CATTLE AND CATTLE-BREEDERS
WILLIAM M'COMBIE, M.P.
SECOND EDITION, REVISED
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS EDINBURGH AND LONDON MDCCCLXIX
Transcriber's Note: The advertisements and reviews that preceded the title page have been moved to the end of this text.
I. THE FEEDING OF CATTLE, ETC. 1
II. REMINISCENCES, 34
III. THE CATTLE TRADE, THEN AND NOW, 67
IV. BLACK POLLED ABERDEEN AND ANGUS CATTLE AND SHORTHORNS, 86
V. HINTS ON THE BREEDING AND CARE OF CATTLE, 99
CATTLE AND CATTLE-BREEDERS.
I. THE FEEDING OF CATTLE, ETC.
(Read before the Chamber of Agriculture.)
As my friend Mr Stevenson and some other members of the Chamber of Agriculture have expressed a desire that I should read a paper on my experience as a feeder of cattle, I have, with some hesitation, put together a few notes of my experience. I trust the Chamber will overlook the somewhat egotistical form into which I have been led in referring to the subject of dealing in cattle.
My father and my grandfather were dealers in cattle. The former carried on a very extensive business: he had dealings with several of the most eminent feeders in East Lothian; among others, with the late Adam Bogue, Linplum, John Rennie of Phantassie, Mr Walker, Ferrygate, &c. I cannot express how much I reverence the memory of the late Adam Bogue, as one of the finest specimens of a kind-hearted gentleman I have ever met. Other friends of my father and of myself in East Lothian I also recall with the greatest respect; among these let me mention William Brodie, John Brodie, William Kerr, John Slate, Archibald Skirving, and Mr Broadwood, farmers, all eminent as feeders of stock. My father's chief business-connection was with East Lothian; but he had also a connection with Mid-Lothian and the county of Fife, and a large trade with England. At one of the Michaelmas Trysts of Falkirk he sold 1500 cattle. He wished to give all the members of his family a good education. I was kept at school, and was afterwards two years at college; but to this day I regret my inattention when at school.
My father was very unwilling that I should follow his business, knowing that it was a very precarious one; but what could he do with me? I would do nothing else, and he was obliged to yield. I worked on the farm for years, when not away at the fairs, with the servants, and shared their diet. I cut two harvests, and during the season took charge of the cattle. My first speculation was a L12 grass-field. In this I had a partner, an excellent man, who had been a servant to my father for twenty years. It was a good year, and we divided L15 of profit. This gave me encouragement. I yearly increased my speculations, and gradually got into my father's business at the Falkirk markets and Hallow Fair. My father was very indulgent, and sent me away to a fair when a very young man, giving me authority to buy, and money to pay for, half-a-dozen beasts. I exceeded my commission and bought three little lots—about fifteen in all. The owners trusted me the money I was short. I drove them home myself—about sixteen miles—feeling very proud of my drove. My father examined them next morning, and remarked, "They have not the countenance of beasts." Of course, this chagrined me very much. This was about my first appearance as a buyer of cattle, and some of the beasts I remember to this day. I believe there is no better way to train a young man than to put him to market without assistance. If a man cannot back himself, he is unfit for the trade of a butcher, a jobber, or grazier.
My father retired with a good name, and I retained his old customers. On one occasion only did Adam Bogue buy a beast from any dealer except from my father or myself, and he declared he was no gainer by the transaction. He purchased 120 cattle yearly. The late Mr Broadwood always bought about eighty beasts at the Michaelmas Fair. I put up the number and the size he wanted, and he bought them from me and my father for many years, always choosing middle-sized three and four year olds, and never going beyond L11 per head. The highest figure at that time for feeding-cattle at Falkirk Tryst was about L13. On Tuesday morning he came to my cattle, and inspected them first of any he looked at, and asked their price. With such a customer as Mr Broadwood I asked close. To some parties it is necessary to give halter. He then went away and examined the cattle of other dealers, but always came back in about an hour; and I think he never once failed to deal with me. He was a good judge, and did not require any assistance in selecting his stock; he came alone.
I had also several dealings with Mr Broadwood's son, but only occasionally, and he did not hold so close to me as his father had done. I also retained the friendship of Robert Walker, the Messrs Brodie, and Archibald Skirving, and secured for myself that of Mr Buist, the late William Kerr, the late John Slate, and John Dudgeon, Almondhill. My father and I always had about the best cattle at Falkirk Tryst.
