Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on.
By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg
An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact email@example.com
The proportion of wet days to dry yens particularly up the Tyne and Rede is very high, so it was quite a problem for the boss on a hill farm to find enough wet day jobs to keep us Daft Laddies busy and out of mischief, especially in view of our lack of experience. There was a limited number of jobs we were capable of being trusted with!
Although farm work often meant working outside in all weathers, the bosses that we knew were sympathetic enough not to send us out in real miserable weather unless absolutely necessary, such as to rescue sheep and lambs from a threatened flood or bring down sheep off the fell that were likely to be caught in a snow storm. Most, but not all, clashy wet days occurred in winter when the bease were all inside under cover. So having tended to fotherin’, milkin’ and muckin’ oot, we laddies could be left with time on wor hands – summat te be avoided as we wor costing the boss muney, and divvn’t forget he wasn’t made o’ muney!
Riddin’ nail and bolt boxees
One job devised by the boss but avoided by the laddie if possible, was riddin oot the nail box. Every farm caert shed, implement shed or barn had a nail box ,or two. Like auntie Bessie’s button box it contained an amazing variety of every kind of contraption for fixing and fettlin’ things.
There were nails of every size and for every purpose, mostly bent, rusty and reclaimed from a hundred former lives. The boss didn’t see why he should spend good muney on new nails at a shillin’ a pund (5p), when porfectly good aad yins cud be saved from owld jobs. The job was to lay them oot in thor sizees an gi them a bit bat wi the hammor to git the kinks oot an mek them luk as good as new.”
Fencin’ stapples got the same treatment, though they were a bit mair aakward as they usually had a twist to sort as weel as a bend or two. There were weshors, roof bowlts, bowlts for plew socks, bits of chine (handy for gate catches), various brokken parts from the aad caert that was fettled last year. There would also be two ancient cast iron spanners, a hammer heed wi nee shank, a broken tine from the Blackstone hay turner, a pair of fencing pliers – rusted solid. Lang bowlts, short bowlts, bent bowlts used as draw-bar pins - aall were cowped oot on to the bench or on tiv an owld poke on the floor for easy refilling.
They were sorted, sized, straightened and separated from the accumulation of binder twine, straw, hay seeds and hens’ droppings that had somehow gitten in amang them since last riddin’ oot day. Maybe there was the excitement of some new boxes to sort if the boss had been to a neighbour’s clearing sale – where these miscellaneous boxes of nuts and bolts always went for much more than their worth. They seemed to attract bids from folk genetically programmed from birth te spend nowt! They were treasure troves.
There’s the true story of the AA man from Hexham cumin up to rescue a visitors car at the Hott farm and guess where he fund the exact size of bolt he needed and didn’t have. Aye, that’s right – it was in yen of them boxees of miscellaneous bowlts i’ the tractor shed!
Riddin’ the meal hoose
So after a grand couple of hours in the dry, the Daft Laddie was faced with, “Whaat to dee next?” Riddin’ the meal hoose or the caert shed was a more popular job on a wet day. The meal hoose especially was dark and cosy and smelt of corn and crushed oats, cattle cake, treacle, Kositos and Karswood poultry spice. All the bins of feed had to be moved so as to sweep the overspill oot from ahint, nailing tin patches over any moose or rat holes in the wooden kists and toppin’ them up with cake or corn as required.
While there, it was useful the laddie told himself (because he knew ivrything), to set the crusher gannin’ and put a bag of oats or barley through, ready for feeding the sheep later. It was really just to enjoy the racket and stour that the machine produced and it made the laddie feel important. There was always the chance of an exciting rat chase an’aal - especially if the meal hoose had a half loft where the corn was stored.
On one farm this was the favourite activity of the boss’s daughter who would go into the meal hoose, close the door ahint hor and set tee wi a good stick to emerge triumphant shortly after with half a dozen ratty victims. If there was a terrier on the farm, then it knew that riddin’ oot the meal hoose or barn was something to look forward to and it really set its narves a twitchin’!
Tidyin' the granary
There were always jobs to do in the granary -such as sweeping the floor so nee corn was wasted. There would be empty bags to tidy up, and repair where they had got holed with rats. The heaped corn was a paradise of a cat's toilet, which had to be accepted in return for their vermin control - but not nice if you got a handful or two.
Tidyin’ the caert shed
In the caert shed there was less sweepin’ te dee and the job was to get gear ready for use, accordin’ to the time of year. When the grass seed had to be sewn, the old seed fiddle was taen doon from the beams and thoroughly checked. A drop or two of oil was put on the spinnor to mek sure she ran free. See that the straps and bag hadn’t gitten chowed by rats or mice, and that the bow and its lang leathor lace were in good gannin’ fettle. Horse harness too had to be looked at, caert saddle, belly band, britchin’, bridle, collar and haeme sticks all had to be checked for wear and tear.
