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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter XXXVI – Agriculture


The soil of the county is greatly diversified. It may be divided into five kinds – carse, dryfield, hill, moor, and moss. The first extends along the banks of the Forth from the neighbourhood of Bucklyvie to the eastern extremity of the shire, about 28 miles long, and on the average 2 miles broad, making towards 30,000 acres. It is composed of the finest clay, without stones, and interspersed with strata of marine shells. The quality is the finer, the nearer to the present boundary of the parent ocean. The highest elevation is 25 feet above high water, and the depth in some places has been found to be upwards of 20 feet. The etymology of carse is conjectural. The word is used by Barbour, who says

"Our thwort the Kerse to the Torwood he geed."

Of the carse of Falkirk, Trivetius, describing an invasion of Edward I., remarks, "causantibus majoribus loca plaustria,propter brumalem intemporiem, immeabilia esse." The meaning seems to be, that the English army could not arrive at Stirling without passing through some of the carse grounds, and that they were impracticable for cavalry at that season of the year. Kors, in the Cambo-British, is marsh. The ancient Swedish, and the Icelandic, use Kaer in the same sense, while Ciers has also that meaning in the Armoric dialect of the Celtic. The operations of rivers in forming such deposits of soil is very justly questioned, and the action of the ocean agitated beyond the effect of either tempest or tide is alone conceived to be adequate to the production. A tempest, indeed, affects the mighty deep only superficially, and the tide is merely an undulation, or heaving.

The following is an analysis of the carse soil: -

Water 10 parts
Silica 44 parts
Alumina 28 parts
Carbonate of lime 2.5 parts
Organic matter 6 parts
Oxcide of iron 1.5 parts
Soluble salts 1 part
Soluble matter 2 parts
Loss 5 parts
100 parts

The valleys form the richer parts of the dryfield, in which there is some inferior land. The Lennox hills, stretching from Strathblane to the neighbourhood of Stirling, and occupying nearly a fourth of the county, have a soil chiefly arenaceaous, mixed with till, sometimes interspersed with peat earth, and constitute the most valuable pasture tract in Scotland. Ben Lomond may be classed with the hill tract, for, although his base be moor, his sides and shoulders are covered with verdure. Another fourth of the shire consists of moor, or ground more or less inclined to heath. Some parts of it are cultivated, and afford a moderate vegetation of artificial crops. Mr. Nimmo, in 1777, classed as "moor," what, in 1812, Dr. Graham calls "dryfield." We may here discern the progress of cultivation. Perhaps a thirtieth part of the county, in various quarters, may be occupied by peat, some of which is incumbent on a fine clay. At Airth alone there are about 300 acres of moss, on an average 12 feet deep, and covers ground of most excellent quality. Much, no doubt, has been done to reclaim this waste land, by at least two of the late Earls of Dunmore; but it takes not less than 30 pounds to clear each acre, while the rent of the acre when cleared and cultivated is, over all, about 2 pounds.

The advance and general diffusion of agricultural knowledge, of late years, has completely changed the character of the county in its soil. Apart from systematic husbandry, the importance of thorough draining and trenching where the land was damp began early to be understood, but it was only when the landlord found it convenient to do the work at his own expense that any progress in this direction was made; for, however willing the tenant might be to have his ground improved by tile draining, it was rare that he could command the funds thus to be sunk. Sub-soil ploughing – the invention of Mr. James Smith of Deanston – was also soon found necessary for a good crop, especially in the dryfield. This was done by means of a large plough, in the shape of an old Scotch plough, without a sock, and generally drawn by four horses. Liming and guano, with its chemical compeer, dissolved bones, were next gradually resorted to, that the best possible return might be got out of the land.