There was then a great trade with Cumberland at the Michaelmas Tryst for horned Aberdeen cattle. The animals were sent from Cumberland to Barnet in spring, and sold off the marshes fat in July and August. My best sixty generally commanded the highest price.
The late Mr William Thom was my great opponent in the horned-cattle trade, and sometimes beat me despite all my efforts. When we saw it for our interest we went in company, and attended all the great fairs in the north; and in conjunction with each other we secured a good proportion of the best cattle. Our grazing cattle were always sold separately. Mr Thom must still be remembered by many. He was a giant in strength: an honester man never lived; perhaps a little decided in his manner, but of great ability and perseverance. As copartners we were not very regular book-keepers, and our accounts got confused. At the wind-up at Hallow Fair, as we had the accounts of the Falkirk Trysts likewise to settle, we worked at them for days, and the longer we worked the more confused they became. To this day I do not know in whose favour the balance was. For the future we resolved to act separately. It was a bad Hallow Fair for large cattle. I have doubled stirks at Hallow Fair, buying them at from L2 to L4, and, to use an Aberdeen expression, turning them heels over heads. But I never could make a shilling of profit out of large cattle. At Hallow Fair Mr Thom and I had unfortunately sixty very large cattle left over unsold from the Michaelmas, many of which had cost L13 and L14 in Aberdeenshire. Mr Thom had the selling of them. He had just one offer in the shape of three gentlemen—one from East Lothian, one from Fife, and one from Perth, who likewise joined. They were sold the next day at L12, 5s. a-head. After the bargain was struck, the gentlemen requested Mr Thom to divide them. His answer was, with a sarcastic look to his customers, "Well, gentlemen, you have been good and great friends for two days, it would be a great pity for me to make you quarrel now." Mr Thom, who was thoroughly "awake," turned upon his heel and went away. I divided the beasts for the gentlemen; and to divide a lot of beasts equally is not such an easy matter as some might suppose.
I have often been puzzled in dividing, say, forty beasts into four tens (I had often to divide lots of cattle for my customers when I was in the lean-cattle trade). The cattle are first cut through as equally as possible; the two divisions are then cut through again, and you have thus four tens. They are then examined, and a good beast is exchanged for a bad from the best to the worst side, and so on alternately until you bring them as equal as it is possible to make them. But with all my experience, I have often been unable to satisfy myself of the equality of the four tens; and when this was the case, I had to decide what was the difference and tell the buyers. If you draw, say, No. 1, being the most valuable lot, you must pay to the gentleman drawing No. 2, an inferior lot, the sum of L2, L3, or L5, as the case may be, &c. This may seem strange to a good judge of cattle, but let him be called on himself to decide in such a case. He may naturally think a change of a beast will make all right, but he will find that in some cases no exchange will rectify the matter to his satisfaction. In connection with this let me offer my friends a piece of advice:—if they buy a cut of cattle from a dealer, say twenty out of sixty, a neutral party and a good judge ought to divide the cattle: it should not be the buyer, and much less ought it to be the dealer, because the seller knows the beasts individually; and however well you drive sixty cattle round the circle, there will always be a better and a worse side. The dealer sees this at a glance, and, if so inclined, can make the cut much as he likes. The buyer, again, if he is as good a judge as the jobber (which is seldom the case), if allowed to cut them, would be likely to make a good cut for himself, and not a fair one for the seller; but the difference will not be so glaring, as he cannot know the beasts as the dealer does. I am speaking always of a fair cut as sold from the sixty. It is not easy to explain in writing how this division is made; but as there is no doubt many a one has been bitten, I shall do my best to describe the process. Suppose the sixty beasts are well driven through one another, which is always done before a cut is attempted, and suppose the dealer is to cut the cattle, he merely gives the lot a glance; he can see in a moment the strong and the weak side, for there will be a difference. He will run off the twenty from the worst side of the sixty, and he will run the number off to a beast or two. It is very quickly done; the stick is used sharply, and in running off the twenty he can easily put six or eight of the best in the line to any side he may think fit. I do not mean to say this is often done, but I wish to show that it can be managed.
