Inverness, 11 October 1883 - M. Elliott

M. ELLIOT, Butcher, Inverness (55)— examined.

41359. The Chairman.
—You have a statement you wish to read?

41360. Will you read it?
—'My object in this short statement is to direct attention to certain results of large farms and deer forests, which I humbly think the Commission should take into their consideration. The effects of the system referred to has frequently come under my observation in course of my occupation and business, during the whole of my life; and as my statement is to be general, and without particular reference to any particular person or place, I believe it is proper that I should state in a few words what experience and connection I have had -with the subject in hand. I was born in Dumfriesshire in 1828, on a farm partly arable and partly pastoral, in the working of which I took an active part. After leaving home, I was employed in connection with arable and sheep farming for sixteen or seventeen years, and after that entered on my present occupation, both of feeder and butcher, by which I have a keen interest in the breeding and feeding of live stock, which also brings me constantly into contact with producers, as well as the maturers or fatteners of the amimal food of the nation. In a healthy state of agriculture, such as would be in the long run the most profitable for the proprietors, for the whole fanning interests, and for the nation at large, three classes of men are necessarily engaged in connection with the produce of the soil, namely —
1st, The producer, or in the case of live stock, the breeder;
2nd, The mature or feeder; and
3rd, The trader who dispenses to the consumers.

So long as these different classes are in a position to suit each others' requirements, and to provide the produce in demand by the consumers, the agricultural interest will prosper in all its branches. Keeping
specially in view the matter of live stock, it is found that almost all the natural pasture lands will produce and rear sound and healthy stock, which will naturally be handed over to the low ground farmer to be matured and fattened before going to the consumer. On the other hand, a great proportion of the more productive low grounds of England, and also of some parts of Scotland, while it is perfectly suited for rapidly maturing any class of stock, is found by experience to be quite unfit for producing or at least of continuing to produce a healthy stock. The attempt to breed sheep largely and continuously, in such low ground, resulted a few years ago in the well-known losses among sheep stock in England, by what is known as sheep " rot." Taking Great Britain as a whole, I believe I am right in saying that the land is nearly equally divided between what is arable —or what might be made arable —and natural pasture lands, and that nearly the whole of both classes of land is well adapted either for the breeding or maturing of live stock ; and I believe that the higher pasture lands, with their due proportion of wintering grounds, are sufficient to breed as much live stock as the richer arable lands are capable of maturing. In this way this country would be self-supporting, in the sense of the breeding districts producing ail the stock required for feeding on the lands adapted for maturing only. The formation of large sheep farms and of deer forests has resulted in the following evils, which are still in course of development:—