The primitive home-made utensils contrast strangely with the improved agricultural implements of the present day. Ploughs in the earlier times were seldom bought, but, as a rule, manufactured on the farm. In 1330 we find their price one shilling. Between 1351 and 1370, however, their value was one shilling and six-pence. The implement, of course, was common carpenter’s work, and subject to no demand. Even after the iron plough was in general use, there were several parishes – Slamannan, for one – where the old Scotch plough was still preferred on account of its making a wider furrow. But what see we now in the fields? Steam ploughs and grubbers; potato planters and diggers; turnip lifters, toppers, and tailers; drill harrows; sowing machines; reaping machines; sheaf binders; and weed eradicators, which weed wheat before the wheat plant begins to ear. Then at the farm-steading, in addition to the portable threshing machine, there is the engine for fodder cutting, which cuts ten trusses of hay for one pennyworth of gas; also, the Scotia incubator, for the wholesale manufacture or hatching of chickens. And if landlords and tenants are to derive any profit from agriculture, all this inventive energy cannot be overrated. At the present moment any country that has a fertile soil which produces more than its inhabitants can consume, is devising means to forward to us its surplus. Wheat may soon be sold in our great centres at an average of 35s. per quarter. Fresh meat in unlimited quantities can be imported from Australia at 3d. per pound. Chickens, reasonably fat, can be bought in Hungary and Transylvania for 3d. each, and could be sent to us in refrigerating wagons. No doubt the scene of a band of the young of both sexes, striving with the sickle as to who should have the honour of carrying off the "maiden" for the crown of the harvest-home, was attractive; but although hoeing and weeding, and even sheafing, may still be done on our smaller farms by manual labour, the days of the corn-field are gone for both sickle and scythe. Some great feats in shearing were, however, performed with the "hook," notwithstanding the fact that the reaping machine sweeps down the grain, in regard to time, in the ratio of ten to one. One old woman was known to make over 400 good-sized sheaves daily; while George Bruce, in the parish of Tough – a wiry man with very long arms – could shear 36 sheaves in a day. He drove the "rig" of say 18 feet from side to side, and never lifted his hand till he had a sheaf. He used a long sickle, and drew the corn to him.

Wheat is one of the most commonly cultivated of the cereals. It belongs to the natural order Gramineae (grasses) of which it is the most prominent member. The genus of plants which yield the various sorts is called by the botanist Triticum, from tritum, ground or rubbed, because the fruit or seed, in its preparation as a food for man, requires the process of grinding or trituration. No other grain assimilates so well with the human constitution, and so fully represents the two great classes of constituents necessary to sustain the wear and tear of human life, viz., food fuel, and food materials. In earlier times, oats, barley, peas, beans, and rye, entered more largely than at present into the ordinary food of the people; but, when these are used exclusively as substitutes for wheat, they generally derange the bodily health of the consumer. Formerly, wheat was frequently divided into two classes – the winter, Triticum hibernum, and the summer, T. aestivum. This classification, however, is no longer recognised, as it is now well-known that the cereal, by being constantly sown in the spring, quite changes its habits as to its time of ripening. The produce of wheat sown in the spring acquires the habit of perfecting its growth quicker than the produce of the same wheat sown in the autumn. In soils containing large proportions of sand, or of organic matter, but deficient in clay, we often see the young plant very luxuriant at first, but without the power to build up its stem, for which a certain amount of silica and potash is necessary. Silica and lime are also required for the chaff, with potash, phosphoric acid, magnesia, and ammonia for the seed. In no other description of soil will wheat flourish. These substances are generally found to exist in clays to a greater extent than in other kinds of earth; hence the fertility of the Stirlingshire carse for this important crop. In a wet, late season, on inferior land, its weight may not exceed 60 lbs. per imperial bushel; but on the better class farms its yield is not unfrequently as high as 68 lbs.

