The Foxearth and District Local History Society
The Farmers' Year

by Clare Sewell Read

This account of the farming year was taken from Webb's Practical Farmers' Account Book, dated around 1900, but probably written some time earlier. It was published by Jarrold and Sons of London. It provides a wonderful summary of the work of an East Anglian farm (Clare Read was a Norfolk farmer)


October is one of the busiest months in the agricultural year. Should the weather be dry, the autumn cultivation of those foul stubbles which were broken directly after harvest, should be perfected early in the month. As soon as the olland or ley-ground is wet enough, the ploughs should be set to work, and the flag as we call it in Norfolk, or furrow slice as it is known elsewhere, should be immediately consolidated by a heavy roll or press. On some light land early planting wheat is necessary, but Old Michaelmas is a good time to begin to drill wheat, and it is best to be all over by the first week in November, except when planted after mangolds. The quantity of seed should vary from 7 to 10 peeks per acre, the former quantity being before Michaelmas as heavy a seeding as the latter would be in the middle of November. In threshing wheat for seed, care should be taken that the machine is well cleansed of the grain it has previously threshed. Unless this is attended to, these combined threshing and dressing machines may spoil the purity of any sample intended for seed. The seed wheat should be chosen off lands of opposite character; if the land be light, have your seed off heavy land, and if heavy, off light land. A change of seed is found to be advantageous. As the malting season commences earlier than it did some years ago, it often happens that barley threshed in October sells for a higher price than it does in any other month; so if men can be spared to thresh and horses to deliver the grain, some barley may be threshed with advantage in October. If a large proportion of mangold wurtzel be grown, the storage should be begun towards the end of the month. Plough or fork up potatoes. Winter beans, vetches and rye may still be sown. Fences, ditches, watercourses, and the mouths of all under-drains should be looked to.

Sheep intended for fattening should be put on turnips gradually, and where cows are kept, they should be well provided with turnips and dry provender. Forward grazing cattle should be now supplied with turnips, and if not wholly confined to the yards, should certainly be well foddered, and kept under cover at night.


Thresh and convey grain to market as may be convenient. Keep the ploughs at work. Mangold wurtzel should be finished carting this month, and stacked in hales about three yards wide, and same height in a triangular or roof shape, and well covered with straw, fern, or ditch trimmings, and then mould from 6 to 8 inches thick, leaving a chimney at the top of the ridge (9 inches in diameter, and filled with straw) every now and then to prevent heating. The bulk of the swedes should be haled or placed by the end of the month to protect them from the winter's frost

As the cold weather sets in, all cattle require more food and warm yards at night, particularly milch cows and young Stock. Sheep intended for fattening should have cut or long hay, especially if the weather be wet, as it keeps them in health and dries tip the excessive moisture of the turnips. Hay chaff is more economical, as much long hay is often spoiled on the land. Artificial food-linseed or cotton cake, and corn meal-should be supplied to both grazing cattle and sheep, and 2 lbs. of such nitrogenous food as decorticated cotton cake, will be found useful to the milch cows, and will pay well when butter is a fair price, as it generally is in Norwich this month.


Carting manure, and mould from the sides of hedges, roads, &c, is during frosty weather the most useful work for the teams. Plough when the frost permits. Repair fences, and level old decayed hedges and banks. Much straw and chaff being required, the threshing machine must be kept often at work.

Bullocks which are fattening, and are nearly ready for the butcher, should have a liberal allowance of linseed or cotton cake, being careful to give it them little and often. Out hay with barley or pea meal once or twice a day assists materially to fatten. The Swedish turnip, which is the foundation for fattening cattle, should be out into convenient slices, strips, or pulped. The turnips during the frosty weather will freeze in the bins, therefore during the day give them as much only as they will eat by a little at a time, throwing the frozen pieces (if any) to the pigs. We should advise that the last meal the bullocks have in the day be cut hay and meal, or cake, with a little long hay at night.

Cows require great care while the severe weather lasts, and should have a due proportion of hay as well as turnips. During the operation of milking, we should strongly recommend a little out hay, oat, or wheat straw, with cake, bran, or malt dust; the attention of the cows is thus engaged, and the milk will be found to flow much more readily, and by this means you obtain a larger quantity, and of a much richer quality; it is allowed by all that the last drops of milk are the best, Sheep fattening require much attention, and with artificial food, a due supply of cut hay. Ewes also require great care. We do not say that ewes should be treated as fat sheep, but kept in a healthy, thriving state, and never have too many turnips before lambing; they should be supplied with plenty of dry provender, and daily have a fair amount of exercise. Pigs, as well as other cattle, require to be kept clean, warm, and well littered.