1. The land has been depopulated, and the ancient inhabitants of the soil have been forced to seek subsistence in foreign countries, or to take up their abode in sea coast villages, or in the overcrowded parts of large towns, where, from being quite unadapted for their new position, they become, as a rule, quite discouraged and helpless. Of this evil it is not my object to speak further.
2. The second evil result is the disarrangement of the healthy relationship and direct intercourse between the producer and the maturer, and the introduction, or at least the unnatural increase of middlemen or dealers, who are entirely non-productive and an unnecessary class. The large sheep holdings produce more stock than almost any one arable tenant requires for his land. The consequence is that a middleman comes in and buys up stock from the large holders, and retails to the maturer; and the profit which rightly belongs to the agriculturist—whether breeder or mature —goes into the hands of the non-productive middle-man, who does nothing to add value to the produce. The tenants lose their fair profits, and eventually the proprietor suffers loss through his tenants.
3. A third bad result of the system is that the land is necessarily let to men with money rather than the necessary qualifications for making the best use of the land. A large sum of money is required for the stocking of such a farm as we have in view and if the proprietor cannot get a skilful tenant with sufficient capital, he is tempted to take the man of money without the skill. The result on the whole, and in the long run, is that the more numerous the large farms become, the smaller is the proportion of skilful practical men who can become tenants of them ; and there can be no greater mistake than to suppose that capital is the only requisite for profitable and productive farming.
4. Another evil result is, that the maturer, finding his profits going into the pockets of the middlemen, attempts to regain his original position by becoming a producer as a feeder —his land being in many cases unsuitable for producing healthy stock. As already indicated, his new effort results in disaster to himself in many cases, and in injuring the market of the natural producer.
5. Another evil, arising from the decreased production of large farms and from the entire unproductiveness of forests, is the importation of cattle from foreign countries, and the introduction along with them of cattle diseases that are quite foreign to this country. The fearful losses to individuals, and the great expense to which the country is put, in stamping out these foreign diseases is a matter for serious consideration. These evils, and the dependence of parts of the country on such foreign supplies, might in my opinion be in a great measure prevented by the proper and healthy development of the resources of our country. It would be easy to point out how the system of turning the land into large farms and forests came into favour with proprietors, and how it was at the outset more profitable than a more numerous tenantry. At. the beginning of the system, agricultural skill was in a backward state, especially among the smaller tenants, and the inducements to the proprietors to adopt the course that was immediately the most profitable were certainly very strong. The result of the system in the end, however, is the bad effects I have mentioned, and affects the proprietor as much as the tenants, and the community generally. With regard to deer forests especially, 4 it might be said, that inasmuch as they cannot be ranked either with producing or maturing farms, they as forests are almost useless for the production of food. It is often assumed that forest, as a rule, is not fit for stock. This is not the case, for in all my experience I never met with land in which deer could live that is not suitable for sheep. The increasing extent of land under deer forests has seriously reduced the extent of breeding or producing ground for both sheep and cattle. The remedy for the evils I have spoken of would, in my opinion, consist in a great measure in a return to moderately sized holdings. In some places it might be found desirable to have an occasional large farm, but say not exceeding 3000 sheep for a sheep farm, and not over 300 or 400 acres for an arable farm. The general size of farms, however, should range from 50 to 150 acres of arable, and, where possible, with pasture for 500 to 1000 sheep, or a proportional number of cattle. As to crofters in club farms, in my opinion each man should have a separate lot of arable, in no case less than twenty acres, with his share in the common pasture.
1. Fishermen's crofts should, I think, have only as much land as would keep them occupied when unable to go to sea, and keep their families in milk, potatoes, and wool for stockings, and feeding for the cow, being the principal produce of the croft.
2. Where factors are at all required they should not be mere office men or lawyers.
3. Absenteeism proprietors and tenants are productive of much evil in many cases, and so far as possible should be discouraged.
4. On all farms there should be some cottages for work people and servants.'

41361. Mr Cameron.
—You are a butcher in the town of Inverness?

41362. In spite of those changes and alterations to which you have. alluded, may I ask whether your business has not increased very much of late years?
—Yes, my own business may perhaps have increased; but don't think it has done good to the community.

41363. But your own business has increased in spite of those alterations in the system of farming?

41364. So we may assume the system has not been productive of evil to butchers?
—It has, in so far as I have already stated, that it does not allow them to deal direct with the maturers —it allows middlemen to step in between us, and consequently does away with a large part of our profits.

41365. But is a butcher not a middleman?
—I don't think so. The community could not receive their supplies without him.

41366. Don't you call a middleman one who interposes between the producer and the consumer?
—Yes, but no consumer could manufacture the live animal into food without the butcher.

41367. You mean that the trade of a butcher is a necessary one. But I only allude to a middleman in the sense in which you defined it —one who steps in between the producer and the consumer?
—No, I cannot say that. The meaning I apply to the term middleman is a man of capital, who steps in between a man selling a certain article and a man requiring to buy the same article, preventing the man requiring it and the man disposing of it from having direct contact with each other.

