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In the fifties at least thirty farms in the parish had one or more cows, and churns went off everyday to the Milk Marketing Board. The sound of the milk lorries and their rattling churns was familiar. Even dairy herds were rarely more than 30 cows. Single suckled beef cows had to have their surplus hand milked. Roadside milk stands varied from blocks and concrete to a few pieces of wood. In 2002 there was only one farm selling milk. The fifties saw farms like Vanstone's and Hutchings kept very busy bringing 'shippens' up to modern standards of milking hygiene. Breeds of those days were Jerseys, Shorthorns, Ayreshires, Friesians, Redpolls, and Devons. There was a high butterfat premium for Channel Island milk. But dual purpose breeds were on their way out. Many generous grants were available for hedge removal, drainage and buildings. Fields for centuries had been small, but three acres and less did not suit modern machinery. Drainage often revealed traces of old stone and alderpole systems.

Silage was still a novelty, some being made in freestanding clamps by buckrake or greencrop loader, before silage pits came in. Root crops were still popular. Mangolds were stored in clamps known as 'caves', and covered with straw, bracken or hedge parings or anything handy to keep the frost out. Sheep liked them and relished them even in spring. Swedes and turnips were grown. Swedes held their own through the years, although now mainly for human consumption. Roots were labour intensive, singling and weeding being done by hand. Wheat, barley and oats were grown, and a mixture of two of these called dredge corn.

The fifties saw the completion of the switch from horses to tractors. The versatile Ferguson 20 with innovative hydraulics hastened the change. For the Fordson Major you could buy a conversion kit. Contractors and a few farmers bought the new bagger combines, and pick- up bailers came in. Conversion of horse drawn implements brought much work to local blacksmiths. Modern trailers began to be made in Tiverton and Exeter. Before combines all had a visit once or twice a year from the thresher. Threshing needed at least 8 people, more if a reedcomber was attached. These were drawn from nearby farms on a reciprocal basis, known as a threshing round. For example there was one that consisted of West Yeo, Town, Dart Raffe, Lower Park, Hellinghayes and West Yeo Moor. In the morning the rick would be uncovered and work would begin. The mid-day meal would be provided by the farmer's wife and her daughters, and there would be plenty. Corn and weed seed would be bagged and the straw 'ricked', unless the reed comber was in place to ensure straight and unbroken straw for thatching. The farmer's dogs and children would be kept busy after the rats and mice. Their job was made easier if the contractor had brought a roll of small mesh netting to put round the rick. Electricity was slow to reach many farms, and several dairy farms still had to install their own power plants, like the Lister Startermatic. Mains did not reach some before the mid sixties. Sometimes a farm's existing water supply did not pass muster for the Milk Marketing Board, and a dowser had to come and find a purer supply.

There had been local markets at Gidleigh, Thelbridge and Witheridge, but the fifties saw the end of them. Marketing of livestock became more centralised and to a large extent big buyers replaced the local butcher. This period saw the start of the erection of purpose built chicken houses, and flocks expanding from a dozen or so in every farmyard to specialised units of many thousands. Today 60,000 is not uncommon. The farmyard was the place for the Rhode Island Reds, White Leghorns, Bantams, Austrolorps and Guinea Fowls were there too; they were called 'gleanies' because they and other poultry were turned out to stubble fields to fatten for Christmas. Ducks, geese and turkeys were also profitable, and in general poultry were an important source of farm income.

The traditional mixed farm always had a pig or pigs, and many cottagers used to fatten two, one to sell and one to be slaughtered for the family. Saddleback, Large White and Landrace were favoured.

From 1950 the number of farm worker's has declined dramatically. At one time every farm employed at least one, sometimes two, three or more. Now there are hardly any to be seen. Much farm work is now done by contractors, and in addition very few occupants of farmhouses are dependant on their farmland. Barns and outbuildings have been converted to holiday accommodation. Some land has come under the set-aside scheme. There has been more tree-planting done however, than for many years previously. Not only conifers but many hardwoods have been planted.

The first local veterinary surgery here was set up in the 1960's. Since then, like doctors these have expanded in premises and staff. The arrival of myxomatosis about 1955 had a major effect. Firstly, it deprived the farmer of a useful source of income. Secondly, it reduced considerably the loss of young corn eaten by rabbits. Thirdly, it much reduced the annual damage done to hedgebanks, which formerly had to be repaired every winter.

A serious blow to farming in this period was the 2002 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. Some farms in the parish were stricken, and it is likely that the after effects will be felt for a long time.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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