STATEMENT regarding HIGHLAND CLUB FARMS, by the late WILLIAM MACKENZIE, Esq., Factor for Ardross and Lochalsh (Written in 1881.)
As a general rule, hill grazings are held by tenants at will and in common. The grazings m a y carry from two hundred to probably one thousand sheep, and are occupied by from fourteen to sixteen, or perhaps more tenants, each having his own mark. Along with the sheep they generally have each from three to four cows with their followers, and a horse.
The rent is generally equally apportioned among them, but it sometimes varies, as one tenant may have more sheep than another. This is most frequently caused by some one of them falling behind, or by a son getting married and settling down with his father.
In the event of a tenant falling pecuniarily behind, no other resource is left him to meet his demands than by reducing his stock. Once compelled to do so, he has seldom a chance of retrieving.
He complains to the proprietor or factor that he has only so many sheep, and that his neighbours have so many more. This is the first cause of a difference arising in the rent, it being reduced in proportion to his stock. This does not improve the position of the tenant, who continues to fall behind with his rent. He is still, however, allowed to remain on the farm, until at length he comes forward and says that he is obliged to dispose of all his sheep. He is likewise permitted to keep his cow or cows, and perhaps a few sheep, his proportion of rent being allocated over the remaining tenants, in doing which a difficulty is often experienced in putting the rise of rent upon the proper parties, as some may have more sheep in one year than another, and perhaps causing the grazings to be overstocked.
They have some arable land, laboured under what is called the run-rig system, which they apportion among themselves. This land lies generally in a flat, intersected by small burns, gullies, and knolls, or perhaps a large burn or river runs through it, or it m ay skirt the sides of a fresh-water lake. This arable land changes hands among themselves annually, so that the man who may be inclined to do justice to the land by good husbandry has no great inducement to do so, because however well he may cultivate, the benefit he derives from his labour is confined to the particular year of his tillage. When the lands are contiguous the houses are generally built in a cluster, on rising ground beyond the reach of hill burns when in Rood, and in some conspicuous part of the low ground at a point convenient to the centre of the arable land. Where the land is detached in patches, the houses are relatively scattered. The arable land is only temporarily enclosed from the grazing portion, and consequently the cattle, horses, and sheep have access to the crops, and damage them much. Another cause of loss in many localities is the flooding of the burns, the effect of both operating together being to diminish the quantity and deteriorate the quality of both corn and straw to such an extent that there is not sufficient left to provide meal for the tenants and fodder for their cattle, so that at times, with a late harvest and a severe winter, they have a hard struggle to make both ends meet. Till within the last forty years very few sheep were kept by this class of tenants; seldom more than were sufficient to supply home-spun clothing for the family, and occasional webs for sale at the local markets. The milch cows were herded near the dwelling-houses, and when the crops were sown the old cattle and horses were sent to the hills several miles away, under the charge of a common herd. The hill grazings were generally held in common, and apportioned to each district or township. There were also the sheilings to which they sent the cows from June to the end of September. Each township had its sheiling, its family, and its bothy thereon. The best part of the grazing was selected for the sheiling, generally in a ravine or some sheltered spot, close by a running stream or loch. The women made it their duty to attend to the sheiling, milking the cows, and making butter and cheese, which, on their return to the low ground in September, they sold at the local markets.
The demand for and prices obtained for wool and sheep have done away with the grazing of cattle and sheilings, and have turned attention to the rearing of sheep.
We shall now give some idea of the practical and successful working of club farms on leases of from fourteen to nineteen years on the estates of Ardross, which we began to arrange and lay out upwards of twenty years ago. Four examples shall be given as to situation and the capabilities of the ground, each of them having from two to fourteen tenants.
Example No. 1.—A farm where there were fourteen tenants, among them descendants of former generations, who had occupied the land in succession for upwards of three hundred years,—paid altogether a rent of £100, and kept some four hundred sheep. Each tenant had his own mark or burn, from one to four cows, with their followers, and about six horses. Owing to the situation of the ground the houses were scattered over a flat, with a river running through it, having tributary burns. There were likewise deep gullies and water runs. The burns had done considerable damage to the lower portion of the ground, and often by overflowing destroyed a great part of the crops ; most of the tenants were in arrears of rent, some of them had not paid any rent for years. Only one of the tenants was able to keep up the stock with which he commenced, and add to it as his neighbours fell behind ; the stock of some of them were reduced to as few as three sheep. The families as they grew up left home ; some to engage as shepherds and artisans, others to emigrate. But under all their difficulties the people were contented, lived happily, God-fearing, and law-abiding, a quarrel or dispute amongst them being unknown. They looked for the protection of their proprietor and factor, and the guidance of their minister.