41368. Then you think a community could not do without butchers, though they could do without dealers?
—I think so.

41369. Then how would the butcher obtain his fat meat?
—Direct from the producer.

41370. But a producer who has a considerable number of cattle or sheep to sell could hardly sell these all at once to the butcher; he must sell to somebody else first?
—I don't think it. If there were no larger holdings than I recommend there would be no butcher but could use up any one maturer's stock.

41371. Then you recommend that no holding should be of a larger size than would contain the number of animals that one butcher could buy at one time?
—I should think so.

41372. You talk about the sheep rot in England as if it were a normal state of things ; was not the sheep rot produced by one or two or three particularly wet seasons?
—I don't suppose it.

41373. Of course the sheep rot has always existed, but has it existed to the alarming and tremendous extent that it did a few years ago?
—Yes ; wherever it was attempted to breed on land not adapted for them, and there are many places of that nature in Scotland.

41374. We all agree with that; but I am alluding more particularly to the outbreak of sheep rot which devastated the flocks in Great Britain, and which is supposed now, and I believe justly supposed, to be the cause of the high price of sheep. That was not usual but abnormal, and produced by a few bad seasons?
—The high price of sheep was because of attempting to breed sheep and lambs that ought not to be used for breeding purposes. It commenced about 1866, and continued for a number of years, until the sheep rot set on to the stock which they produced or reared in those places where they ought not to have attempted it.

41375. Then you mean to say the sheep rot only existed in places where people recently took to breeding sheep where sheep ought not to have been bred?
—Yes, that it is so.

41376. But surely it existed over a very large part of England? You don't mean to say that in all these places sheep were introduced where they should not have been admitted?
—No, I mean sheep will keep quite healthy for one or two years if brought up on pasture lands where they ought not to be bred; but if you attempt to breed them on those lands they will rot in a few years.

41377. I quite understand that, but the point I wish to ask is whether the enormous losses caused by sheep rot were confined to places you describe as being unfit places for sheep, or whether they did not extend to places which in usual years, not very wet, produced no evil effects on the flock?
—Well, in rare cases, but not often.

41378. Then you state in your paper that one bad result is that the land is let to men with money. Now, can a man without money work a farm as well as a man who has money?
—A man without money cannot, but what I hold is that if, instead of turning your land into large holdings, you had a number of small men, small holdings, out of these families that were raised in the small holdings, you would always get practical men to take up your lands ; whereas, if you take it all in under one man, that man may be a practical man, but ten to one none of his successors are practical men. All men born on farms are not fit to be farmers.

41379. But do you suppose that a man who takes a large farm, and has a practical knowledge of farming, will not bring up at all events one member of his family to succeed him in the business ?
— I have given that particular attention for a long period, and I have not found it so, with very few exceptions.

41380. You think that these large farmers, after they make a lot of money, bring up their sons as gentlemen?
—I think there is something in that.

41381. But, as a rule, I suppose you admit that in farming, as in all other trades, the men with most capital to start with, provided they have knowledge, are more likely to succeed than people who have equal knowledge and no capital?
—The most successful farmers I have known worked without almost any capital. They were pushing men, and made the most of everything, but I rarely knew it going beyond one or two generations.

41382. These people, of course, could not take even a moderate sized farm at first ?
—They could not.

41383. And when they wanted to take a moderate sized farm they had capital; they had made it themselves?
—They had made it themselves.

41384. But without that moderate capital they could not even take a moderate sized farm?
—Not without capital. The proprietors very soon picked out the most sagacious of them as tenants.

41385. I quite see your theory, but I must ask you whether your theory about capital is not rather a novel one?
—Without capital, no man can do anything in farming.

41386. Then you say that, in consequence of deer forests, cattle have been introduced from abroad ; but as 1 understand the matter, these deer forests were formed out of sheep farms, which were principally situated on very high grounds, and which fed what we call a wedder stock. Now, cattle could not have been introduced to supplement wedder stock. These forests did not grow cattle àt all, did they?
—They began with sheep, but the result is the want of practical men to take up the sheep runs now, and the plentifulness of men to take them up as deer forests.

