Today is what my mother would have called "a raw day". It is foggy, damp and grey - it would be impossible to see indoors without the lights on and outdoors it is positively depressing. "Not fit to turn a dog out," as the saying goes, although Tess doesn't seem to notice the weather - only the rabbit smells.
As I set off for Tesco this morning the farmer was cleaning out the cattle in the loose housing, scraping the channel into the midden, shaking up new straw and generally making them comfortable. And driving along I thought how lucky we are these days in farming and how very hard it would have been seventy years or so ago.
This morning he sat in the heated cab of his tractor, radio full on, a mass of handles and nobbles to pull or push in order to activate scrapers, forks, all manner of appliances. The only job he did by hand was spreading the straw and he could have done that by machine had he chosen to do so.
When my father-in-law was a young man the milk cows were kept three or four to a barn in various fields and he would tramp over the fields in all weathers, his milking stool on his back, to milk the cows early in the morning. Then he would carry the milk back and pour it into the churn., When hehad milked them all, he would harness the pony, heave the churn into the trap and take it to the station ready to be put on the train. Then he would come back and go round all the barns mucking out (throwing the muck out through the "window" on to a heap), feeding up and doing general maintainance jobs. By the time he had finished it would be time to start again for evening milking. Life was hard but because he had always done it he took the way of life forgranted and enjoyed it.
This farm got its first tractor (a "fergie" naturally) in early 1947. Up until then every job had been done - literally - with horse power. The photograph is of the last horse on the farm. I talked to the farmer about it - he is not sure who is on the horse - it could be him and one of his brothers or sisters. But he is sure of the date - around 1945, two years before the advent of that first tractor. He can barely remember its arrival (he would be almost three years old) but he does remember that, although it made life easier, some jobs were still done with horses because it was easier - for example weeding the turnips in the field (the horse would not trample the soil down to the same extent that a tractor would). As far as he can remember they still used the horses until the last one died and only then did they use the tractor for everything. A far cry indeed from farming today and one that it is good to remember on such a bleak day.