A Working Life in Farming (1930s-1997)

Location : Norfolk & Suffolk

Richard worked on farms, and became an animal health inspector.

My first employment was at the age of 10 when I used to come out of school at Banham and go down to the cider works in the autumn when the apples were being ground up to make the apple juice and the cider, and 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 and wipe bowls at the bowling green which was near our house, for a penny a night on a wet night and that was my initiation into sport.

I spent lots of time at Rosary Farm, which was my uncle’s farm, helping with the harvest from about eleven years old, shucking up the sheaves as they came out of the binder and also stacking the corn sheaves and helping to load onto the wagons to put onto the stack.

I went to Diss Grammar School in 1943 and I was there for six years and that was 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 before I could actually enter. I then went to Essex Institute of Agriculture at Writtle near Chelmsford in 1951. I had to work on a large farm, as I said, for a year and I went to C. W.’s farm at Stokesby near Yarmouth, which was one of the largest farms in Norfolk.

It was extremely hard work and this was part of a learning curve about farming. I helped with milking cows which was from 4.30 in the morning until 12 noon and then from about 1.30 pm until 5 o’clock. During June and July peas were grown on the farm because it was quite near Yarmouth where Bird’s Eye packaging was. I had to work 6.30 pm until midnight on the peas. This was just for two months. So, I was working for about 17 hours a day.

On the farm there were about 40 men, with casual labour like women picking potatoes and such like. It was a very big farm with sugar beet, potatoes, wheat, barley, pigs, cattle, sheep and as I say a big dairy farm, very big.

I went to Writtle Agricultural College in September 1951 until June 1953 and 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 was in the Athletic Club at Diss and in the Harleston Magpies Hockey Club from 1953 until 1989.

I worked at Banham on the farm until 1961after I returned from Agricultural College and I married P. in 1961. We moved to a large farmhouse in rural Suffolk where I was farm foreman. My wife, was a nurse, a sister at the West Norwich Hospital but after that she worked at Hartismere Hospital in Suffolk when we moved to Suffolk.

I was farm foreman and we had many pigs and I was always working with the pigs. I can remember one Christmas in 1963 which was a very, very severe winter and I spent Christmas Day trying to thaw out water pipes so the pigs could have some water. However, it was frozen under ground right from the road and eventually it was thawed out by electric shock put through the pipes which was one of the first times it 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 and before Christmas we used to have to pluck about 10,000 turkeys with labour brought in, and that was a very, very big job. They were then sold into the London markets. The farmer was a MrM. who was a Polish Jew and he had come to England after he came out of a concentration camp where he had been tortured. 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 and he knew how to make money. It was quite an experience being there. I was there for seven years until 1968. Life on the farm was hard but I still enjoyed it. I had my daughter and son while I was at the farm, which was right out in the wilds about six miles from any large habitation. We also had lots of sugar beet and all the usual crops.

In 1968 I applied for a farm manager’s job at Crane’s Farms at Marsham near Aylsham in Norfolk and was successful. This was a very large step up for me with lots of responsibility. We lived in the farm bungalow at Marsham. We had 5,000 fattening pigs, about 200 sheep, 150 cattle and we also had tulip bulbs, about 13 acres.

These were not for the flowers but for the bulbs, so women came in when they flowered to take the heads off. After you took the heads off you left them and the goodness went down the stalk into the tuber. Then we lifted those in about October and they were graded in a large shed into various sizes and then taken to Lincolnshire. I used to offer to take the lorry up to Lincolnshire with a load of tulip bulbs. They went to a very large processing place and they were sold from there.

We had 5,000 fattening pigs which were a lot of the time contracted to Sainsbury or some other large organisation. They were sent to abattoirs as you weren’t allowed to kill at the farm. We also had some sheep and cattle and 200 acres of sugar beet. We grew a lot of carrots and cereals and potatoes as well in large numbers. We had a lot of irrigation and at times I thought I nearly looked like an irrigation pipe. They were irrigated from a stream and we had to move the irrigator every 12 hours or so. It used to go over night as well. It was very light land so the water was desperately needed, particularly for potatoes and sugar beet.

When the owners of the farm used to go on holiday we used to move into the Oxnead House which was the large house where he lived. We stayed there for two or three weeks with an indoor swimming pool and we enjoyed ourselves there and had one or two parties. My wife worked as a staff nurse at Aylsham Hospital then and the children went to Marsham School and then Aylsham Secondary Modern School.

In 1977 I purchased a plot of land from Broadland District Council in Marsham and I had a house built which was a four bedroom house with a double garage. It seems ridiculous now but I had it built for about â�¤19,000. Unfortunately my wife died in January 1986. She had a liver transplant in November 1985 and she didn’t survive, unfortunately.

