A working life in farming (1930s-1997)

Location : Norfolk & Suffolk

Richard describes his progression from agricultural college to Farm Manager before finally becoming an Animal Health Inspector for Norfolk County Council.

My first employment was at the age of ten. During the autumn I would come out of school in Banham and go down to the cider works where the apples were being ground up to make the apple juice and cider. I loved to help put the apples down the chute into the grinder and I used to do this for about tuppence.

I also used to help at the bowling green which was near to our house. On a wet night I would wipe the bowls for a penny a night, that was my initiation into sport.

From about 11 years old I spent a lot of time at my uncle’s farm helping with the harvest; shucking up the sheaves as they came out of the binder, stacking the corn sheaves and helping to load them onto the wagons to put onto the stack.

In 1943 I went to Diss Grammar School. I was there for six years, a brilliant time for me although most of it was during the War. I wanted to go to Agricultural College but I had to work on a large farm, which was approved by the College, for a year before I could actually enter. I went to a large farm at Stokesby near Yarmouth, one of the largest in Norfolk.

Gaining Experience

Farming was extremely hard work, a part of the learning curve about farming. I helped with milking cows from 4.30 a.m. until 12 noon and then again from about 1.30 p.m. until 5 o’clock. There were two or three cowmen, and a girl who used to carry the milk and generally help. There were about 200 cows. Within a little, when they were called they always came in in the same order, the first always first and the last always last. That was quite interesting.

The milking machines had a cluster of four, one of the cluster was put on each teat to milk the cow. When you saw that the milking was finished you took the cluster off and wiped the cows udder with disinfectant. The milk went into a big holding container where it was stored. At about  9 o’clock the milk lorry would come and the milk would be piped in bulk into the tanker. It was taken away to be pasteurised.

After breakfast we would come back and clean out the unit and stock up the food. Each cow was rationed, the biggest producers of milk would have more food. As the milk dried up in the cows they would have less food and the bull would be put in with them. Another calf would be on the way and the whole process started again.

We had lunch from 12.00 midday to 1.00 p.m., then we would come back and finish feeding before  the afternoon milking. The afternoon milk would be kept overnight as there was only a collection once a day.

The bull calves were mainly sold. Some were kept for fattening but not many because they were Friesian calves and as bullocks did not make the best meat. The best of the females were kept for breeding. They had Hereford cattle, or something similar, for fattening for beef. They also had a few fattening pigs, but not many.

During June and July peas were grown on the farm. The farm was quite near to Yarmouth where the Bird’s Eye packaging plant was. I had to work 6.30 p.m. until midnight on the peas.  This was just for two months, working for about 17 hours a day.

There were about 40 men on the farm, with mainly female casual labour picking potatoes and such like.  It was a very big farm with sugar beet, potatoes, wheat, barley, pigs, cattle, sheep and a big dairy farm, very big.

From September 1951 to June 1953 I went to the Essex Institute of Agriculture at Writtle, near Chelmsford. This was a growing up process and I gained a diploma in agriculture.  I was very keen on sport and I developed that there. I went on to be a member of the Athletic Club at Diss and the Harleston Magpies Hockey Club from 1953 until 1989.

Farm Foreman

After returning from Agricultural College I was farm foreman on a farm in Banham. I married in 1961 and we moved to a large farmhouse in rural Suffolk. My wife was a sister at the West Norwich Hospital but moved to Hartismere Hospital in Suffolk when we moved.

We had many pigs on the farm and I was always working with them. I can remember Christmas Day 1963, during a very, very severe winter, trying to thaw out water pipes so that the pigs could have some water. However, it was frozen underground right from the road. Eventually it was thawed out by electric shock put through the pipes, one of the first times this method was used. They connected up to the pipe and put a large voltage through and that thawed the pipes!

We also had many turkeys on the farm. Before Christmas we would have to pluck about 10,000 turkeys, with labour brought in. That was a very, very big job. The turkey’s  were sold into the London markets.

We also had lots of sugar beet and all the usual crops.

The farmer was a Polish Jew who had come to England after he came out of a concentration camp.  He had just stubs of fingers on both hands.  He actually survived by cannibalism in the concentration camp. He started the farm and he was a very, very astute man. It was quite an experience being there. Life on the farm was hard but I still enjoyed it. I was there for seven years until 1968. My daughter and son were born while I was at the farm. The farm was right out in the wilds about six miles from any large habitation.

Farm Manager

In 1968 I successfully applied for a farm manager’s job at a farm in Marsham, near Aylsham in Norfolk. This was a very large step up for me with lots of responsibility. We lived in the farm bungalow at Marsham. The farm had 5,000 fattening pigs, about 200 sheep, 150 cattle, roughly 13 acres of tulip bulbs, 200 acres of sugar beet, plus growing a lot of carrots, cereals and potatoes.

The tulip bulbs were not grown for the flowers but for the bulbs. Women came in to take the flower heads off so that the goodness went down the stalk into the tuber. The bulbs were lifted in October, when they were taken to a large shed and graded into various sizes before being taken to Lincolnshire.  I used to offer to take the lorry up to the very large processing plant in Lincolnshire. The bulbs were sold from there.

