Wednesday, 10 August 2011

To Farming College I Was Sent (1958)

Tipped us all out into a huge rhubarb patch, the clumsy driver was the head of department, that cart was decommissioned shortly afterwards as too unstable for the job.

This is a story as it happened, of some of the highlights of my year at college

This is a picture the old Hall, the windows on the second and third floors were the dormatories for the male students. One hot night one of the lads moved his bed out onto the narrow balcony above the french windows, (good job he got out of bed on the correct side). On one occasion an item of girls underware was flown from the top of one of the very tall fir trees just on this lawn, no one dare fetch them down, or admitt to putting them up there in the first place

Rodbaston Farming College 1958

In my late teens it was arranged that I would have twelve months at Rodbaston Farm College, this was when I lost touch with Eileen, and it was to be over sixteen years before we met again. It was a residential course and I only got home every other weekend if father had time on a Saturday afternoon to fetch me and take me back on a Sunday evening. Some of the inmates took the course seriously and a few other younger ones fooled about and learned very little.

It was about this time that the first combines were just beginning to appear in our area and the very first sugar beet harvesters were being tried out at the college while I was there, both machines revolutionised farming, by eliminating a lot of very heavy hand work. Another machine just coming out then was the crop sprayer and there were just about two options of spray to go into it. One dealt with thistles and docks in corn, the other did thistles and buttercups in grassland. There were no annual weeds to deal with to speak of in them days as every one followed a strict rotation.

Spraying allowed continuous corn cropping (Mono cropping) which in turn encouraged annual weeds. The latest tractors were also tried out and demonstrated at Rodbaston some of the largest were over a hundred horse power, and with these bigger tractors came ploughs to match them and other cultivation equipment.

In the livestock section the first milking parlours were just appearing where the cows came to the milking units and not the other way round as in the old cowshed milking, and cow cubicles were just invented. The college still milked cows in a double cowshed tied up by self closing yolks.

On the social side of my stay at Rodbaston there were quite a few memorable incidents. Every so often we (the students) would be invited to another college or a visiting college would be invited to join us at Rodbaston for a social evening. As you may realise there was a great demand for baths, not many showers about in those days. Those in first or just early had the maximum hot water, the second lot the hot water system could not keep time with the demand and had cold baths, so as disgruntled students are, displeasure was shown in the testing of the drains around the student accommodation. (The maintenance man had been trying to clear a blocked drain all day)

This was achieved by the filling of all the baths (about ten as I recall) full to the brim with cold water and all the wash basins, then at a given signal all the plugs were pulled, all the toilets flushed as many time as possible.

On observing the manhole covers, the first iron lid by the kitchen door lifted and floated off then one in a rose bed lower down, over flowed washing the soil down the road side and a hundred yards on the into a road drain. It was very fortunate that it was all done with clean cold water. The system passed its test but its capacity was a little suspect, and for a while the header tanks seemed to be under sized and took a while for the water pressure to recover. A fire hose on the top floor seemed to be in vacuum (negative pressure) so it was a good job no one suggested testing the fire drills at the same time.

On the middle floor lived the bursar, and at night he would go on patrol at a predicted time. It was timed soon after one such patrol, that two of us were to down to the battery hen house, just down the college road to collect a dozen eggs for late night supper.

Then quietly into the small room (one was on each floor) where there was a kettle and a toaster for the students use, when on early call for milking or stock duties. All the eggs were quietly put into the electric kettle, filled with water and switched on, four slices of bread were put in the toaster ready to switch on when a bursar alarm was heard (his door opening). All six of our group went hell for leather back into bed and was fast asleep in seconds, after half hour of prowling about the bursar settled and his door shut again.

Gingerly but very quickly we went to rescue the eggs, it was too late, the kettle had boiled dry, the egg shells had turned black but very hard boiled. The kettles did not turn themselves off at that time and the small amount of water in with the eggs soon disappeared, so the kettle was spirited into the dust bins by the main kitchens, and a fresh one acquired from the store room adjacent to the dining room.