The first step taken in the organisation of this farm was to lay off the best part of the low ground attached to the arable land, and which they used for the purpose of grazing their cows ; this portion contained about two hundred acres, It was first enclosed by a wide open ditch having a slope towards the hill side to catch the water, the stuff taken out of the ditch being used for making a bank upon the lower side ; a wire fence was then erected upon the top of the bank, and the water conducted to the different burns in the vicinity. Eight tenants were selected, the low ground lying along the river was divided into eight lots ; a new cottage was erected upon each, a service road ran close by them, timber and lime was given for their offices free of charge, and the low bums or watercourses were so divided that they acted for the marches of the different lots as far as practicable, while at the same time prevented the burns from overflowing the lands.
Whatever land was found capable of being improved was improved, and the old arable land was drained. Each of the eight tenants got his own arable land with the grazings attached within the ring fence at a valued rent, and kept a horse, with from three to four cows; a separate slump rent being put on the hill-grazings, each tenant paying an equal proportion of it. The cows and their followers were not allowed to go on the sheep grazing.
The next step was to take delivery of their sheep stock, which, as might be expected, from having so many owners, was very inferior in quality, at a valuation made by arbiters mutually chosen by proprietor and tenants. After the award was given in, each tenant paid an equal share of the price of the stock. Those who had sheep which came to more than their share received payment for the same, and those who bad what came to less paid in; some of these were unable to do so at the time, but credit was procured for them, on which they paid interest, and the principal was paid up by instalments.
At the delivery, which took place about the end of May, one mark was put upon the whole sheep stock, and leases of nineteen years given them. Two of the tenants were elected annually as managers of the sheep, and they had charge of sales and purchases ; they kept a common shepherd. Each of the tenants was equally interested in the stock. To get it improved in as short a time as practicable, the greater part of it was cast during the first year. Young sheep were bought in, and arrangements made to have the farm self-sustaining by three years in black-faced ewes and wedders.
The tups were all sold the first year, and replaced by the hardiest and most useful that could be procured of their class—fresh blood being introduced annually. At the same time they got an additional piece of hill grazing, which enabled them to increase their stock to six hundred sheep; their rent, including interest on improvements, being now £180. As the ground was not adapted for hogging, the tenants were bound by their leases to winter their hoggs. All these and similar regulations regarding the cultivation and management of their lands and grazing generally were at the outset so new to them that we made it a point to visit them occasionally during the first few years to see that they were carried out. We always found them anxious and willing to do what they were desired, knowing that it was for their own good. Their children took such an interest in, and were so delighted with, the improved change, that both sons and daughters, who were at service, assisted with their earnings to clear the price of the stock, and to get offices erected.
The remaining six tenants,—frail old people, some of them widows,—were allowed to remain in their houses (with gardens attached) rent free, and were supported by their families, and assisted by the other tenants, who were as grateful at their being allowed to remain as the old people themselves were.
Example No. 2.—Some thirty years ago, when Mr Matheson purchased the estate of Ardross, he took into his own hands a large sheep farm thereon, for the purpose of enabling him to carry out his extensive improvements. Part of the low ground of this farm runs along a river for about two and a half miles. This flat at one time was occupied by thirteen tenants ; but about sixty years ago they were ejected and the ground was put under sheep. Our present example is the conversion of this Hat into a club farm. On accompanying the factor over the ground, with the plan of the then proposed farm before us, he made the pleasant remark : ' The most has been made of this, and I should like to see it carried out.' The reply made to him was, ' It could easily be done'; and when accomplished, it might form a model for the laying out of club farms.
The first step taken was to construct a service road, with a stone dyke built along the side of it, dividing the low ground from the hill grazing. The best portions of the low ground were very much deteriorated by being so long exclusively under sheep, which caused the land to run under moss and heather. This portion of the ground was divided into six divisions, each enclosed by a fence, the site of a dwelling-house and offices laid off upon each division, then dwelling-houses were erected, and six tenants selected, three of whom were experienced shepherds, one a butcher, one a gamekeeper, and the sixth a tenant removed from another part of the estate. These tenants entered at the rent at which the farm was valued by the County Assessor when in the occupancy of the proprietor.
A comfortable cottage, lathed and plastered, and having attics, was built for each tenant, timber and lime being allowed free of charge.
All the land capable of improvement within the ring fence was reclaimed, and the tenants were charged £1 per acre for the same (exclusive of the original rent), and leases of nineteen years given to them.
The sheep stock had been formerly Cheviot, but in the spring previous to the tenants' entry it was substituted by a black-faced self-sustaining ewe and wedder stock, and handed over to them at the purchase price. Those who were unable to pay in full got credit on interest, and were allowed to pay the stock by instalments, which, after a time, were all paid up. Each of the tenants kept from four to six cows, with their followers, and a pair of horses, the cattle being restricted to within the ring fence. They used the services of a pure short-horn bull, and they got from £4 to £6 for the calves when milched, and from £9 to £11 for the stirks. As the ground was not suitable for hogging, the tenants were bound by their leases to winter the hoggs. They kept a regular shepherd, but assisted him themselves when required. Two of their number were elected annually as managers, and they had charge of the purchases and sales. Each tenant, after a few years, got a thrashing mill,—one driven by water, the others by horse-power.