In selling lean cattle there is a great deal to be gained by choosing a favourable stance and showing them off properly to the buyers. Cattle look best on the face of a moderate sloping bank, and worst of all at a dead wall. The larger the number shown in a lot, especially of polled cattle, as they stand close together, they look the better. I never liked to show less than forty in a lot, but sixty will look better than forty, and eighty better still. I never would break a lot of beasts except for a consideration in price, as the cattle left behind never have the same appearance. The dealer likewise knows that cattle look largest on the off-side. Many buyers like to see every beast in a lot go past them; and if the dealer can get the buyer to inspect them on the off-side, it is to his own advantage. Cattle and sheep are the better of a good rouse-up when the buyer is inspecting them. I have often seen quarrelling between the buyers and the drovers, the buyers insisting on the drovers letting them alone, while the drovers will not let them stand. I have seen a clever man keep some of the best beasts always in view of the buyers, a stick with a whipcord being used for the purpose.
Many were the long rides, the late nights, and early mornings that Thom and I had together in the North buying drove cattle. In the end of October and beginning of November the nights get very dark. At Skippy Fair of New Deer we nearly came to grief two or three years in succession; it is held in the end of October. There was a decent man, Abel, and his wife, who lived in Inverurie, and attended all the fairs. Their conveyance was a cart. They were honest hard-working people, and good judges of cows. They knew very well what they were about; and they required to do so, for Mrs Abel brought up, I believe, nineteen of a family: she was a very stout, "motherly" woman. They drove home likewise in the cart, always buying two cows, which they led with ropes behind the cart. A cart with a cow attached by a rope at each side will take up the greater part of a narrow road. It was very dark, and near the old Castle of Barra. Thom rode a very fast horse he had hired from Richard Cruickshank, a celebrated judge of horses, who was at that time a horse-hirer in Aberdeen. I rode an old steady pony of my own which had been sixteen years in our family. Thom was going before at a dashing pace, I considerably in the rear, when bang he came against the ropes attaching the cows to the cart. His horse was thrown into the ditch; he recovered himself, but fell again, coming down heavily upon Thom, who was very much hurt, and had to go home instead of going to Potarch Market next day. I escaped, Thom's mishap warning me of the danger. At the same fair next year we had bought, as we found on comparing our books, ninety-nine cattle, mostly stirks. It was dark before we got the animals settled for, and we had to watch them on the market-stance. While crossing the lonely moor between New Deer and Methlick, Thom was as usual a little in advance, I following on the same old pony the best way I could close at his heels, when all at once a man took hold of his horse by the reins and asked him the road to New Deer. I observed another man and a box or two lying on the road, such as are used by travelling hawkers. Thom struck at the man's head with his stick with all his might, saying at the same time, "Cattle of your description cannot be far out of your road anywhere." The man let go his hold, and Thom galloped off, calling to me to follow, which I was nothing loath to do. Thom's horse was white, and mine was a bay. The vagabonds might have seen a white horse coming on in the dark, while they did not observe the bay, and may thus have been led to suppose there was only one man. As the boxes were laid aside, I have no doubt they intended a robbery, though this did not strike me at the time. But our troubles were not yet at an end; at the same old Castle of Barra, Thom, still in advance, called out, "The wife, the cows, and the ropes again!" He had just time to save his distance, and save me too.
The ninety-nine beasts turned out to be only ninety-five (they were no great spec after all, leaving only L45 of profit). Thom had booked four he had never bought; and when the lot was counted to be joined to the drove, they would not number more than ninety-five. I advertised for them, and had a man in Buchan a week searching for them; and when I told Thom in Edinburgh that they could not be found, he confessed he had never bought them.
I am not sure if it was the same year we had come up to Edinburgh the Saturday night before Hallow Fair. We were rather late in getting ready to go to church. I had heard a great deal about Dr Muir as a preacher, and we went to hear him; but not being very certain of the church, we inquired at a gentleman's servant, dressed in splendid livery, very civilly, the way to Dr Muir's church. Instead of giving a civil reply, "Oh," he said, "Aberdeen awa'!" Thom, who was very impulsive, came across the side of the fellow's head with his umbrella, and laid him flat on his back in the middle of the street, with his heels in the air. I made no remark, Thom said as little, but walked on as if nothing had happened. We heard our friend calling after us he would have his revenge; I hope it was a lesson to him to be civil in future.
