The days of subsistence farming are long past and for two hundred years the pattern was much the same. Crops were sown in rotation - turnips followed by barley or oats then the field was sown out with grass which lay for two years. In the fifth ‘shift’ a crop of oats was taken. Horses were the draught animals and a farm of 500 acres would have five pairs of horses and an odd one. The good soil of the area, though being boulder clay it varies from farm to farm and even field to field, yields heavy crops. Cattle and sheep have been the main stock animals although until the nineteen fifties pigs were kept by the cottagers and the hooks in the ceilings are silent witness to the hams that once hung.
The marking of sheep with the farmer’s own ‘buist’ in tar is never done these days.
Clipping the sheep then meant a busy day and a tar pot hung on the fire. The ‘callant’ in charge of the ‘buist’ dipped it in tar and ran to the clipped sheep, stamping it with the farmer’s stamp. The ewes were generally buisted on the near kidney and the gimmers on the near hip. Well buisted sheep look good but if badly buisted, nothing could look worse. Much depended on the unfortunate callant who had to run all day with the dripping buists .By the end of the day he had a ‘fit road of tar to the clippers’!
If there were many clippers he had to have a buist in each hand and be careful that each clipper finished the sheep the same side up or the beast would be stamped on the wrong side. A neat -handed callant could make a good job but some, according to local gossips, were ‘proper slaisters’.
To talk to the people who were ‘hinds’ (male farm workers) or ‘bondagers’ (female farm workers) brings forth nostalgic memories of those days. ‘Hiring’ took place once a year and there were traditional hiring dates for each town. Earlston was the last Monday in February, Jedgurgh the first Tuesday in March and Kelso was the first Friday in March. It was not until after the Second World War and the Advent of the Agricultural Wages Board that a month’s notice became all that was necessary on either side.
The ‘bondager’ wore her traditional costume. Her big, broad brimmed hat, called an ‘ugly’, protected her from the elements winter and summer. Her wide skirt was made from three yards of material pleated round the waist. For heavy work this was pinned round each knee and thus ‘breekit’ (like breeks, or breeches) the bondager made her “t’m rapes” (thumb ropes) of straw which she bound under her shoes and up the legs to the knee. These thumb ropes were worn by both men and women and were the forerunner of the Wellington boot but much more comfortable. Even in the worst weather they were ‘as warm as a pie’ and at the end of the day, stripped of the ropes, they were as ‘clean as a whistle’. After work, the straw ropes were peeled off and burned and the workers on another farm would know from the bonfire that Easter Wooden or Grahamslaw or Ormiston had ‘lowsed’ and for them too the end of the day was near.
The bondager’s ‘ugly’ was re- trimmed in the spring with a freshly ruched ribbon. With the singling of turnips a white cotton apron was worn to signify brighter days and the advent of summer.
The busiest time of year then, as now, was the ‘hairst’ (harvest). Work lasted from 6am until 6pm. Breakfast was eaten in the fields about 8am, lunch (then called dinner) was brought out on a cart at about noon and tea was at 3.30pm.
At leading-in time, all worked until dark and along with the tea they each had a bottle of beer and a half-bap (a bap is a bread roll) known as “for ’ours”. Overtime was an unknown phrase but a bonus of 50/- (£2.50) was paid for the harvest, no matter how long it lasted.
In 1966 it was recorded that ‘in every sheep rearing area, the collie is of supreme importance and a visitor to Eckford Hall can be fortunate enough to see these fine animals being trained.’