The leader of our group at Rodbaston (there was six groups of six lads and two groups of six of girls) clashed with a lad in another group, so much that one day one ended up being thrown into the pool in the garden and horticulture section, I would call it a pit with dirty black mud in the bottom.

The launch pad was just to the left of the picture, the bottom of the pool was full of peat, or years of dead leaves, in my book I would call it a pit, but then it was landscaped and planted with shrubs, so now its a lake

He was launched off the high bank head first into the pool, and came out with weeds round his shoulders and thick black mud from head to toe. The second big clash came a few weeks late when the victimised victim had his hair cut off in lumps and steps right down to his scull, He never canted or complained to anyone in authority, but it was plain to see his haircut was involuntary. On his weekend off he must have gone home and his parents; they were not impressed and reported their complaint to the top man the principle. There was a full enquiry into the incident which ended up with the aggressor being expelled. After that it left me as leader of a short group only five for the next two terms, all the practical work had been calculated to six in the groups so we had on occasions to work all the harder.

In the rotation of practical training we undertook, one was horticulture, and to get about the Halls extensive gardens a group of students and all the tools, they had a three wheel motorised tipping cart. The single front wheel was the same size as a tractor rear wheel, and in the hub of the wheel was a single cylinder Petter engine. The frame of the cart came up from under the body in a goose neck onto a king pin on top of the front wheel, the driver stood inside the goose neck at the controls and it had a vertical steering wheel. It was designed to carry one ton, and at one time used by the county council highways department, who had any number of such vehicles. When they were made redundant in that department one was assigned to Rodbaston Horticultural department. The head of that department was driving us briskly along side the walled garden in the three wheeled cart, and being a little unstable he had to concentrate hard on keeping on the narrow track. On the back we all five of us were making it sway about, until we came to the corner, then we all threw our selves onto the wrong side of the cart. This had a dramatic impact on its stability; it tipped us all out into a huge rhubarb patch (a soft landing) the driver as well. No one was hurt, but our man in charge never knew that we were really to blame for the up tip; he hurriedly got us to right the cart and asked us not to report the incident. With the clumsy driver being head of department, that cart was decommissioned shortly afterwards as too unstable for the job.

Same story but this time in verse

To Farming College I Was Sent

When I was in my late teens, farming college I was sent,
To learn the latest way of doing thing, but it only meant,
Living away from home all week, sometimes weekends anall,
First time slept away from home, strange hard bed by the wall.

No where else to sleep, but in this old and worn bedstead,
Its springs were slack and hung, like a hammock not a bed,
The mattress was so thin, had an imprint on its back,
Of diamond pattern bed springs, like sleeping on a rack.

It had iron bed posts one each corner, tilted to the middle,
Only narrow like a ladder, would make good tater riddle,
A couple of sleepless nights at first, then slept like a log,
Getting out next morning, it was a blooming slog.

Eight o'clock the breakfast bell, half an hour for that,
Plenty of eggs and bacon, cornflakes or porridge splat,
Tutors at the top table, in a row they sat,
Students were in groups of six, very quietly they chat.

Eight groups of six there was, time table of duties given,
Alternate weeks it was early start, to the livestock bidden,
A group for milking and a group for pigs to feed and clean,
Group for sheep and poultry, five thirty start not keen.

The next week it spoiled you, lay in till breakfast bell,
Lectures every morning, from nine to lunch time I do tell,
Afternoons back to the farm, maintenance chore to do,
And the afternoon stock duties, till five pm and that'll do.

College was having trouble with the big house drains,
Rodding flushing and all the rest, had a hose pipe from the mains,
So word went round the students, thought we could give a hand,
A bigger flush was what they wanted, so together we band.

It was decided what we do, to store up water for very big flush,
Ten big deep baths on three floors, were filled and kept it hush,
Fourteen wash basins also filled, and waited for the bell to go,
All the plugs were pulled at once, and every toilet flushed also.