With the exception of two or three years, which had been much against farming interests everywhere, they have been doing well. Thanks to their own industry, a school, with a selected teacher, was placed within reach, and it was built by the proprietor, and partly supported by him ; all the tenants availed themselves of this opportunity of educating their families. The women vie with each other in rearing poultry and making dairy produce ; the latter they have supplied to private families in Edinburgh and other places, and they have a demand greater than they can supply.
The sons of some of the tenants hold positions of trust in important commercial establishments at home and abroad, and others are successful farmers in America and New Zealand. The daughters of some act in the capacity of governesses ; one conducts a public school in England, and one had the offer of being sent to China as a missionary.
The tenants have now entered upon their second nineteen years lease, and to encourage them the proprietor granted new leases four years before the old one expired. A difference among them has been unknown ; on the contrary, they have always been on the most friendly terms.
Example No. 3.—Another part of this farm was let on a lease of nineteen years to two tenants at the Assessor's valued rent to commence with, about one hundred and twenty acres of the low ground being allotted to each. The improvement of the land was proceeded with as the tenants were able to cultivate, and after it yielded the first crop it was valued at 12s. per acre to them.
Comfortable dwelling-houses were erected for them, and timber and lime for offices were given free.
The sheep stock was their own at entry, and consisted of about six hundred black-faced ewes and wedders, self-sustaining, having one mark. A mixed stock of cattle and sheep was kept on this farm. The tenants have entered upon their second nineteen years lease.
Example No. 4 was a club farm of eight tenants. The township was situated upon a prominent terrace, the houses being grouped together. For several centuries back it had been occupied by tenants at will, the children succeeding their fathers. It was owned by a powerful highland chief, in whose family it remained until about twenty-four years ago, when it passed into the hands of a new proprietor. When he came into possession, the farm had only eight tenants, but he added other two, whom he removed from another part of the property to make room for deer. The arable land lay in detached portions surrounding the township. Three burns ran through the lands, two of which discharged themselves into the sea, and the third into a river which bounded the farm on one side. At times both river and burns rose so high that they overflowed a great portion of the best land. The arable land was cultivated on the run-rig system, and it together with the hill grazing was held in common. The tenants at this time had eight hundred to one thousand blackfaced sheep, ewe and wedder, four cows each with their followers, and a horse. Each had his own stock mark. They paid conjointly a rent of £100. Thirteen years ago the property passed into the hands of the present proprietor, Mr Matheson of Ardross (he being the third proprietor within twelve years), who, as was his custom, set about improving the property, at the same time bettering the condition of the tenants.
The arable land had no proper enclosure, and was therefore exposed to injury by sheep, cattle, and horses, the herding of which took up a great part of the tenants' time. Besides the damage done to the crops, the cattle and sheep were injured by hounding. The first thing done was to enclose the improved land, and the low ground which was intended to be the cows' grazing. The next was to protect the land from the burns and river, and to improve by trench-ploughing, draining and clearing from stones, the land capable of improvement. The formation of the ground did not admit of the tenants' houses being scattered, which would have incurred a considerable additional outlay, and as the land would not have offered the increase of rent to meet the interest on this and the other outlays, the outlays had to be confined to enclosing, reclaiming, and protecting the land from the flooding of the burns and rivers.
The tenants were supplied with timber and lime free of charge for repairing their houses and offices. All that was capable of being improved was converted into arable land, and enclosed into five different shifts, cultivated in common, one-fifth under green crop, two-fifths under white, and two-fifths under one and two years' grass. When these improvements were completed the tenant got new leases of fourteen years, and the rent was raised to £182, 10s., the stock both of cattle and sheep being about the same. The sheep, a much improved stock, were under one mark, herded by a regular shepherd, and managed by two of themselves, annually elected. They were much better off now, being able to raise corn snf&cient for meal for their families and straw for their cattle. They also had plenty of turnips for their cows and sheep, and had some potatoes to sell.
They are contented and grateful, and have that genuine feeling towards their proprietor which is only to be found in this class of tenants when properly treated. One of the ten tenants has left for a large holding, his share being divided among the remaining nine, and what is desired is that the number afterwards should be reduced to eight, which will be done when an opportunity occurs for another of their number to leave to better himself, evictions being alien to the proprietor.
The best green ground along the sea-board, and in valleys in the Highlands in large farms exclusively under sheep, are quite run out with fog, ferns, and heather. This would not be the case were the occupants small farmers, who would keep a mixed stock of sheep, cattle, and horses, which large farmers do not keep. The remedy lies in giving the land to small farmers with hill grazings in connection with the low ground. The grazing not to be less in extent than to carry six cows with their followers and one hundred sheep. The high lands with their corries to be put under deer, for which they are better adapted than for sheep. There are many large sheep farms which would bring a higher rent in this way than by keeping them in large holdings exclusively under sheep, as is now too much the custom. The other mode would give a numerous class of industrious resident tenants, themselves and the families doing all the farm work.