up the Government vets, telling them we felt sure they had got it. So the vets came and examined them and said they had not got it -- just because they had no marks on their tongues. So they left them for several days and then came again when the cows had blisters on their tongues and they could say definitely that they had got it. We knew they had got it the first time the vets came; when we went quietly among them they would take no notice of us and shake their legs; this they would not do when there were strangers about. My idea is that when the vets know cattle are infected they are not half quick enough getting them killed.

The first two beasts ought to have been killed and buried the first day we found it out; instead they were left slavering at the mouth, the slaver blowing all over everywhere. They only buried five or six beasts at the Bottom House Farm; all the rest were killed and went to Birmingham. We kept away from the Goosedale Farm and none of the men went anywhere near, and I used to meet the foreman at the boundary and tell him what to do over the hedge; but somehow they managed to get it and all the cattle had to be killed. We could have sold over a hundred cattle at the Goosedale Farm before they had a chance to get it, only they would not let me. We put it down to the Corporation water man taking the disease when he went to see that the water troughs were all right and no water wasting: of course that idea was only a surmise for the want of a better one.

There were over a hundred fat cattle at the Goosedale Farm and the rest of the cattle were stores at both the farms. They killed three hundred and forty-three cattle and ninety-odd pigs. At the Goosedale Farm they killed all the fat cattle and sent the carcasses to Birmingham, but they burnt all the stores that had not enough meat on them for the butcher. The slaughtermen said the fat cattle were the best they had killed anywhere.

The Government paid us £7,000 for the cattle and we were also insured for £l,000 with the Eagle Star Insurance Co., against having the disease on the farm. They paid us promptly, but they would not insure us again for foot and mouth disease. I think the Insurance Company thought that all the farmers would be insuring, which they did not -- I think they found it would not pay them. I may say we lost money the next year, as we could not replace the cattle. As the outbreak occurred in February we had a lot of mangolds left, straw, etc., and also several hundred tons of silage. The silage did not matter, as it would keep all right for another winter, but ten or twelve acres of mangolds all went rotten and we could not sell them, as nobody wanted any mangolds or anything else from a farm that had just had foot and mouth disease.

Now all these beasts had been fed on silage and turnips with, of course, some cake. We had brick and tile mangers all round the sheds on the side of the walls and good hayricks over the mangers. We would fill the hayricks in the morning with silage to last them for the day, but at night we would have a man go round the racks and lighten any silage up that had happened to get fast, in order that the cattle could pull it out. When the cattle pulled the silage out of the racks, they would sometimes pull more out than was necessary, but it would drop into the manger underneath the rack and could be put back into the rack if there was any in the manger they did not eat.

We did not consider it policy to feed the turnips in the mangers underneath the racks, as the cattle were liable to root the silage out whilst eating the turnips. So we had a lot of tumbrels made [portable mangers], some for the middle of the yards and some not so wide to lean against any wall that had not got any permanent mangers and racks. We did not bother to chop the turnips; we would put as many turnips whole into the tumbrels as we considered they would clear up in the morning and also at night. We would take the turnips into the yards with a cart and chuck them straight out of the cart into the tumbrels.

Both Mr. William Lamin's sons are following in their father's footsteps and farming large areas of land. The above photograph is a group of cattle feeding on silage which has been made by the way advocated in this book.

Of course we were liable to get an odd beast choked, but I would always go and have a look round at night with a storm lamp, to see if they were all right; and you could walk amongst them and they would hardly ever move. You were a deal more likely to get a beast choked with small turnips than large ones and I would not advise any farmer to feed his turnips whole unless they were a fair size. We did not make it a big job to feed all those cattle.

Incidentally I may say we fitted Mr. Frederick Pell -- one of the most particular butchers in Nottingham -- with two Polly heifers every week all through one winter, at 14s. a stone and he told me his head man said that they were the best beef they ever had week after week. The point was that he did not want them over fifty stone or they would be too big for his trade.

I once offered Mr. George Lane, one of the biggest butchers in Nottingham, some fat bullocks by weight and he said, 'You are the only farmer I know that I should let send me some bullocks without me seeing them,' and I thought a lot of the compliment. So I think my bit of butchering must have done me some good. He was pleased with them as I expected he would be.

Next: Chapter 9

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