Farming in Kintyre

There is a rich history of farming over 400 years of almost self-efficiency, starting with the black cattle which produced milk, butter and beef. The twentieth century saw an end to black cattle. Some Kintyre farms now have dairy cattle while others specialize in beef and lamb production.

The dairy farms produce the UK’s Mull of Kintyre cheddar cheese. In small farms in the 1700-1800s butter was the main use for milk, while cheese was made from skimmed milk. Following the development of Dunlop cheese, using whole milk, by Barbara Gilmore, an Ayrshire woman in 1792 Kintyre cheese began to rival Ayrshire cheese in output and quality. Kintyre cheese which is defined as a soft peaty type of Dunlop began to be preferred by the merchants. Today Mull of Kintyre cheddar cheese is renowned throughout the UK.

Beef cattle are still one of the main products from the hill farms achieving some of the highest prices in the Stirling and Oban cattle markets. Blackface sheep are no longer the main breed for lamb or mutton. They are now crossbred with various other breeds to produce heavier carcases. However, the mutton is now in demand in London restaurants. Two hundred years ago most country cottages had a pig almost like the ‘pet dog’, only this ‘pet pig’ got killed, cured and hung on the ham-hooks in the kitchen. Some pigs are still reared in Kintyre, mostly sold at the farmer’s markets, which are held on the first Saturday of the month in Campbeltown.

Land and Crops

In the eighteenth century, crops grown would have been oats, barley, bere, wheat, turnips, potatoes hay and kale., These crops sustained the farm animals, the households, farmworkers and also the local market. Larger farms would have up to four pair of horses, but small farms would only have one to possibly two horses. These smaller farms would share their horses at harvest time.

The horse was important to the farmer. They said the farmer’s priority was his horses; the second was the cattle and the third the wife (or mistress as the wife was called). Often the trapped pony was also used with an offset swingle tree for fieldwork in smaller farms.

In the early days, the scythe was the main tool for cutting the crop. The hay would be cut and left to dry, then coiled in small bundles and then rucked in the field, thus allowing the hay to dry out before being carted to the stackyard and stacked.

In the Heritage Centre, you can see the difference between a hay-stack and a grain or oats stack. The barley, beer, wheat, oats and grain crops were cut and tied into sheaf’s and stooked together 6-8 sheafs to then stooked again. This was to allow the grain to dry before it was carted to the stackyard and stacked. To this day farmers still, share their tractors and machinery and manpower with their neighbours.

We have a collection of farm tools on display including a peat barrow, always remember there was no waste every part of our land yielded something and peat was cut, dried and stacked for the fire and cooking.

Tractors were introduced mainly at the time of World War Two. The government tractor scheme being introduced to enable Kintyre farmers to increase food production for the war effort.

Land Reform

Between 1730-1740 the old system of the Tackesman was abolished and leases were given, for the first time, to working farmers. This new farming system was to some extent, similar to the farms of the nineteenth century. Farms were described as consisting of so many merklands, and it is necessary to explain this term: a merk was thirteen shillings and fourpence which is the equivalent to 67 pence today and a merkland was the area of land such rent would justify.

The rents were not paid in money, they were generally paid in a meal, cheese, malt (made from bere grain) and cows. The Tackesman converted a good deal of this produce into money before he paid the rents to the landowner or laird. There were many other payments to churches and lairds, too numerous to go into, which were abolished in the 1700s.

It was rare to find a farm tenanted by a single tenant, and in general, several tenants worked the farms in a communal fashion, all took part in each operation and the rigs of the farms were drawn for by lots, each tenant receiving the produce of several rigs according to his share in the tenancy. To ensure each tenant got a fair distribution of good and bad land the rigs appointed to anyone tenant were scattered throughout the farm and this fact probably accounts for the word Run-Rig, which was the name given to the system or method. It is from the Gaelic ‘Rhoinn’, a division, and ‘Ruith’, to run, and signifies that the rigs pertaining to a tenant ran or extended over all the available area, and not confined to a particular part of the farm.

In the middle of the eighteenth century at the same time as the Tacksman was abolished, replaced by the system of tenant farmers, each with his separate holding and steading, the old run-rig’s were divided up and the earliest farms ‘leased’ to farmers. (circa 1742). This was the start of farming as we know it today. One major event was that in the 1950s death duties forced the Duke of Argyll to sell lands in Kintyre to the leased tenant farmers.

Grain was further processed of the farm, after it was harvested and dried, it was taken to the mill. There were many in Kintyre, all powered by water. Among the first meal mills were Saddell (1634), Kilkenzie (1633), Kileonan (1636) and Kinloch (1636), Machrimore (1636), Kilellan (1659), Carskey (1651) and many more. Ruined walls of these mills can still be seen today.

Farming tools used in Kintyre
Part of the farming display.