Oats form the genus to which the name of Avena has been assigned, and the range of soils suitable for their cultivation is very large. Indeed, wherever farming is carried on there is some variety of this cereal grown. The last agricultural statistics of Scotland show that, while the three other grain crops – wheat, barley, and rye, were cultivated to the extent of 449,135 acres, the area occupied by oats alone amounted to no less than 938,613 acres. The potato oat, which takes its name from having originally been found growing in a field of potatoes in Cumberland, in 1788, is probably the most largely sown of all the varieties of the Avena sativa, or common oat. With a straw rather short but clean and stout, it is highly esteemed for mealing, or for feeding purposes. The sandy oat, a harder variety, is generally preferred for late or uncertain districts. The straw is heavy, firm in texture, and rarely seen lodged or broken by bad weather. It was discovered in Aberdeenshire, in 1825.

Barley is generally admitted to the second place in the order of our cereal crops, but our climate and soils being, as a rule, better adapted for oats, the latter take the precedence in the farmer’s estimation. In light soils, the chevalier is commonly sown. Where the soil is strong, or in ungenial districts, some of the coarser varieties, however, frequently give a better return. The naked Peruvian, or the black four-rowed barley, yields the largest amount of available food. This cereal is cultivated farther north than any of the other grains. Fields of it are to be seen in the northern extremity, in the Orkney Islands, in Shetland, and even at the Faroe Islands.

The bean belongs to the natural order Leguminosae, of Jussieu, from bearing its fruit in legumes, or pods, which follow a butterfly or papilionaceous flower. It is termed by the botanist Faba vulgaris. There is only one species, though long cultivation has produced a well-marked division between those of the garden and those of the field. The tick bean and the Scotch, or horse bean, are the two sorts grown throughout the carses. The ancients entertained some curious notions in regard to this forage crop. The Egyptians, for example, held it a crime to look at beans, judging the very sight unclean. But the bean was not everywhere thus contemned, for Columella notices them in his time as food for peasants, and for them only –

"And herbs they mix with beans for vulgar fare."

There are two different methods of sowing practiced – "broadcast" and "drilling." "Dibbling" is now a thing of the past. In Stirlingshire, broadcasting is still common. The process is a simple one. The seed to be sown is carried by the sower in a bag or basket of a convenient form, suspended from the neck in such a position that the sower can have access to it, either with one or both hands, according to the manner in which he intends to distribute the seed. The practice of drilling was introduced by Jethro Tull, to obviate the difficulty of keeping the land sown broadcast free from weeds. Owing to the vast improvement in the adaptation and manufacture of agricultural machines generally, this practice has widely spread of late years. The advantages it offers are – a considerable saving in the quantity of seed (measuring from one-third to one-half), on account of the greater regularity in the proportion of seed sown, and the depth at which it is deposited; also the power it gives to sow the seed in parallel lines at any distance apart that may be desired, so that the surface may be stirred after the heavy rains of winter, and kept free from weeds, either by hand or horse-hoe, during the early growth of the plants.

Of the root and fallow crops, turnips naturally take the precedence, being the keystone of our improved system of farming – the crop by whose success or failure the welfare of the whole rotation is mainly influenced. The common green-top is the oldest variety of the Swedish turnip in cultivation. It has, however, fallen into comparative disrepute, owing to the great attention that has been paid to the purple-top varieties; but where care has been bestowed on its cultivation, it has proved as productive, as hardy, and as high in its feeding qualities as any of the more favoured sorts. Of the common turnip there are some forty-six varieties. The white globe is that most generally grown, and is an excellent description of root for early consumption.

The potato (Solanum tuberosum) is, without doubt, a native of South America, having been found growing wild in Chili, Buenos Ayres, and along the coast of the Pacific. Although its first appearance as a field crop in this country was about 1730, its introduction into Britain is supposed to have been in the year 1584. Difficulties which it did not meet with elsewhere, seem to have opposed its reception in Scotland. The zealous but mistaken religious opinions of that period were against the new plant, which was declared a sinful root because no mention of it was made in the Bible. For its general cultivation, the lighter class of loams form the best soil – the produce being of superior quality. But even on peat and bog lands good crops are obtained, especially where there has been the previous application of lime. The sad visitation of the disease, in 1843-5, greatly checked the planting breadth of this tuber. It has, however, again resumed its place on the fallow portion of the farm, not only as an important article of diet, but as a supporting crop of the soil.

