December 2013 – The huge change in farming practices

I was reflecting recently on how much farming practices have changed since I was a lad, and that’s a long time ago. We’re constantly striving to find new ways of doing things, to achieve the same ends as we had after the last war, and that is to feed the nation. Back then, most villages had a butcher’s shop, a greengrocer – or at least a general store – and a Post Office.

The butcher would be closed on a Monday as he went to market to buy his own stock, a couple of bullocks, eight or 10 pigs and half a dozen lambs. The local livestock haulier would be collecting these from various farms in the area to take to market and would, of course, take them out again to the butchers that had their own abattoirs behind the shop.

The butchers usually had a couple of vans that did a weekly round of the outlying areas. Some even visited farms to choose the stock they wanted the farmer to send to market, and they would bid for those particularly well.

This meant that livestock didn’t travel very far to the market or from the market. Food miles had never been heard of, there was no stress on either man or beast and the local markets thrived.

The local towns also thrived on market days as the lady of the house would usually accompany her husband and she would meet up with her friends and patronise the shops. That would perhaps happen more on store stock days rather than fatstock days, and that would either be on a Wednesday or Thursday. Again, livestock didn’t travel far to market, but as far as the fast-developing pig sector was concerned, and as the industry grew, they could well travel further after being sold.

East Yorkshire in those days had Hull with a fatstock market on Monday; Beverley had a store stock market on a Wednesday and Driffield sold fatstock market on a Thursday. So, why would some store pigs travel further once being bought? The West Riding had a lot of swill in those days, and several entrepreneurial gentlemen set up large units to take advantage of that cheap feed and would take perhaps up to 1,000 pigs/week between them. That was a substantial number when you consider Beverley market would offer 2,000 store pigs/week.

The sites of the former markets in Hull and Beverley have now been redeveloped; the former into industrial units and the latter into a massive car park and a Tesco store. It’s because of the supermarkets that the face of farming and shopping outlets have changed. Previously the towns were full of family-owned shops, and yes, you could park outside the shops in those days.

Now we have an enormous number of food miles, and goodness knows where everything goes, or indeed comes from. There’s still a small Hull market on a Monday, where a few stalwarts take a few animals and a few buyers still attend, but it’s only a fraction of the size.

Merry Christmas to you all, and thank you for the terrific support you give to Pig World.

> Yorkshire farmer Sam Walton is a former pig producer and the founding editor of Pig World

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