On farms where old Jean or Silver were still used to lead muck to the fields or hay to the hill sheep, the harness was in constant use and frequently needed a new buckle or a few stitches. Once in a blue moon (or a wet day), it got a good dein’ with neatsfoot oil or dubbin, though some farmers regarded this as far ower flash and show-offish. “This is a farm and not the Coonty Show” you’d be reminded.
Hidden in the back of the caert shed, covered in cobwebs and hen muck were all sorts of fascinating gear used about the farm. A swingletree for the drill plough, a set of wire pullers for fencing, a bundle of rabbit hangs and some gin traps, a seed barrow lang since past its sell-by date, buckets with nee bottom (ideal to cover the rhubarb), piles of hessian bags, a stack of sheep trows, bags full of binder twine cowped on the floor and every imaginable tool and artefact scattered over the lot.
Ye never saa sic a slaistor! Everything was howked oot, given a quick dust doon and put back, tidy, so the boss could see how efficient ye were. Some bits were committed to the bonfire, the scrap man on the dump hole on the farm. Some were put to one side for repair on the next wet day. After the stour settled you could stand back and admire your handiwork only to hear the boss ahint you, “How! Aa divvent pay ye ti stand aboot aal day!” It was fatal if he saw what you’d hoyed on the ceart to be dumped – as bet yor shart he’d see summit that in his opinion cud hev a future use.
Mucking the hens oot
Although feedin the hens and collectin the eggs was the province of the missus, the sarvant lass or the bairns, for some reason it was always the Daft Laddie’s job to muck the hens oot. This job rated varry low in torms of stink and akwardness, just one step up from muckin’ oot the calf hutchees. A wet day job sartainly, but the hen hoose was that cramped ye were mair oot than in and got soaked with both rain and sweat and got sadly oot o’ fettle in nee time.
Photo shows a 'Rolls Royce' hen hoose found on some farms. These were in a loft above loose boxes or calf hutches, accessed by external stone stairs.
Once inside the hoose you couldn’t straighten up and spent the whole time with your neb ower close for comfort to the ammonia–rich, thick-caked hens’ droppins. Scrapin’ and scratchin’ with the hoe under and round the baalks, the muck was raked to the door then howked into the barrow with the grape. Fresh hay or straa was put into the nest boxes and some sawdust or chaff was scattered on the floor.
Mebe a handful or two of lime was scattered aboot te kill the red mites and other nasties and you could escape, stand up again and take a deep breath of fresh air. The hens wor aye keen te gan back in and inspect the job – the boss’s missus keen that they’d keep layin. At least there’d be eggs that didn’t need the muck chippin’ off them afore she sold them to Don Mason or Arthur Bell.
Mind ye, compared to the calf hutches the hen hoose was a bed of rosees! There might have been mair heed room but the hutchees, often cobbled together with hurdles and bits of fence rail were gey close together, aakward to move aboot in, especially wieldin the coll rake and shoel, and the stink was enough to chowk a polecat.
After the calves had been confined in a small space four or five weeks, the result was a thick layer of muck compounded of straw, urine and faeces. Sour spilt milk from over-enthusiastic plunges of thor heeds into the milk bucket added to the aroma and that special ingredient, calf skitta completed the recipe. In severe cases, the skitta was caused by a virulent form of diarrhoea and could result in the calf dying from dehydration.
Even a relatively mild case of scour produced a stink that wad soor the milk and make us Daft Laddies reach for a muffler to cover wor gobs afore starting muckin oot. “Keep the door oppen and yor gob shut!” was the boss’s advice. But ye beggor o’ Hexham, it was sic a relief to get the job finished, aal swilled oot and a nice bit of sweet smellin straa amang the calves’ feet. Then te gan off to the trow and give the wellies a good dein with plenty wattor and a scrub with the yard broom.
The pig sty
“Aa nivvor liked bullocks,” was one Daft Laddie’s comment “But Aa liked pigs warse”. Well, he wasn’t that keen on pigs either and preferred to keep to his side of the sty wall as much as possible. Greet muckle grunty things with tusks like an elephant and a tendency to rush oot the sty doorway just as you were stoopin in with a shoel in yor hand. Many’s the time Aav (DC) finished up wrang way up in the swill.
As a wet day job it was a bit like the hen hoose, mair ootside than in but still better than cuttin’ a caert load of kale on a frosty mornin. Once Bessie the sow had had her bit fun she usually kept oot the road till the inside of the sty had been mucked oot and fresh straa put doon for her te chow up and lie on.