I sent for many years sixty horned cattle in spring to Mr Buist, Tynninghame. They were grazed in Tynninghame Park, and he also required other forty or sixty during the season for house-feeding. I only gave up the commission business when I could carry it out no longer to my satisfaction and to the advantage of my employers. For years after I went to the Falkirk markets there was not a white beast to be seen; but by-and-by Irish-bred cattle appeared, and then the Shorthorns. The business of dealing in north-country cattle came to be worthless. I bade Falkirk adieu, and turned my attention entirely to the rearing and fattening of cattle at home. I gave up the fascinating business of a lean-cattle jobber, seeing it was done for, and I have never regretted my resolution. The lean-cattle trade was difficult to manage, and in fact was most dangerous. Many a day, when attending Hallow Fair, I have got up by four or five o'clock in the morning, breakfasted, and not tasted food till six o'clock at night. The weather was so bad on one occasion that man and beast were up to the knees in mud. I had my beasts standing near one of the gates. Mr Archibald Skirving never got further than them; he bought forty, sent them away, and returned home. As he bade me good morning, he remarked, "I would not like to be in your place to-day."
I have stood many a bad Hallow Fair, but the worst was about twenty years ago. I never was so much in want of assistance from my friends. The price of cattle had fallen very much after the Michaelmas Tryst. Turnips were bad in East Lothian. I had been on a visit to Mr Buist, and met Mr Kerr, Mr Slate, Mr Walker, &c. Both buyers and sellers anticipated a bad fair, and it turned out the worst I ever saw; it is generally either a very good or very bad market. Tuesday came, and with it a perfect storm of wind and rain—the worst market-day I ever encountered. You could hardly know the colour of the cattle, which were standing up to their bellies in a stubble-field. My friends got to the market; there were Mr Buist, Mr Walker, Ferrygate, Mr Kerr, Mr Slate, and one or two more. They gave my cattle what examination it was possible to give animals in such a stormy day. Out of about two hundred which I had, they wanted about one hundred and seventy. Mr Walker said to me, "I think you might give us a glass of brandy;" and accordingly we retired to a tent, from which we did not move for an hour, as one wanted forty, another thirty, another twenty, &c.; and of course it took a good deal of time to talk over the different lots. At last we rose. I had, while seated, drawn them as to the price as far as they would come. The weather was dreadful. I was very unwilling, and they were not very anxious, to face the storm. I was in the middle of my customers. I did what I could to get an advance on their offers, but I could not extract another farthing; and when all was settled, I gave the accustomed clap of the dealer on the hand all round, and I did not see them again till night, except Mr William Kerr, who, with a struggle, got the length of my remaining thirty beasts, and bought ten. I think I hear the triumphant howls of the men to this day, as they started the nine score of cattle for their destinations, one lot after another, through the astonished dealers, whose cattle at that hour, I believe, were never priced. There were few sold on the first day. I could not sell my twenty remaining cattle, and could not even get a bid for them. Of all the good turns my friends did for me, this was the best. I came out with a small profit, while the losses sustained by other parties at the market were heavy. A great many cattle were sent farther south, and returned back to the north. One respectable dealer told me that no one had ever asked the price of his cattle, and coolly added, "I have taken turnips from ——, and sent the cattle home." I never lost a shilling in East Lothian, or by a bad debt, as a lean-cattle dealer.
To be a good judge of store cattle is exceedingly difficult. We have many judges of fat cattle among our farmers and butchers, and a few good judges of breeding stock; but our really good judges of store cattle are exceedingly few. A judge of store cattle ought to be able to say at a glance how much the animal will improve, how much additional value you can put upon him on good, bad, or indifferent land, and on turnips, in three, six, or twelve months. Unless a grazier is able to do this, he is working in the dark, and can never obtain eminence in his profession. Since my first speculation, already referred to—the half of the L12 field—I have bought and grazed store cattle for nearly fifty years. No one has been able to put upon paper a clear definition, such as can be understood by the reader, of the characteristics of a good store beast. It is only practice and a natural gift that can enable any one to master the subject. There are a few rules, however, that the buyer of store cattle should be acquainted with. He ought to know how they have been kept for the previous six months, otherwise their keep may be entirely thrown away. I make it an almost universal rule (and I have never departed from the rule except with a loss), that I will graze no cattle except those that have been kept in the open strawyard, and have been fed exclusively on turnips and straw. If you can get them off yellow turnips it will be decidedly to your advantage. I have seen this proved by dividing twenty beasts, and keeping one half on yellow turnips, and one half on swedes, both lots getting full turnips. Those on the swedes shot far ahead in the strawyard of those upon the yellows. When taken up from grass, however, the cattle fed upon the yellows were equal to those fed on the swedes. They were grazed together. The difference of improvement in different lots of cattle must have often struck every observer.