While there are no celebrated breeders of live stock in the county, there are several successful exhibitors who have also studied the physiology of nutrition, and advanced with the times in their treatment of farm cattle. They have had materials analysed to ascertain the extent of their suitability as food for stock. Oilcake, and still more corn, appear to injure the constitution of the beast; grass, turnips, and straw, are its only healthy food. There can be no substitute for the natural feeding, except for a limited period, though in times of scarcity, and to give the last dip to fat cattle, the other materials are valuable auxiliaries. Twelve years ago, the dairy stocks of the shire were all but decimated by an outbreak of rinder-pest. The plague was of the most virulent type, and veterinary skill was utterly unable to grapple with the mysterious epidemic. All were alike ignorant of how the disease was generated, and how propagated, and all helpless alike in their efforts to arrest its progress. Common slaughter was the only panacea. Daily there were reports of fresh farms and districts being most capriciously seized, and latterly there seemed no hope of the abatement and extermination of the plague until our entire bovine stock had gone. In 1873, it reappeared in one of the richest grazing districts in Yorkshire, and naturally created some alarm amongst our larger stockholders. The herd, twenty-two in number, which were swept away, came from the coast, and it is not unlikely therefore, that the infection was caught by contact with foreign cattle. On that occasion, however, prompt and stringent measures were adopted for isolating the infected victims. With the local magistracy there was neither hesitancy nor delay. Realizing the seriousness of the outbreak, they acted with praiseworthy vigilance and decision. A cordon of police were at once placed round the unlucky farm, and the few surviving animals of the herd that had not yet succumbed to the malignant pest were swiftly slaughtered and buried in quicklime.

Each district has naturally its own peculiarities of soil. The lands in Alva parish are arable and pasture. The former may be distinguished into four kinds. That which extends from the bottom of the hills consists of a rich hazel mould, intermixed with gravel and small stones. This is succeeded by a stratum of moss over a bed of clay, and extends from 50 to 100 yards in breadth, and in some places it is found 7 feet deep. Next to this is a strong clay, extending a considerable way towards the Devon. Then follows what is called haughing ground, such as is usually found on the banks of rivers; and the inundations of the Devon, which occur twice or thrice a year, leave great quantities of sand behind. The soil at the river’s bed appears to be, in many places, more than 20 feet deep. The improvement of the land here, as elsewhere, was long kept back by the farms remaining limited to a few acres; and also by the farmers being bound by their leases to drive coals from the pits on the south bank of the Devon to the shore of Alloa. Lord Alva, however, at length prohibited this absurd and unprofitable practice. Since 1796, the extent of the farms has been enlarged with great advantage to the landlord, and greater respectability to the tenant.

Dairy, pastoral, and mixed husbandry are all pursued in the district of Campsie. Green crop is chiefly raised, particularly potatoes. The oats sown are of the earlier sorts, which, in moist climates, are the most suitable. Lime is to be had prepared at sundry places in the parish, and the soil being generally of a ferruginous quality, it is often found to act with good effect. Peas and beans are rarely sown; flax only in small quantities, if at all. Carrots have sometimes been successfully tried in patches of deep free soil. Only a small breadth of turnips are raised, chiefly for the use of cattle, as the ground can be more profitably employed in potato cropping. The dairy is a branch of chief importance in the farming throughout the parish, on account of the ready and profitable market found in Glasgow for all its produce. The Ayrshire breed of cows has been carefully cultivated for many years, and few crosses are to be seen in the district.

The arable land of Dunipace parish is of a very inferior quality. Two-thirds of it lie on a substratum of sandstone, the remainder on whin-rock. A considerable quantity of turnips are grown in this district, and still more of potatoes, which are generally of a good quality. Formerly, flax was sown on every farm; but since foreign flax was so plentifully imported, that crop has given way to wheat, which grows here well.

