Stenton | Agriculture

Fiona Dobson

The agricultural land of the parish is divided into nine farms. The largest two are the hill farms of Deuchrie and Millknowe. Sheep farming is the main enterprise on these units. The steading at Deuchrie consists of mainly traditional buildings with good sheep handling facilities. The original farmhouse and farm steading at Millknowe are now under water since the valley was flooded in the sixties when the Whiteadder reservoir was constructed.

The remaining seven farms in the parish are intensively farmed incorporating today’s modem methods and equipment.

Beesknowe, which is part of Biel estate, and Pitcox, to the east of the parish, are mainly arable units specialising in cereal crops. Bielgrange, Ruchlaw West Mains, Pressmennan, Little Spott and Meiklerigg are traditional mixed farms. Cereals grown are mainly wheat and barley. Small acreages of pea, beans and oil seed rape have been cultivated on some units over the period. Set-aside has also featured in crop rotations since its introduction in the late 1980s. One or two of these farms rent out small acreages for potatoes and turnips. Livestock are either herds of beef suckler cows or bought-in cattle for fattening. Flocks of sheep also feature on one or two units.

In the early part of the period, from 1940, the parish’s only dairy was at Pressmennan, owned at that time by Mr Archibald Weir. The herd of 20 Ayrshire cows (who all had their names on plaques above their individual milking stalls) supplied milk to the surrounding area. Bottled on the farm, it was then delivered to customers in the parish and surrounding area for a number of years by Mrs Mary Wilson, who was better known locally as ‘milky Mary’. The dairy continued until Mr Weir retired in 1962.

Over the period steadings have been adapted to meet changing needs. New buildings have been erected to accommodate modern grain storage and handling equipment, and bulk-loading facilities for grain have been incorporated on most farms.

Purpose-built sheds for housing and handling livestock have also been erected, which enables mechanised feeding systems to be used.

Although modernisation has had a considerable impact on the parish farms there are still features of by-gone days to be found. At Pressmennan farm a tall chimney for a steam engine to drive the threshing mill is still intact. Repaired to its original design in 1985/86, with the aid of a grant from Historic Scotland, it is now a listed building. Farmhouses are of long- standing and traditional build and most have been adapted to include many of today’s modem comforts.

Farm cottages have been modernised over the years and many are rented out or sold to private individuals. This is a reflection of the dwindling number of farm workers employed on the parish farms over the period. 50 years ago it was common for farms in the parish to have a staff of 10-15 men to carry out the work. Additional seasonal or casual workers were also employed. In 2000 farms are either worked by family members alone, or by a labour force of only one or two employees. Farm sizes have marginally altered on one or two units over the period. Pressmennan has decreased in size with the land being purchased by Bielgrange and Ruchlaw West Mains, and Pitcox has increased by purchasing land from Little Spott.