41387. But I am talking of your remark in regard to the importation of cattle in place of sheep. When the deer forests were created could the necessity for importing cattle have arisen in a case where no cattle were grown upon these grounds, and where the lands produced sheep only ?
—In all moderate-sized farms there are less or more cattle.

41388. But as matter of practice were cattle grown on those high lands?
—-They were at one time.

41389. When they were turned into forests?
—They were under sheep at that time.

41390. Exactly. These lands grew wedder sheep chiefly?

41391. And therefore the result of that could not have been to introduce foreign cattle, because they did not grow cattle?
—No, but what I mean is simply this, that if the land was used for that purpose it would prevent the necessity of having foreign cattle. There is quite enough pasture land or lands unsuitable for maturing or fattening —quite enough to supply all the breeding animals in the country.

41392. Yes, that might be, but I am talking of what it was when they were made forests?
—They were made forests out of sheep stocks.

41393. And therefore the importation of foreign cattle could have had nothing to do with the previous state of things?
—No, certainly not at that time.

41394. But you think these lands might possibly be made to produce cattle?
—No doubt of that.

41395. These high lands that are now in forest?
—No doubt of that.

41396. How would you winter these cattle?
—Give them to the maturers in the low lands in winter.

41397. But would that be a profitable occupation?
—No doubt it would.

41398. Would you like to take a forest and turn it into a cattle farm?
—I would not take a deer forest for anything. It would be of no use for years. You would not get any stock to fatten on it.

41399. Would it not be in a virgin state?
—No, I think it would be very much deteriorated.

41400. But, giving it a few years of rest,—though I don't see that it should need rest,—how would you set about stocking it with cattle and rearing cattle on it?
—You first require to put practical men into it, and give them accommodation, with houses, and they, as a natural result, would produce the cattle.

41401. But I want to know what you would do with your breeding stock on these high lands, that are now forests, in winter. The surplus stock you might sell, but how would you winter the breeding stock?
—There are no lands in the Highlands but are capable of growing wintering for animals. I am acquainted with the highest land in Ross-shire, and have seen them wintered on the very highest tops of it.

41402. Then you think that on these high lands cattle would do as well as sheep?
—In some parts they would not, but there are many parts of the Highlands well adapted for the rearing of cattle.

41403. Then why do those farmers who have got sheep farms—which are certainly more favourably situated than the high lands occupied as forests—stick to sheep if they can rear cattle more favourably?
—The want of accommodation and want of knowledge; besides they could not get winter pasture if it was eaten up by sheep.

41404. But they need not keep sheep?
—It is easier keeping sheep than cattle.

41405. Have you ever asked a practical farmer who occupies one of these large tracts in the Highlands as a sheep farm whether it would pay him better to turn it into cattle?
—No, I have not.

41406. The Chairman.
—You mentioned that it would not be a profitable thing to turn a forest, at this moment, into a breeding ground for cattle—that they would find the pasture very much deteriorated; what is the cause of the deterioration, and how does the pasture under deer become deteriorated?
—All other animals except deer, I believe, return a certain amount of manure back to the soil. Deer don't do that so much, and deer don't eat up certain parts of the land so much as sheep and cattle do. Cattle are much better for land, even grazing land, than sheep are, but sheep are much more preferable for the continuing of good pasture than deer are,

41407. Deer devour some kind of grasses and don't eat others'?
—Perhaps they may devour all grasses, but they return nothing back to the soil.

41408. Then you think all pasture under deer, without the assistance of some other stock, must be deteriorated?
—No doubt of it.

41409. But does the deterioration of the pasture under deer not depend in some degree upon the fact that draining will be neglected, and other improvements of that sort?
—No, as a rule deer forests in that respect are better with sheep pasturing on them. I have seen it in many cases. The only improvements are trenching and burning. You will find that more attention is paid to that on deer forests than on sheep farms.

