Rothiemay: Harvesting in the Haugh

Thanks to Professor Cruickshank, Rothiemay has its own view of life in previous times and in particular the farming methods of 200 years ago. His farming background left him with a life long interest in the agricultural methods and people of his native community, and these are some of his observations and recollections:-

Farm Improvements

Improvements in farming were first introduced about the end of the eighteenth century, when the old method of leaving "bauchs" or wasteland between the cultivated strips, began to fall into disuse. These uncultivated areas, containing successive accumulations of decomposed organic matter, either grown, or thrown aside as waste, naturally continued to be more fertile long after being brought under cultivation, and could easily be detected by the darker colour of the green in the earlier part of the season.

Before 1800 a farm was divided into infield and outfield areas. The infield, consisting of the land immediately adjacent to the steading, received all the farmyard manure, and was cultivated to produce crops of oats, barley, or turnips. The outfield was allowed to remain as natural pasture for not less than three years, then it was broken up, and cropped for three years in succession, first with barley, and for the next two years with oats - a course of cropping that often exhausted the soil. There were several varieties of oats in use, such as a rough kind of oats called white oats, a plump kind called barley oats, sandy oats and Kildrummy oats.

The next agricultural improvement, which took place about 1817, was the drainage of fields where water either oozed out or had become stagnant. "Thorough Drainage," as the system was called afterwards, was first introduced about 1830 into Buchan by the Rev. John Morison, minister of Old Deer. He made the experiment on his own glebe, and realised the benefit, repaying himself in the short period of two years.

Common Grazing

Not until the close of the eighteenth century, when turnips and artificial grasses were generally introduced into the counties of Aberdeen and Banff, were the cattle provided at the homestead with any winter keep. Instead, they were allowed to roam over the hills or moors, and the herds belonging to different farms mixed freely together, picking up a scanty supply of withered herbage. This method of pasturing cattle was common in the villages of the north. For instance, the villagers of Inverurie between 1780 and 1790 had a common "herd", who took their cattle out daily to the Borough moor, or common pasturage of the village, and brought them home in the evening to their respective owners; the return home was announced by his blowing a horn as he proceeded along the streets. The same custom prevailed in the village of Turriff up until the middle of the 19th century, when the cows were still handed over to a common keeper, who conducted them to and back from their pasture on the Haugh lying to the south of the village.

The Twal Owsen Ploo

The twelve-oxen plough, an implement of huge dimensions, was last seen at work by Professor Cruickshank in October, 1807, at Mains of Williamston, in the parish of Culsalmond, when he was walking from Rothiemay by the Glens of Foudland to attend Marischal College. This type of plough began to fall into disuse here about 1800, though in some places it continued to be used till 1815 or 1816. An intermediate plough, drawn by four oxen and two horses as leaders, gradually took its place. The oxen employed were often about six or seven years of age, and of great power and weight. If they were not thoroughly trained and tractable, they might at any time break loose, take to flight, and carry everything before them. With a steady and persevering pull, however, much good work could be done in depth and size of furrow, the only danger being when the plough encountered a large concealed subsoil stone, in which case the result was either a broken plough, or some rupture of the gearing.

<Next Page>

The Twelve Oxen Plough