Upland farming

Upland Farming

Along the lower edge of the Lammermuir hills are the upland farms. Climatic conditions and poorer soil types restrict the choice of crops and make farming at this level more difficult and careful management is required. Farms are generally large and combine arable cropping and stock rearing. Land in this area is of a steeper gradient and is primarily suited to grassland with short arable breaks worked on a 4-year grass, 4-year grain rotation. Many farms along this ridge include a large area of hill land.

Wheat and malting barley were the main arable crops produced. Turnips, once the mainstay as winter fodder for sheep, had mainly given way to silage and hay, the latter being less labour-intensive and easier managed. By 2000, there were only a very few farmers feeding turnips to livestock: the acreage of turnips grown in the county was produced on contract specifically for supermarket requirements. Sheep numbers increased over the years. It was not uncommon for farms to have 2000 ewes, plus replacements. Post war, Cheviots were the predominant breed of sheep on the hills, but by the 1960s Blackfaces were playing a bigger role, being easier managed and produced a leaner carcass. The 1960s/1970s also saw a shift away from the half-bred ewe in favour of the Greyface on the lower fields. These changes were greatly influenced by the demand from the marketplace for leaner meat and smaller carcasses. The majority of lambs were sold fat. Most farm units in this area also have a herd of suckler cows, selling the progeny either to the store market or finishing fat.

Hill Farming

The gently rolling hills of the Lammermuirs mark the southernmost boundary of East Lothian, the highest point being Meikle Says Law at 535m (1750′). The Lammermuirs are mainly formed from rocks called greywacke and shale laid down millions of years ago during the Silurian period. They are predominantly heather-covered with rough grazing on the lower slopes. By 2000, 40,000 acres or 28% of the county’s total farm area was classified as rough grazing, and it was common practice for farmers to reclaim suitable parts of heather hill, and reseed to improve grazing. Farms were efficiently managed and ranged in size from 1000 to 4000 acres. Sheep farming was the main enterprise, and large flocks of blackface ewes grazed the hills. Some farms also had flocks of Greyface and half-bred ewes on the lower slopes. Lambs were sold to the fat or store market. Quality rams were also produced and presented for sale at the annual Kelso Ram sale. Silage and hay for winter fodder were produced on most farms. Over the period there were large changes in flock sizes; in 1950, the county’s sheep flock was over 42,000 ewes. This number fell to 36,500 in 1975 and by 2000, had stabilized at around 34,000.