Husbandry operations as last month. If the weather will permit, land intended for turnips may with advantage be ploughed, and also land prepared for beans, peas, vetches, oats, or barley.

Attend to stock as last month. Should any lambs be dropped, great care is necessary to keep them dry, either in outbuildings, or in a sheltered situation.


Thresh grain as may be required. Weather permitting-spring wheat, beans, peas, vetches and rye ought to be put in; barley may be sown at the latter end of the month. Topdress wheat and grass lands; nitrate of soda and sulphate of ammonia have been used with great advantage, also bone dust, soot, ashes, &o., when farm yard manure is not to be had.

Cattle require the same care as in last month. Forward bullocks should be ready for market, and sold this and the nest month. The flocks are beginning to lamb, and require unremitting attention. Milch cows cannot be taken too much care of, especially those in full profit, but dry cows, if supplied with plenty of fodder and good shelter, will not require further attention.


Oats and barley may be drilled whenever the land is in good order. About three bushels of barley per acre, and not less than four bushels of oats may be sown. It was the general practice to sow the small seeds directly after the spring corn was planted, but it is more common now to drill or sow broadcast the grass seeds after the corn is up, and harrow or roll them in, which often prevents a heavy undergrowth of clover, &o., among the barley at harvest time. When the land is intended, for artificial grasses, sow 12' lbs. of trefoil, 4 lbs. of white clover or suckling, and half a bushel of rye grass, or 12 lbs., of red clover, 4 lbs. of suckling, and half a bushel of rye grass. Clover should be sown once only in 8 years, if oftener it seldom pays. Those who approve of the plan may sow Italian rye grass or other artificial seeds amongst the clean wheat, which is often done to advantage, as it keeps down weeds, and insures a plentiful supply of grass in the spring for the flock.

The flocks are now dropping the lambs freely. With a plentiful supply of turnips, hay or fodder should be allowed. Cattle should be attended to as previously advised, keeping the yards, boxes, or stalls well littered.


The extended cultivation of mangold wurtzel has resulted in much earlier planting, and it is common now, if the land is dry and clean, to begin to drill this invaluable root by the middle of April. Upon all heavy and loamy soils it is a good plan to cart the manure direct to the land from the yards or boxes during the winter frosts, and plough it in as soon as possible; applying ammoniacal and saline dressings when the mangolds are sown. The practice to grow all mangold wurtzel upon ridges 27 inches apart is being modified. The long red mangolds certainly require the drills to be as far apart, but the inter mediate and other small-topped varieties may bo grown with advantage on the flat in much narrower drills.

Turnips not yet fed off, should be cleared, and the land prepared for Barley as quickly as possible. Wheat should be rolled where the land requires it, and horse-hoed, and afterwards weeded.

This month all draining and similar work on pastures should be completed, that the grass may not be spoiled. Chain harrow and roll meadows, and have the stones picked off. Potatoes may be planted for a full crop, as soon as the barley, &c., is sown. Muck from yards is to be carted on bottoms for turnips and wheat. The flocks now require pasture or rye, or forward grass land. Great care and precaution is necessary in removing the flocks from turnips to the green food, as they eat it so greedily, and should be allowed to remain in the new pasture only for a short time; by neglecting this, many ewes, &c, have been lost- Hoggets which have been fattened on turnips are now ready for the butcher, and are shorn or sent to market in their wool


Should any barley, oats or grass seeds remain to be sown, no time should be lost. All wheat hoeing should be ended. Cart manure as last month, and finish drilling mangolds. Early swedes may be planted by the middle of May. The bulk of the swedes and almost all the white turnips are now grown in Norfolk without any farm manure. The phosphatic fertilizers which are commonly employed in the growth of roots, are generally dissolved coprolites, but the marked success in the experiments of the Norfolk Chamber of Agriculture, which accompanied the addition of a small quantity of bone flour to the superphosphates (mixed some time before sowing) should induce all farmers to make a similar trial.


This is the usual time for cutting grass. Generally speaking, hay is made with little more thought than to prevent it, heating too much on the stack, or that it may have a good heat. Often is it made in the hot scorching sun and carried at once, or it lies about without being put in a cock, and is much" injured. The old saying is, " Make hay while the sun shines;" our advice is, keep the sun off as much as possible, and dry it on cooks, or with as little sun as may be necessary to wither it. Hay made in this way retains the saccharine matter, and will prove heavier and of much better quality. These remarks apply with greater force now that almost all hay is cut by machinery. The swathe laid by the old scythe was much thicker than that left by the grass mowers; consequently a larger surface of the grass is now exposed to the sun, the wind, and the rain; and is more quickly made, and more readily spoiled. Over-heated stacks are .still to be seen, but the more frequent fault is in having washed, bleached, and over-made hay.

