The story of 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 and end to the black cattle, their drovers and the drove roads which are charted but hard to find in the modern farming landscape of today. Kintyre now have mixed breed cattle in dairy and in beef.

The dairy farms produce the UK’s Mull of Kintyre cheddar cheese. In small farms 17/1800’s butter was the main use for milk, while cheese was made from skimmed milk. Thanks to Barbara Gilmore, an Ayrshire woman in 1792 developed Dunlop Cheese made from whole milk, sometime later rivalling Ayrshire in output and quality was Kintyre cheese where the soft peaty type of Dunlop was 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 our hill farms achieving some of the highest prices in the Stirling and Oban markets.

Black-Faced and sheep are no longer the main breed for lamb or mutton. They are now cross bred with various other breeds to produce heavier carcases. The older generation still prefer the mutton from the Black-Faced sheep, mutton is now in great demand in top London restaurants.

Pigs (pork) – 200 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. A few pigs are still reared in Kintyre, mostly sold in the farmers markets which are held on the first Saturday of the month in Campbeltown.

The Land and Crops – 18th Century

In the eighteenth century crops were oats, barely, beer, wheat, turnips, potatoes and not forgetting Kale and hay.

These crops sustained the farm animals, the households and the farm workers, also local markets. Larger farms would have up to 4 pair of horses, small farms would only have one to two pair horses. These smaller farms would share (pull) their horses at harvest time.
The horse was so important to the farmer. They said the farmer’s first priority was his horses, second was the cattle and third the wife (or mistress as the wife was called). Often the trap pony was used with an offset swingle tree in smaller farms.

The tools that were used: the scythe (for cutting hay and harvest), the hay would be cut and left to dry, then coiled in small bundles and then rucked in the field, this allowing the hay to dry out before being carted to the stack yard and stacked.

In the Heritage Centre you can see the difference between a hay-stack and a grain/oats-stacks. The barley, beer, wheat, oats and grain crops were cut and tied into sheaf’s and stooked together 6/8 sheafs to the stook again this was to allow the grain to dry before it was carted to the stack yard and stacked.

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 in the WWII, the government tractor scheme to enable Kintyre to increase food production for the war effort.

Land Reform – 1700’s to 1900’s

1730 to 1740 the old system of the Tackesman was abolished and leases were given, for the first time to working farmers, and 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 four pence which is the equivalent to 67 pence today.

The rents were not paid in money, they were generally paid in meal, cheese, malt (made from beer grain) and cows. The Tackesman converted a good deal of this produce into money before he paid the rents to the Chiefs.

There were many other payments to churches and Chiefs which are to numerous to go into which were abolished in the 1700’s.

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 a number of rigs according to his share in the tenancy. In order to ensure each tenant got a fair distribution of good and bad land the rigs appointed to any one 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 Tackesman were abolished, replaced by the system of tenant farmers, his own separate holding and steading, and the old run-rig’s were divided up for this purpose, and the earliest farms “leased” to farmers dated 1742.
This was the start of farming as we know it today. In the 1950’s the Duke of Argyll sold most of his lands in Kintyre to the leased tenant farmers.

To this day farmers still share their tractors and machinery and manpower with their neighbours.
Among the first meal mills were Saddell (1634), Kilkenzie (1633), Kileonan (1636) and Kinloch (1636), Machrimore (1636), Kilellan (1659), Carskay (1651) and many more. Many of the ruined walls of these mills can still be seen today.

References From:

“Kintyre in the Seventeenth Century” by Andrew McKerral C.I.E M.A F.S.A. Scot. Published 1948
“Dunlop Cheese and its Manufacture” by Renwick H. Leitch D.Sc., M.A., B.Sc. (Agrc.), N.D.A. (Hons.), N.D.D. West Scotland College of Agriculture Auchincruive, Ayr and Glasgow 1934.