This surge of water lifted the lids, all the way the pipe did wend,
Flooded flower beds down the drive, happened to be weekend,
It cleared the drain of silt and ***, no more faffing about,
An enquiry was held, but it did the job, to no one they could shout.

It was curfew each night at ten, when hunger pains start to show,
I wasn't alone that same night, and we felt a bit gung-ho,
Boiled eggs we thought, with fresh bread and butter,
Fetched dozen from battery cages hen, all whispering in a mutter.

Tiptoed past the bursars door, for he was a light sleeper,
But got the eggs back to boil, landing kitchen kettle no cooker,
Got dozen eggs in electric kettle, filled to brim with water,
Then it had just got to boil, the bursar was seen by our spotter.

All back to bed in a rush, good half hour afore his door closed,
Crept round to the small landing kitchen, a smoking kettle nosed,
Eggs boiled hard black and burned, water boiled and gone,
Kettle started to melt, no auto switch to switch off and on.

It ruined our night and ruined our kettle, no early cuppa for us,
Binned the kettle and eggs welded in, cold drink cold morning we cus,
In a couple of days another old kettle we found,
Didna try that again, electric from main, in all cost us two pound.

Learned how to cut hedges, with brushing hook down wards strokes,
Bring the hedge to an ‘A ‘ shape, with hawthorn had good hopes,
The Principle cut his garden hedge, to demonstrate how to do,
This skill and method was short-lived, as machines invented anew.

Learned to shear the sheep, A New Zealand method by gum,
Clear the belly and up the throat, then down the shoulder and rump,
Pull the head up between ya knees, shear the other side,
Release the head ewe will rise and walk through ya legs astride.

Wrap the fleece should be all in one, tail end n flanks to the middle,
Roll it tight cut ends outside, with your knee bent double,
The neck you twist to form a bon's, long enough go round tuck in,
Pitch it into the woolsack, tread it well down within,

On the pigs we helped with the farrowing, piglets born by the dozen,
See they got under the lamp, dry out and suck on a ‘button'
In the first week they had, and injection prevent anaemia
Iron it was into their little leg, mid squeals made sure heard ya.

Cows were milked in stalls, tied with a yolk to the neck,
Milk was recorded every day; compare each cows ration a check,
Airshires they were quality milk, good colour and butterfat too,
Calves were reared as replacements', suckle by the livestock crewe.

Gardening n' horticulture also learned, no great interest in that,
Pruning and preparing apple trees, plums and pears we tat,
Seedlings in boxes put out in cold frames, harden off for while,
Sit on hot pipes in the green house, thaw out in case we got piles.

Sugar beet grown, all done by hand, from singling to pulling the root,
A harvester came to demonstrate, the first one I'd seen to boot,
It broke down a time or two, modifications made a many,
But the work it saved, and backache too, must be a pretty penny.

Dealers sent their latest tractor, for students to try and admire,
When we get home to old bangers, persuade the old man to retire,
So we could buy that new tractor, a diesel with starter and cab,
Spoils you when get back to reality, old tractor remains on the tab.


Educations What You Wan

Educations what you want, or that is what I'm told,
Get on in life and see the world, seek your pot of gold.
More to life than toil and sweat, let others soil there hands,
Let education guide the way, nine till five, five days a week demand.

Over the years most folk done this, for better jobs they travelled,
Men they left the land in droves, off into town they pedalled.
With better money they bought a car, get about much quicker,
Then travelled even further a field, became the city slicker.


Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten

B F Skinner (1904-1990)

Norfolk Four Course Rotation (1950's at college)

All the young farm college students will laugh me off this page, because there does not seem to be such a thing as a full rotation these days. It seems a rotation for pests and diseases, and that's all. What you young un's must understand that there is a rotation to cope with weeds, mostly annual weeds.

