My best year: Farmers recall the ‘good old days’

What stands out as your best, happiest, most successful year in farming? Four Farmers Weekly readers cast their minds back to the “good old days”


Tina-Marie Shaw Asheldham, Essex

I completed a four-year farming apprenticeship in milk production, animal husbandry and general agriculture in 1980. I was working with 250 milkers, 600 followers and calves on a 1,600-acre farm and it was the best job ever.

I did day release at Writtle Agricultural College, and it has left me with a great qualification, good friends and memories. I moved into own cottage, with my new puppy, a beautiful golden retriever, and the start of independence.

During that year we “went out of milk production”. A Common Market scheme and the demise of many UK dairy farmers, a bitter blow.

A beef unit was started up, which used the buildings, but things really livened up with the arrival of 300 Suffolk cross sheep and three Suffolk rams.

Sheep, well, what a challenge. They are either alive or dead and only ever gain a brain when you have a bag of feed. They need constant dagging and feet pairing, and the fencing needed to be like Colditz – one out all out.

I learned a lot in that first year of sheep farming and enjoyed all aspects.

Nineteen-eighty was a year of massive change for me; sad in many respects, but full of hope and new challenges (I was young then). Fortunately everything since has been positive too.


Astrid Bartlett Sunnyside Farm, Somerset

My best year was prior to our sons’ transformation of our hobby farm into their dairy sheep and cheesemaking enterprise.

We bred pedigree Devons and I well remember the buzz I got from my first successful breech birth achieved that year. As my husband had a job totally unrelated to the farm, all routine chores landed at my wellies.

Life in general was slower but haymaking always had an exciting urgency about it. We had small bales then: cutting into one in the depths of winter was like releasing the warmth and fragrance of a summer meadow.

The particular year in question was filled with days one might now nostalgically refer to as “halcyon”. Maybe the edges have become pleasantly blurred over the years, but I distinctly remember that long, almost endless summer, filled with hot sunny days – just perfect for haymaking.

Hay-hauling coincided, unusually, with both sons returning for a weekend break – one from his job, the other from college. The village lads, now on vacation and knowing the boys were back, turned out in force to help.

They bumped along the rough green drove, bouncing in the back of the white pickup truck relaxed and happy on the way to the hayfields – and singing their hearts out on the return journey.

My younger son at the wheel, then blonde and with no sign then of a retreating hairline, was reminiscent of James Deane. The scene burned itself into my memory.

At dusk, with the last teetering trailer loaded and my husband driving the Massey, I followed on foot, sweaty and prickle-skinned from the scratchy hay, but pleasantly weary and content as the moon rose behind the hill.

Those young, carefree voices, which echoed along the valley then, still echo in my heart today.


Brindley Hosken Withan Farm, Cornwall

My best year was 1975 – the year I left school. I finished with no regrets on 20 June, bought a bottle of Corona to celebrate (I was always an innocent) then headed home to our 20 cows. Among them were Kelly, Sabrina and Jill – named after Charlie’s Angels.

At the time they were all tied up, fed hay and milked by three bucket units, with the milk being sent off in churns. I always wonder what on earth the bactoscan must have been in those days.

The only machinery we had at the time was a Massey Ferguson 135, a transport box and a scraper, but everything seemed possible with a bit of hard work and a bit of luck.

At the time I didn’t have much to worry about – mainly an overdraft, IACS, SFP, BSE, cross compliance, ear tag inspections and quotas. TB tests were nothing more than an inconvenience.

In 1975 we had a good autumn and we were able to make 1,000 small bales of hay in September. I can still remember the feel of those strings cutting into my hands. The usual Hosken way of making hay is to bale it up a day too early (just in case) and then, when it starts bulging out of the shed, prop it up with telegraph poles.

I also joined Helston and St Keverne YFC, little knowing I would go on to be chairman one day or that my daughter would one day be secretary.

Nineteen-seventy-five, a simpler time to farm.


Peter Snowdon Trinity Farm, Ripon

My best year in farming was 1976. No clouds, blue skies – total blue, not just in bits. From 22 June onwards we knew on waking that every day would be hot and dry. Almost unbearably so. Baling hay or combining at nine in the morning – we could have started earlier but what’s the point when it just won’t rain, indeed can’t rain, guaranteed?

Harvest finished by 8 August, then the Big Silence. Why? Land work was impossible; too dry and too hard for cultivation. No wheels turned, no sound was heard. No man-made implement could penetrate this seemingly God-made anomaly.

We waited for the rains. Not in vain. Early September they came. Inundations of water flooded the house through window frames that had shrunk. And then a potato harvest like no other. An acre and a half was a good day’s work in good weather then. No longer. Rejoice in half an acre.

Two-wheel drive tractors only; chains extended to other tractors. Poor yields, unheard of good prices – but incessant wet to frustrate the most saintly of souls. If you survived potato time in 1976 you had something to talk about. In spring, we sold some spuds at £280. Some hung out for £300 and two days later sold at £125.

New vehicles sprang up on farms. The vehicle registration year was P. “P” for Potato, we all said. It was meteorological history and we knew it. The driest hottest year in 350 years and I was in the thick of it: revelling in warmth, struggling in wet, becoming a parent for the first time – my best year in farming ever.

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