My life as a Yorkshire hill farmer: written by an eleven year old in 1987

All photos are taken from my school geography book. The images were all clipped from magazines and stuck in a school exercise book back in 1987 and as such i don’t know who to credit. If they happen to be yours do let me know.

This week’s #52ancestors hint of “on the farm” had me flummoxed. When your father, both grandfathers, all four great grandfathers and many, many generations before them were all Yorkshire hill farmers, life on the farm is woven into at least half of what I write. How can I either synthesise all of that history into one blog or even pick just one story to tell?

Then I thought of the geography homework I was set in my first year at secondary school when I was eleven years old. We were tasked with writing about a year in the life of a hill farmer in the Pennines. I remember writing this sat in my Grandma’s kitchen at Prospect Farm. The open fire with an old oven was by my side, installed (I believe) when my great grandparents moved in, and now used only to keep orphan lambs warm. My Grandma & Aunt were ready waiting to answer questions and there was a pile nearby of Farmers Weekly and other magazines to cut pictures out of to help illustrate the story. The words flowed and it was no surprise that writing about the life I knew earned me a special commendation.

This story was nothing less than a year in the life of my Dad, my Grandparents and likely my Great Grandparents too. This was life as a Yorkshire hill farmer in the 1980s and as such I have transcribed rather than edited. (Including putting aside the slight geographical liberty in the first line – the Pennines don’t quite continue as far as Harrogate). The added benefit is just a hint of how we spoke which even now (after so many years away from Yorkshire and from farming) causes people to guess where I am from.

There’s also a bonus story. Apparently an eleven year old me had figured out how to solve the financial problems of a hill farmer and it just made me laugh.

My life as a hill farmer, 13 February 1987

Our Farm

My Farm is in the Pennines somewhere near the town of Harrogate. As I have mainly sheep, I only need one farm help, his name is Andrew. The farm buildings are quite ancient as most farm buildings are. My family have lived in it for years on end. During the early summer months there is not much work to do and my son comes over so Andrew is not needed. Late summer he is needed though because of the Haymaking. Other times as well are busy such as Lambing time and winter.

January

January isn’t that bad a time, so it just starts off the new year. The cattle are in the barns and yards so they have not far to go to get to the milking parlour. The snow is still quite bad though, and the shaeep have to be brought down to be sorted, to see which ones need to go to the market. The sheepdog came in handy with these.

How I wish it wasn’t so snowy round here about half a mile down the road they’ve never seen this snow, this January.

February

The lambing season is well under way, we started early enough – beginning of January, but they are coming thick and fast now. We’ve had quite a lot of calves too, but as they come all year round, to make milk, it’s nothing new.

We rolled the hayfields this month ready for fertiliser, and manure that the cows have made in winter. We let the cows out into the pasture, but took them in at night as it is still very cold and damp.

No pet lambs so far all the orphan and triplet lambs have been fostered, thank goodness.

March

I was glad to put the cows out this month. They’ve eaten too much hay, because the winter has been so bad. Some of the bullocks were sold this month in the market, I think I bought too much as well, The sheep have all finished lambing except for one old ewe, she’s probably saving it for April. Still never mind all the others have finished. It was tillaging time, because I put the manure on, in February. The hay has just got to grow now and it’ll be ready for July – August time. One problem with the cows out is that you have to fetch them further for milking.

April

The lambs and sheep are back on grass upomn the hills. We needn’t worry about them for a while.

There’s plenty of showers in April so for a while the sheep flock down in the valley and near the fences, as they are normally indoors for lambing, The old ewe lambed on the 1st second in April. I knew she’d do that, she likes to lamb in April but she couldn’t last any longer. We had some more calves this month and a bit more milk, too much in fact, I was over quota, oh dear!

May

Three more calves were born this month and that’s it for now, til about September.

We had to round the sheep up for shearing, because the shearers have come, the sheep-dogs didn’t let us down today. They didn’t get all the sheep done in one day in took 5 days in all to clip 5000 seep, and only one man was clipping at once, because we only have one clipper, while the others were eating tea or having a drink.

June

Dipping, silaging and checking the hay what a busy month. The dipping was soon done after the clipping and the sheepdogs were definitely needed as they deep don’t like going in the dip. Mind you I wouldn’t either. The hay is nearly ready for haymaking. Maybe in July we’ll harvest it, because this month it’s first cut silage. There was a lot so Andrew had to stay on and help us otherwise we wouldn’t get it all done. The sheep are now going high up in the hills, so high in fact that I have to go up at least once a week to check them, The cattle have been confined to a small space for the moment so there is enough grass for hay and silage. We do keep a few hens and they are really laying now, if we could find the nests.