The 5,000 fattening pigs were mostly contracted to Sainsbury’s, or some other large organisation. They were sent to abattoirs as you weren’t allowed to kill animals at the farm. They were fed for fattening and selling. There was no breeding unit at all, just a fattening unit.  We bought the small pigs in at about eight weeks old and then reared them. I used to go round and collect some of the pigs off the farms. The males all had to be castrated before they were put in the fattening pens. Pigs are notorious for biting and if you put a strange pig in with the others invariably they would kill it. They are very vicious animals like that and you had to be very careful how you mixed them. You couldn’t mix up pens of pigs.

The land was very light  and water was desperately needed, particularly for potatoes and sugar beet. We had to do a lot of irrigation and at times I thought I nearly looked like an irrigation pipe. The fields were irrigated from a stream and we had to move the irrigator every 12 hours or so.  It also ran overnight.

The sheep had to be clipped once a year and that was quite a big process. They were sheared by mechanical shearing and the fleece was then all rolled up. I remember I had to take a load of fleeces, and collect from other farms too, right up into the Midlands.

I remember one day the shepherd was walking along when suddenly one of the rams butted him up the rear and sent him flying!  He hadn’t done anything wrong; they were just like that. That was quite amusing. The sheep certainly had personalities. The lambing was very interesting. The shepherd knew all the sheep individually.

If a ewe had triplets, or sometimes quadruplets, she probably didn’t have enough milk to feed them so you used to take one away and put it onto another ewe. However, you had to put a skin from a lamb that had died onto that one otherwise they wouldn’t accept it. It was quite a tricky business.

When the owner of the farm went on holiday we used to move into the his large house with an indoor swimming pool for two or three weeks. We enjoyed ourselves there and had one or two parties.

My wife worked as a staff nurse at Aylsham Hospital and the children went to Marsham School and then Aylsham Secondary Modern School.

In 1977 I purchased a plot of land in Marsham from Broadland District Council. I had a four bedroom house with a double garage built on the land. It seems ridiculous now but it was built for about ₤19,000.

The most interesting aspect of my farming life was when I was at the farm in Marsham. It was so busy but very interesting and there was a massive turnover. In those days farming, in the main, was prosperous and we relied quite a lot on bonuses rather than our regular wage. Luckily there were some good years when I was there, enabling me to be able to pay for my house to be built.

In 1979 I left the farm in Marsham to work for Eastern Counties Farmers, buying and selling pigs. I didn’t really enjoy this job but I knew quite a lot about pigs which was helpful in that respect. I bought mainly weaner pigs which were up to eight weeks old to put on other farms for fattening.  I also had a little to do with the buying of cattle, but not much.

Animal Health Inspector

In 1984 I joined Norfolk County Council as an Animal Health Inspector. This was a very interesting and varied job, covering most of Norfolk. A scary part of the job was having to take out prosecutions for serious breaches of animal husbandry. It involved standing up in court giving evidence, which I didn’t like very much. I also went round the various farms and inspected the farm records.

In those days all of the sheep in Norfolk had to be compulsorily dipped for sheep scab, one year every sheep had to be dipped twice.  Even if someone only had one sheep it had to be dipped. It was a very, very tough job to find out where all these sheep were but we did it. Often on a Sunday morning the smaller sheep keepers would bring their sheep to a village with a bigger farm so that they could be dipped centrally.

It was also interesting as we had to get a pass to go into the Stanford battle training area (STANTA) near Thetford. There were about 10,000 sheep in the training area and they all had to be dipped.  We were supposed to just supervise but I used to get stuck in and help with the dipping because I would have been bored silly if I hadn’t have done that.  The chemicals were provided by the farm but we had to ascertain that they were the correct chemicals and that they were used at the correct strength.

I used to go round the farms checking farm records and I met a lot of very interesting people.  Some were very aggressive and did not want to give information while others were helpful, we used to get over it in the end. I used to have to go to Norwich cattle market on a Saturday to issue pig licences and there were one or two rogues around. I was attacked once at the cattle market by a man with a pitch fork. We were due to prosecute this particular man and he objected to me doing that. He got me round the back of the pig pens. He didn’t actually attack me in the end but I was threatened.  Eventually, just after I retired in fact, the case came to court and he was fined ₤2,000, which I was very pleased about.

The farm records had to be kept in detail and a lot of people did them very well but some were very awkward. My attitude was that I was giving them warning this time but when I come next time I want to have them right. Normally they were OK but we did have to take out the odd prosecution.  Unfortunately our managers at County Hall didn’t really understand the practical side of farming and expected a certain amount of prosecution.  My policy was to talk to people and get them to do it correctly, this usually worked. Prosecuting went against the grain as far as I was concerned.

We didn’t actually have Foot and Mouth disease but there were a lot of pig disease at times. I never had a large epidemic when I was actually on the farm, which was great. I had a lot of connection with the vets, particularly at Norwich cattle market on a Saturday, and I got to know them very well. We had to see that the lorries were scrupulously washed out and disinfected correctly before they left the market to prevent disease.

I made some good friends at County Hall and I still keep in contact with two or three of them.

Family & Retirement

Unfortunately my wife died in January 1986. My daughter married in1986, my wife had arranged the wedding. My son left home in 1987 to work in London in insurance.

I sold my house and moved to Horsford in 1987.

I retired in 1997 when I was 65.  I met my current partner in 1998 and we now live with in Norwich.

Richard (b. 1930) talking to WISEArchive in Norwich on 27th November 2009.

© 2021 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved.




Richard (b. 1930) talking to WISEArchive on 27th November 2009 in Norwich.

© 2020 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved.

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