These are what build up in arable land into a "seed bank" this needs a break and a rest for a few years in grass. We were learned the basic rotation devised by "Turnip Townshend" back in the 18th century, Roots , Barley, Seeds (two or three years), and Wheat.

Not all these old ideas can be rubbished off hand, and could well be adapted to suit the modern farming methods. You need to assess how much nitrogen can be "fixed" by a good two year stand of predominantly a red clover/grass mix, clover left to mature and flower into a tall crop of hay/silage, has a tremendous root system with the accompanying nitrogen fixing nodules, bigger the top growth the bigger the roots.

In years gone by there was no bagged fertiliser, and this method improved output and yield, only now a tittle of nitrogen on top of the above idea could well would match many of the modern yields of today. The moral of this story is to cut costs, i.e. nitrogen and not plant second wheat's.

Now oilseed rape will cover as a root crop in this rotation, and to those who have never heard of it, under sow the barley with the grass / clover mixture. Time the seeding right and a bit of good fortune with the weather, and you soon get the hang of a good rotation saving on sprays as well.

Norfolk Four Course Rotation (1950's at college)

At farming college we were told, how important it was to learn,
The basic four coarse rotation, good yields and a living to earn,
Roots Barley Seeds and Wheat, it kept the ground in good heart,
This was the basic rotation, from which to make a good start.

Roots you hoed around until, the leaves met in the row,
Smother any smaller weeds, nowhere for them to grow,
Always left a good clean field, and always in good heart,
Next crop had the benefit, of getting a jolly good start.

Spring barley follows the roots, too strong a land and it will soon go flat,
Drilled in March when the soil warms, an even plant stand begat,
Under sown with grass and red clover, establishing the best
Docks were pulled and thistles ‘spudded', first crop for to harvest.

The seeds grow on, once barley's cut, light sheep graze in back end,
It tillers and bulks tremendously, for winter feed depend,
Red clover with its vigorous growth, its roots beneath to match,
Fixes fertility down in the soil, from side to side of the patch.

If you graze the seeds and keep it low, doesn't produce the roots,
Fertility from the sun to leaves, only small leaves stems and shoots,
Mown for hay grown to maturity, for two years if you can,
Will give you a wheat crop you never had, at least that's the plan.

When the hays been cleared, and a fresh good cover of green,
Plough it in, green manure, the clover roots have been,
To fix the Nitrogen in the nodules, best crop of wheat you've seen,
No sprays or artificial needed, to return to a proper rotation I'm keen.

Organically speaking, this is the way, make the sun and the leaves,
Draw the goodness naturally; a shower of rain receives,
Plants are working how they ought to, compliment each other,
A good plant stand, and big broad leaves, weeds you hope to smother.


I was fortunate in that my father helped me set up on my own 96 acre rented farm, and helped in that I could "borrow " odd thing and machinery from time to time. I started with 26 milking cows, and he let me make my own mistakes, as he said you learn quicker that way, particularly if it hits you in the pocket.

But I have known a lot who have worked for or with there fathers, and have had to wait years before they are allowed to take the "reigns"

It's a Fifty Year Apprenticeship

The farmers still a learner, till his eyes begin to blear,
Apprenticeship under the old man, for at least fifty years,
Ruled in turn by his father, the old ways are always best,
What bit of money he ever made, in land he must invest.

From round the kitchen table, the orders given out,
What to grow and sell and buy, and what to do without,
Frugel's what you call it, but he always has last say,
All his life, make do and mend, only time for work, no play.

Seventy five is just about when; he says he's had enough,
Say to the young ones now, in their fifties, now its tough,
Modernize and hit the cheque book, let's get up to date,
First time after all these years, they say it's never too late.


Old ideas and old ways have a habbit of being re-invented, so try to keep some old ideas in the back of your mind, they may come in handy some day.
I have'nt got a patent or a copy right on this page so print all the copies you like I dont mind.
Ideas have to be planted, before they can come into fruition.

The definition of a weed --- A weed is just a plant out of place.