The Agricultural Association of the Eastern District of Stirlingshire was formed in Falkirk about forty years ago. The late Earl of Dunmore was patron, and Mr. Forbes of Callendar, president. Its object was, and still is, to promote scientific and practical improvements in agriculture. Two prosperous auction marts were opened here in 1875. The sales which take place weekly, create considerable stir, the fat stock brought forward for the hammer from the farms of the surrounding districts being large and varied. There is nothing peculiar to the husbandry of this parish. With respect to cropping, experience has proved the six years rotation system to be best adapted for the land, viz., first year, fallow; second, wheat; third, beans; fourth, barley; fifth, clover and ryegrass; and sixth, oats.

The lands of Gargunnock parish consist of various kinds of soil, which are called moor, dryfield and carse. The moor is of a wet, gravelly and clayey soil; yet it affords sound healthy pasture for sheep and black cattle in the summer months. The term dryfield is not descriptive of the soil, but is used merely to distinguish it from the moor and carse lands. Its average depth is 6 or 7 inches. It rests on a subsoil of gravel or till, and under this subsoil are found strata of red and white sandstone. The soil of the carse lands consists of 3 or 4 feet of mixed clay of excellent quality, which lies on a subsoil of yellow or blue clay; but the blue clay prevails. And below this blue clay, a bed of sea shells is deposited about 10 feet from the surface. In some places along the banks where the carse joins the dryfield, the ground has the appearance of having been washed at one time by a river, or by the waves of the sea. Particular attention has been paid in this district to the improvement of the breed of black-faced sheep, and of cattle of the Ayrshire breed.

Throughout the parish of Kilsyth, oats, barley, and green crops are adhered to as most productive and profitable. Wheat was tried, but proved a failure. By far the largest produce, however, is that of the dairy, to which the rest is subsidiary, and consequently the husbandry is what is called the mixed. Indeed, no other would suit the soil and climate. From a memoir presented to the Board of Agriculture by William Wright, M.D., of Edinburgh, it appears that potatoes, after their introduction into Scotland, were first planted in the open field in Stirlingshire. Thomas Prentice, a day-labourer in the parish of Kilsyth, is recorded as having set the example in 1728. Mr. Robert Graham of Tamrawer had brought the practice to some degree of perfection eleven years after; and, for the supply of the public, rented lands near Renfrew, Glasgow, Perth, Dundee, and Edinburgh.

Farming in the Larbert district, where the lands have a retentive sub-soil, was at first much improved by what was called wedge-draining; the section of the cutting being a frustrum of a triangle inverted, whose base was about 10 inches. A wedge of peat moss was then placed in the top of the drain, so as to leave a space of 8 or 10 inches perpendicular for a water-course. This system, however, was found to have only a temporary effect; and the plan of laying for a water-course a semicylindrical tile, which reposed on a flat tile of a breadth exceeding the diameter of the curved one by about half an inch, proved more effective. A foot of space above the tiles was filled with broken sandstone, or Carron cinders, through which the water percolated. About 1837, a considerable work for making drain tiles was established, by the late Mr. Stirling of Glenbervie, on the beds of clay in the low ground near the Poo. Two or three years after, another field for a similar purpose was opened near the same place by Mr. Bauchop of Bogend. That species of moss, Hypnum, commonly called "fog," is very frequent in the local pastures. It abounds on all sandy soils, as well as on moist ground, and is by no means nutritious to cattle.

The soil in the vale of Avon (Slamannan) yields excellent crops of meadow hay, and when not flooded proves wholesome and fattening for cattle. As the grounds rise in regular ridges towards the south, they produce good crops of oats, some barley, and occasionally a little wheat. The lands towards the western district of the parish, being of a black mossy nature, yield but indifferent crops when the season happens to be wet and cold. Towards the south and south-west there are several hundreds of acres, entirely moss, varying from 3 to 12 feet in depth; and the substratum being chiefly sand, no inducement lies to remove it.

The following tabular statement shows the acreage of each parish, with the number of acres under cultivation, and in pasture, waste, and wood.

acreage of each parish


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