July

Haytiming has come, and all the preparing hasn’t gone to waste, it is a lovely harvest which should keep the cows through the winter. It was a busy time throughout from 5 o’clock to 10 o’clock at night. Just as the last load came in it started to rain. We were lucky. Unlike our neighbours who had two fields left when it started. Just like we were last year. The sheep have disappeared over the top so we have to go and count them everyday and by it is windy over there. We’ve let the cows in to the hay field so there’s a bit more room now and are making a bit more milk, thank goodness.

August

Haytiming over, and a short second cut silage maybe, but the weather has been so bad. Andrew says down town its nice and dry with maybe two showers at the most, here it’s raining every second.

Maybe I’ll have to sacrifice the second cut silage for the cows. Later on I did just that, sacrificed the second stage for the cows, and next day it cleared up fine. Why did I do that. The cows are lucky though, they get a lot more grass and are producing more richer milk. I just hope I don’t go over quota, I have been three times this year. The sheep are doing alright though. Some of them have come back over the hill which means it must be getting colder.

September

Raining again, when will it stop raining, It’s always bad weather up here. My best dog Lassie has had pups so she’s now out of action so I have only Laddie and Bill to round up the sheep for counting. I’d rather be an arable farmer because all their work is nearly done and can have a rest during winter. I have to carry on all through the winter counting sheep and milking cows. The cows are still producing milk, but one or tow of them are going to have calves in the next month or so,

October

It’s nice to see some new calves but it’s such bad weather, I’ll have to keep them inside and some of the cows have to go in at night, more will in time I suppose. The sheep are sheltering by the fences for warmth. I’ll take the rest of the cows in next month early on though because it started snowing in November last year. I’ll probably have to buy some feed in this year because I didn’t get enough silage to feed all the cows. That will be more expense I suppose.

November

More calves, I’ll have to take some to the market with some bullocks and some cows because I can’t possibly keep them all on so little food. The sheep dippers came last month. When we rounded up the sheep they were eager to come down because they thought they were going inside. What a surprise met them when they had to go in a cold bat instead. Poor things I wouldn’t make them if I didn’t have to. The cows are staying inside now it will be a bit warmer at least, and I have got quite a few calves. Just at the end of November it snowed. Thank goodness I’ve got all the cows in, but it was only a small shower, a small part of what is due to come.

December

Last month of the year, but the snowiest one yet.

What an end. The sheep need feeding every day now and the hay is going down, I wish I hadn’t sacrificed the silage early on. The cows are producing calves and milk and to do that they need more food. I’ll definitely have to buy some in. But, still there will be plenty of calves for next year. No Christmas for me this year, some of the sheep are going to have lambs soon and they have to be looked after, maybe on New Years even we can go out, or maybe we will be snowed in.

Bonus story: financial problems of a hill farmer

Written on 17 February 1987

A Hill Farmer needs to make money to survive and to feed his family. There are some ways of doing this

  1. Don’t buy in as much food
  2. Keep as many cows as possible
  3. Don’t go over quota
  4. Unless the sheep can’t get to grass don’t feed them
  5. Make enough silage and hay to last the winter and keep it dry
  6. Get orphan lambs another mother
  7. Do your own walling
  8. Grow something like turnips seep eat the stubble ones
  9. Find a job in town

Sometimes Farmers decide to move to town. There can be several reasons for this:

  1. The weather, snow rain and wind
  2. Farmers have to rise early
  3. They don’t often go out because they need to go to bed early
  4. They are often in isolated places
  5. They are busy all day long
  6. The animals might have got a disease eg foot rot or even foot and mouth
  7. The hay might be ruined
  8. Milk might go well over quota
  9. The bank might be in the red.

The earnest advice of an eleven year old!

With much gratitude to all my farming ancestors and particularly to my Grandma & my Aunt who were there by my side when I wrote this story and to my geography teacher of the time, Mrs Swales, who set the assignment.

6 Replies to “My life as a Yorkshire hill farmer: written by an eleven year old in 1987”

  1. I loved reading your assignment and also the pictures.

    My grandfather was more a gardener than a farmer. He was born at Birstall but lived at Thurcroft and had an allotment there with fruit trees. In 1967 he moved to Australia as all his children had moved. He had a backyard garden there with all sorts of vegetables and also chickens. I have a photo of him in the back garden in shorts which is the only time I saw them! He was born at Fieldhand Lane, coincidentally.

    1. Thank you! He was a little bit further south than my family are. It’s amazing how much food you can produce in a backyard

  2. This is the absolute best! What a great piece of your own history to have as a keepsake and for many generations to come. You were also a very very clever 11 year old! I am super impressed. I love that you chose this for this week’s writing assignment and have now archived it on the glorious internet for others to see and learn from.

    1. Thank you! I must admit i was quite proud of it at the time – even thirty years ago I was thinking about my heritage

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