Swede sowing should be concluded by the longest day, and the various kinds of white turnips should be drilled the latter end of the month. Crops of spring corn should be well weeded and mangolds and turnips horse and hand hoed as soon as fit, which cause the plants to grow fast.

This month the fly is very troublesome to sheep, they therefore require constant attention, particularly in showery weather. This month is the usual time for clipping or shearing the ewes, and weaning the forward lambs.


The upland hay should be secured by the middle of the month, and then the meadows and marshes which are saved for hay will be ready for cutting. The hay-tedding machines which are so useful for all natural grasses should not dispense with early cooking, if the colour and nutritive qualities of the grasses are to be retained. Where silos are in use, this is the month in which they are generally filled; but the second crops of clover and the later produce of meadows will do well to make into silage after harvest. Directly the ollands are clear of the hay, manure, straight from the yards and boxes, may be spread on the land intended for wheat, instead of putting off all manurial dressings until Michaelmas.

Whenever it is dry the horse-hoe should be kept continually at work; even if there are no weeds, stirring the earth between the drills of turnips does good. Turnip hoeing this month is a constant employment, but by some is much neglected ; the whole crop depends on the hoeing, and should be repeated two or three times. Never suffer the plants to get large before thinned, as it adds much to the labour, weakens the plants, and they are seldom, if ever, hoed well after. These observations are particularly applicable to mangold-wurtzel.

All the cattle require abundance of water, and should be turned out early, and taken into the yards, sheds, or shady places during the heat of the day, as the Fly is now very troublesome, and causes the cattle to run about, which not only does them harm, but spoils the grass, which otherwise would be saved. After the heat of the day, they may again be turned out.


The Farmer's brightest prospects are now bursting upon him, and the fields are all ripening to harvest, while the wavy corn recalls the many bygone years of "peace with plenty crowned," and the many happy harvest homes. This is indeed to the farmer the happiest and the busiest of all the months, and heaven's rich reward of industry and patience; now are the almost deserted barns opening wide their doors, waiting the treasures of the field. As each becomes ripe, lose no time in setting the reaping machine or scythes to work. As soon as the wheat or shocked corn has stood its full time, which must depend on the weather, throw the shocks down for an hour or so previous to carting, with the bottom (which is always most damp) towards the sun; this assists materially to give the grain a good hand. This is more than ever requisite when barley is cut with the string-binding reaping machines, for the clover grasses and weeds in the butt end of the sheaves have not the same chance of withering as when the corn is carted loose. Barley should be well dried, and turned before carting; it is much better for the fanner to have black barley, as the quantity is so much increased, than have it heated or a bad hand; the chances are, that a little more patience will be rewarded by the improvement of the grain. We do not approve of horse treading, either in stacks or barns, particularly the latter. We think it nine times out of ten very dangerous ; the little room it makes, is often a loss, by causing it to heat, and thereby injuring the grain. We are aware that there are cases in which it assists threshing and does no harm, but this is only in continued fine weather. Should the weather prove showery, and harvest work cannot be followed, stubbles intended for vetches, turnips, rye, &c, should be ploughed as soon as possible; these, if sown early, will prove of great service in the spring. Also muck may be carted and spread on the fields intended for wheat.

As the cornfields become cleared, the cattle and sheep may be turned in, which will give the meadows and pastures rest; there is generally much sweet grass round the hedges, and whore the rye grass has been sown, plenty of feed.


The last month we have been busily occupied gathering in the grain, and now we must provide for another harvest, and deposit in the earth a portion of the valuable produce a kind Providence has bestowed. Directly harvest is ended, and indeed, in many instances, before the corn is all carried, autumn cultivation should begin. All stubbles, which are full of root weeds, even those that are likely to produce many annuals, are best stirred after harvest. All foul fields should be ploughed with the spider-harrow attached, the even rotary movement of this clever little implement shaking the mould from the couch grass, and depositing it and all other weeds on the surface of the land. Stubbles intended for winter beans or vetches should be mucked, and the sooner they are sown the better, and rye and winter oats may be drilled by the end of the month, When the weather is dry, stubbles may be cleaned; and when it is wet, ollands may be ploughed. Potatoes should be taken up if the haulm is dead, and the rind of the potatoes set; they may be stored as mangold wurtzel, but in smaller clamps, Foals may be weaned this month. The rams may be admitted to the flocks; this is generally considered the best month. The pigs, when turned into the new lays, should be well rung, or they will injure the grass, and do themselves more harm than good.