I left Crane’s in 1979 and worked for Eastern Counties Farmers, buying and selling pigs. I didn’t really enjoy this job but I knew quite a lot about pigs so that 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.

In 1984 I joined Norfolk County Council as an Animal Health Inspector and this was a very interesting and varied job, covering most of Norfolk. I had to take some prosecutions for serious breaches of animal husbandry and this was a scary part of the job as 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 the sheep in Norfolk had to be compulsorily dipped for sheep scab and one year every sheep had to be dipped twice. Even if someone had one sheep, it had to be dipped so that was a very, very tough job to find out where all these sheep were but we did it. Often on a Sunday morning in a village somewhere on a bigger farm, all the smaller sheep keepers with one or two or half a dozen sheep used to bring them to that farm and they were dipped centrally.

It was also interesting as we had to get a pass to go into the Stanta battle training area near Thetford as there were about 10,000 sheep in the training area and they all had to be dipped as well and we had to supervise that. 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 used at the correct strength.

In the Animal Health, I used to go round the farms doing farm records and I met a lot of very interesting people. Some were very aggressive and did not want to give information. Others were helpful but we used to get over it in the end. I was attacked once by a man with a pitch fork at the cattle market. 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.

We were due to prosecute this particular man and he objected to me doing that and 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 â�¤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, as you know farmers can be very awkward. My attitude was “I will tell you that when I come next time I want to have them right”. Normally they were OK but we did have to take the odd prosecution. Unfortunately, at County Hall the top brass or our managers didn’t really understand the practical side of farming. All they wanted was a certain amount of prosecutions. My policy was to talk to people and get them to do it correctly and this usually worked. The powers that be weren’t really happy unless there were a certain amount of prosecutions. It went against the grain as far as I was concerned.

I made some good friends at County Hall and I still keep in contact with two or three of them who I worked with. The most interesting aspect of my farming life was when I was at Crane’s farms at Marsham. It was so busy but very interesting and there was a massive turnover. In those days (1968 to 79) farming in the main was prosperous then and we relied quite a lot on bonuses rather than your regular wage. Luckily there were some good years when I was there and this enabled me to pay for my house to be built.

I moved to Horsford in 1987 and sold my house because my children had grown up and left home but I still worked for animal health. We didn’t actually have foot and mouth but there was 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 the vets very well as they also had to be in attendance there. We had to see that the lorries were washed out correctly to prevent disease so they were scrupulously cleaned before they left the market and disinfected as well.

I retired in 1997 when I was 65.

I would just like to add a few details about when I was a student on the farm at Stokesby when I was 18. I used to have to get to work at 4.30 am to milk the cows and there were two or three cow men and a girl who used to carry the milk and generally help. The cows came in one by one but there were about 200 cows and within a little they always came in in the same order. When they were called from outside they would be waiting at the gate. The first ones, well within about the first ten, every time they would be the first and the last ones would always be the last. That was quite interesting.

There were milking machines and the machines had a cluster of four and one unit was put on each teat and they would milk them. You saw on the machine when the milk was finished and you took the cluster off and wiped the udder with disinfectant. The milk went into a big holding container where it was stored. Then about 9 o’clock the milk lorry would come round in bulk and pipe it into the tanker and take it off to be pasteurised.

Then we would have breakfast, then come back and clean out the unit and then stock up with food. Each cow was rationed so the bigger producers of milk used to have more food. Then as the milk dried up in the cows after a few months they would have less food and the bull would be put in and another calf would be on the way then the whole process started off again.

The bull calves were sold, in the main, because they were not wanted very much. Some were kept for fattening but not many because they were Friesian calves and Friesians did not make the best meat for bullocks, they were mainly sold off. The best of the females were kept for breeding.

We had lunch from 12.00 pm to 1.00 pm then we would come back and finish off the feeding situation and milk again about 2.30 pm and the whole same process went on as in the morning. That milk would be kept overnight as there was only a collection once a day. On that farm they just had a few fattening pigs but not too many. They had a lot of cattle for fattening which would be Herefords or something similar. Friesian cattle did not actually make the best beef.

When I went to the big farm at Marsham we didn’t have a vast amount of sheep, we had about 200. They 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 off some more farms as well and take a load right up into the Midlands.

I remember the shepherd walking along one day and suddenly one of the rams came and 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 so that was quite good.

On the big farm where we had 5,000 fattening pigs there were no personalities in that at all. They were just inane and fed for fattening and selling for slaughter. On that farm there was not a 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. You had to be very careful how you mixed them. You couldn’t mix up pens of pigs.

Also with sheep, if a ewe had triplets or sometimes quadruplets they 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 was quite a tricky business.

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

© 2020 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved.

Comments are closed.