Farm life - Memories of local farmers

Don Baseley and David Fennell remember some of the ways that farming has changed

Harvesting and Hay Making

Don: I remember in the late 30s and 40s having to cut a pathway round the outside of the harvest field with a scythe and tie it up with the straw you were cutting, so that you didn’t knock down when you went round with the binder.

David has a collection of old working harvesting machines which he shows around the country at charity and other events.

David: Yes, we still do it to the old traditional sheaves fashion. I’ve still got the binders. I’ve still got the thrashing machines, the bailer and the straw tyre.

Some local farmers grew crops for thatching material. A type of wheat was developed which had long stalks.

Don: The binder would butt the bottom end of the straw but it was butted at an angle which was done intentionally (so that the bundles could be propped up). They were supposed to stand like that to hear the church bells ring three times.

 The crop would then continue to ripen for those three weeks. Lately, straw for thatch is again being grown locally.

 Those old hay making machines haven’t been used for over 30 years.

Don: Then of course the process after it was mown - the swathes all had to be turned over by hand either using a rake or a fork and if you were very lucky you had got a highly mechanised piece of equipment which was called a horse rake which used to have tines of that description which you could drive about and then flick it up and it did leave it in some sort of a row.

David: If the weather was very, very bad my father used to make us put it in little haycocks at the end of the day.

Don: They used to put three sticks together in the ground and build the hay round that. If the hay was green and needed a fair lot more and they thought it was going to rain, they put it on these tripods. I’ve never actually physically seen it done but I know it was done. If you put it into a rick with any water in it, it would go mouldy. If you put it in with any green stuff in it, it would heat and hundreds of thousands of ricks have caught fire because they had too much grass in it.

David: I remember one of ours got very hot because when my grandfather and my dad went to cut it, it was just like black charcoal. It smelt just like tobacco.

Don: Oh, it smelt beautiful. (The cows) would knock you over to get at it!

Farming Life in Wartime

Don: (They) made you plough your land up whether you wanted to or not. There were many, many farmers in this area who stuck it out to the very last because they were stock farmers and did not want to plough the land. It produced the food to keep the country going because what was coming in was getting less and less all the while. It was only just enough. It wasn’t lavish. Then, anything that you wanted you had to provide yourself somehow or other.

Through that window now there’s two pigeons. Well my father wouldn’t have let them stop and it wouldn’t have been bang-bang. There would’ve been only one bang. He would wait until they both got together.

David: He would have had a pigeon pie. If it wasn’t for the rabbits in the war years people wouldn’t have had any meat. We always used to have lovely rabbit pies my mother used to prepare for us.

We were self-sufficient. We got our own milk, we’d got our own potatoes, swedes. We had our own eggs. We killed a pig just before Christmas. ‘Cos my mother used to go round and get the damsons and the plums off the trees. She’d preserve them -put them in kilner jars so you got plum jam or whatever all the year round. You know you could go to the pantry when we lived in the big farm house and it were full of blackberries and plums and all the things that you know you could rely on to keep you going through a bad winter.

Don: My wife still does that, but not to the same degree. When we first got married she used to salt kidney beans. I won’t say I liked them very much but at least it was a green vegetable in the middle of the winter.

50 Years of Farming in Badby Parish, by Peter Wakeford

Over the last 50 years Badby Parish has witnessed significant evolutionary change of the farming way of life, as experienced in most other Parishes where mixed farming (arable and livestock) was the way of life. Demand for homes in pleasant and convenient locations for families no longer engaged in agriculture now dominates the need for housing in our Village.

The last full time Farmers moved away from the Village (the Cheyne’s from the Manor and the Jones’ from Home Farm) reducing the interaction or involvement by the Village in the farming way of life. The number of Village residents engaged directly in farming locally has surely declined. Those families were all active participants in the Church and Village life.

Around the peripheral areas of the Village livestock enterprises continue with sheep and beef cattle and some diversification e.g. horticulture. The number of horses and ponies kept in the Village also appears to have noticeably declined, with only one family hunting to hounds when there are 4 packs of hounds nearby. Although some can recall the Fennell family bringing their cows into the Village for milking each day, the Village is now largely spared the movement of cattle and sheep and also farm machinery through the Village from farm to field. The livestock haulage business of Challis Transport is now a general haulage business, but Badby is still most fortunate that the Baseley and Fennell families maintain their wonderful collection of Vintage Farm Machinery to remind us of the past.

Encouraged by the relaxation of Planning Consent for barn conversions, there is scope for more “lifestyle” farming to be established, which could be supported by an intensive housed livestock production unit.

Farmland in Badby

The principal change to the landscape of the farmland around the Village is the continuous growing of diverse combinable arable crops without a grassland break of two to four years, as used to be the case with the traditional mixed farming.

With fewer landowners / occupiers much of the land is worked by highly mechanised Farm Contractors operating over much larger acreages. 50 years ago a combine harvester would have a 3m cutter bar whereas now 10m is commonplace coping with a diversity of crops.

The soils in each field across this part of west Northamptonshire are enormously variable of terminal moraine quality caused by the Ice Age glacier that rested across these parts for an extended period. Monitoring of the soils is now regularly undertaken to assess nutrient deficiency and worm activity. The worm is a very able agent in distributing nutrients taking crop residues from the surface throughout the upper levels of the soil, whilst also increasing the ability of that soil to store water. Heaps of recycled Gypsum compost and sewage sludge materials can be seen in fields waiting to be spread to enhance soil structure. There is also more active monitoring of our rivers to discourage the use of potentially harmful chemicals, with some significant success. There is no progress without risk!!

The most difficult problem for arable farmers, at present, is the prolific establishment of the Black Grass weed, which competes with the crop and can hinder harvest. Each plant produces many hundreds of grass seeds for which there is limited means of control.

The Countryside at Large

Farmers still undertake voluntarily to manage the countryside beyond the Village envelope; woodland and wildlife areas, hedges, trees and that all important fine web of ditches that takes the water from the fields and our rural roads down through the landscape to the Rivers.

Indigenous hedgerow and woodland tree species are sadly under threat from disease and insects. Elm, Ash, both Sweet Chestnut and Horse Chestnut as well as English Oak are all deemed at risk whilst young trees are also subject to extensive predator damage from the grey Squirrel and browsing Deer. (There are significantly more Deer now roaming the landscape – Muntjac, Fallow and Roe, particularly east of the A361.)

Farmers are encouraged to retain traditional wild flower meadows to attract ground nesting birds and pollinators, but persistent predators discourage success.

The Bee is essential to agriculture to fulfil their wonderful pollinating tasks, but they remain prone to the Varroa Virus and poor summer weather when their sugar reserves need to be supplemented. The traditional beehive continues to attract the predator spotted Wood Pecker, whilst wild Bumble Bees are plagued by predators excavating their nests.

The Farmer, aided by advancing science and more effective monitoring of soils and rivers, will continue to manage the countryside as they see the need at a low cost to Society.

Last updated 5 February 2018