41410. Is there more attention paid to surface drains'?
—There is.

41411. But we have heard, in the course of our inquiry, complaints made not only that the pasturing of deer deteriorates the ground, but that sheep deteriorate the ground; do you believe there is any foundation for the notion that the constant depasturing of ground by sheep deteriorates the grass?
—I do, compared with what cattle would do. Cattle or horses will keep it in a much better condition than sheep will do.

41412. Do you mean cattle associated with sheep, or cattle alone?
—Cattle alone, or cattle associated with sheep.

41413. Which will be best, cattle alone or cattle associated with sheep?
—There are many bits of hill pasture that cattle could not get at, but a mixture of sheep and cattle will do well.

41414. You come from Dumfriesshire?

41415. Have you ever heard it asserted in Dumfriesshire or on the Borders, that the pasturing of ground by sheep, for any length of time, if proper attention is paid to drainage, deteriorates the ground?
—I never knew they did, where there were cattle or horses. I never had any experience of pasturing without horses or cattle.

41416. Are there many sheep farms in the south of Scotland, where horses are unknown, and cattle very rare?
—I have never been upon one of them.

41417. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You state in your paper, as to crofters in club farms, that in your opiniou each man should have a separate lot of arable, in no case less than twenty acres, with his share of the common pasture; how do you propose that share in the common pasture should be grazed—by each man having his own stock or by a common stock?
—There are two methods which might be wrought profitably. One is to have it a common stock with one mark, under the management of one man mutually chosen among themselves, or it might be managed by one man mutually chosen in the same way, but each man having a separate mark on his own stock.

41418. But the management should be by one shepherd?
—The management should be by one shepherd.

41419. You refer in a previous part of the paper to the fact that skill is more valuable than capital:
“There can be no greater mistake than to suppose that capital is the only requisite for profitable and productive farming. Of course, capital is required, but skill is even more requisite?”
—Both are requisite for practical farming.

41420. In a club farm can the same skill be brought to bear upon their stock as when the whole stock is held by one individual man?
—It can.

41421. But is it the collective skill of the club tenants or the skill of the shepherd that you refer to ?
—There may be one among the club who has a practical knowledge of the management of live stock, and if there is one, he will manage the whole thing.

41422. And you think the club tenants would have sufficient good sense to leave the management to the man who had the most skill?
—I have no doubt of it.

41423. You stated, in answer to the Chairman, that deer returned nothing to the soil, and therefore you think they deteriorate the pasture ; what has led you to that conclusion?
—From personal observation. I have seen the land very much deteriorated.

41424. The amount of flesh, meat, and bone that is absolutely taken away from a deer forest every year is surely very much less than the amount of meat and bone and wool that is taken away from a sheep stock, is it not?
—Well, in one sense it is; but the animals that take away most bone and meat are the animals that return most to the land in the shape of manure.

41425. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have had a good deal of experience, I believe, of the Highlands of Scotland since you came?

41426. And this particular matter of the deterioration of pastures and forests has engaged your special attention, has it not?
—It has.

41427. What do you expect will be the result of deer forests in a few years as regards pasture and food?
—They will both deteriorate very much. Pasture will deteriorate very much, and as for food it is very
little food that comes out of a deer forest.

41428. Have wild grass, moss, scrub, and such like constantly a tendency to increase in lands which are not constantly cultivated, eaten down, and pastured?
—They have.

41429. Is it consistent with your observation, since you came to the north, that the lands and grazings now will not carry the same quantity of sheep that they did in your first days?
—It is true.

41430. Is that process going on?
—It is.

41431. Notwithstanding there is a deal of draining and burning attempted to counteract it?
—It is.

41432. If that process is going on, then, I presume it has a very prejudicial effect upon the country generally, or will have that effect ?
—No doubt of it.

41433. And you deprecate that state of matters, and you believe that the proper adaptation of the pastures in the Highlands is for men with both cattle and sheep?
—It is.

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