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January 26th 1782

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18th Century Agriculture in Lochtayside

In 1769 the third Earl of Breadalbane commissioned a survey of all his lands on the north and south banks of Loch Tay. He was at that time a man of 73. By good management he had cleared the debts from his estates, constructed a number of roads and bridges, and undertaken both afforestation and encouraged industry. He was responsible for the building of cottages on the north and south side of the square at Kenmore.

In many of these cottages he installed tradesmen whom he allowed to live rent free. As Thomas Pennant put it “ by these terms he not only saves the expense of sending on every trifling occasion to Perth or Crieff, but has got some as good workmen in common trades as any in his Majesty’s dominions.” 

The Earl was particularly interested in the improvement of the farms within his estates and to this end John McArthur, who surveyed the south side of Loch Tay, and John Farquharson who took the north side, each spent about ten months working their way from farm to farm. Accurate measurements were made of the extent of each holding together with informed comments on the quality of the land, the livestock kept and the crops grown. The results give an invaluable picture of the state of farming in Lochtayside before the coming of agricultural improvements.

Though there were a few stone built houses at this time with windows and chimneys, most were very small hovels built of thick sods from the best pasture topped by boughs stripped of their leaves supporting further sods. Such dwellings had a relatively short useful life, the walls and roof then being used as manure on the fields and the boughs as fuel for the family.

Ploughing was undertaken by horses, four horses being required to operate a plough, but as many of the fields were very small it was common for ploughs to be held in multiple ownership. There is a good deal of criticism of areas left in grass, but in many cases land was left unploughed because of the problems of drainage.

When drainage was attempted the usual method was to plough the land into ridges. “The croftlands of Cult Clochrane are abundantly deep in soil but extremely wet; but is capable of being drained at an easy rate, it having plenty of declivity.”  It was, however, to be a long time before the more efficient method of tile draining came into use.

The farms were divided into infield (normally the better land lying close to the croft) and the outfield. Whereas the infield was cropped continuously and received all the manure from the animals, the outfield was only cropped two or three years before being fallowed for four.

By 1769 the value of lime as a fertiliser was becoming known. Lochtayside was fortunate in being comparatively rich in limestone though at this time few of the farmers made use of it. There is no mention of potatoes in the reports and the crops sown were almost entirely oats and bear (a hardy form of barley) All farms kept animals, mainly sheep and cows though some eight farms also kept goats. Pigs, which were considered in the Highlands to be unclean animals, are not mentioned in the report. Horses were kept both for ploughing and as beasts of burden, carrying on their backs coal and other necessities from the nearby towns of Crieff and Perth.

Two years after the survey had been completed the Earl started to offer improving leases. These were normally of twenty one years duration with breaks at seven and fourteen years. The tenants were required to manure their land “duly and properly.”  A fifth part of the arable land was each year to be left fallow or be under “turnip, pease, clover or such like green crop.”  Thus for the first time crops were grown for winter feeding of animals. The number of animals to be kept was regulated. Where enclosures had not already been made the lands were to be enclosed at a rate of twenty roods a year (1 rood=1/ 30th acre) until finished.

Money was advanced by the estate at 7½% to pay for improvements. The tenants were given control of the mills and each paid a certain sum for the privilege. They in their turn appointed their own miller and paid him for his services. Rents were increased but with more efficient methods of farming incomes also increased. There was a price to pay. There was no longer the need to keep such a large number of people on the land and much thought was given to possible alternative sources of employment. Emigration was one solution but was not favoured by the lairds. The growing of flax and the spinning of yarn were also put forward.

The third Earl died in 1782 but the problems of overpopulation lived on.

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