I am well acquainted with the different strawyards in Morayshire, and know how the cattle are kept, and how they thrive. There are some farms on which they thrive better than others, even when their keep is in other respects the same. There are farms in Morayshire which are not breeding farms, and where the young stock does not thrive, and the calves have to be sold, and even old cattle only thrive for a certain length of time. Some farms are apt to produce cancer on the throat and side of the head. I pay little attention to this, as change of air cures the complaint. For the first two or three weeks after a beast is attacked with this disease, it will go back in condition; but I have seldom seen much loss by it. If in warm weather, the beast may have to be taken up to avoid the flies; if the disease is inside the throat, it may interfere with the breathing, and the animal may have to be killed. I bought from the late Mr David Sheriffs, Barnyards of Beauly, in spring, ten Highlanders, every one of which had cancer in different stages. I grazed them until October, when the cancers had all disappeared, and the beasts did well (for Highlanders) at grass.
If you put upon grass cattle which have been fed through the winter upon cake, corn, brewers' wash, grains, or potatoes, and kept in hot byres or close strawyards, and look to them to pay a rent, you will find that they will soon make a poor man of you. This mode of feeding is unnatural. Before the animals begin to improve, three months will have passed. If half-fat cattle are bought, which have been kept close in byres or strawyards, and put to grass in April or the first two weeks of May, and cold stormy weather sets in, with no covering to defend them, they will fall off so much that the purchaser will scarcely believe they are the beasts he bought. Thus he not only loses all his grass, but the beasts will be lighter at the end of three months than when they were put into the field. Let me not, however, be misunderstood. I do not mean to say that a few weeks of a little cake or corn will ruin a beast for grazing; but you may depend upon it, that the less artificial food given during winter the better. When kept upon the food I have specified for months and months, they are perfectly unfit for grazing. I regard cake as the safest substitute for turnips; and corn, potatoes, brewers' wash, and grain, as the worst. But my ambition is to graze a bullock that has never been forced, and has never tasted cake, corn, or potatoes. The store cattle I winter for grazing are all kept in open strawyards, with a sufficient covering for bad weather, and as dry a bed as the quantity of straw will permit. This is indispensable for the thriving of the cattle. They receive as many turnips as they can eat. Beasts must always be kept progressing; if they are not, they will never pay. My store cattle never see cake, corn, or potatoes. I would rather throw potatoes to the dunghill than give them to a store bullock, though I would give them to my fatting bullocks. If I can get the bullocks for grazing that I want, I will not lose one mouthful of grass upon them. They will not go on, however, without proper care and superintendence. It requires a practised eye. If a grazier has a number of fields and many cattle, to carry out the treatment of his cattle properly, shifting and fresh grass once in ten or fourteen days should, if possible, be adopted. This has always been my practice. In one day I have observed a marked difference in the improvement of animals after the shift.
 As to giving potatoes to store cattle, since writing the above, I wish to modify the opinion I have expressed to a certain extent. I had a conversation with Mr Hope on the subject, and he states that his belief is, that potatoes are not prejudicial to the growth of store cattle when put to grass, and that his practice is to give them potatoes. I will admit that a few potatoes may not do a store beast much harm; but in my experience in Aberdeenshire I have found that in cattle which have been fed with potatoes the black colour changes to a dusty brown; they are also bad thrivers. A beast that sports that colour is never doing well. I shall, however, prosecute the inquiry.
The grazier must always consider the quality of his grass-land, and buy cattle adapted for it. It would be very bad policy to buy fine cattle for poor or middling lands. You must always keep in view how the cattle have been kept. If they have been kept improperly for your purpose, their size, whether large or small, will not save you from loss. If the cattle are kept on cake, corn, potatoes, or brewers' wash or grain, during the previous winter, it will be ruin to the grazier. Let it not be supposed, however, that I recommend buying lean, half-starved beasts. What I wish to impress on you is, that you must keep the cattle always full of flesh; and, as a breeder, you must be careful not to lose the calf flesh. If you do so by starving the animal at any time of his growth, you lose the cream—the covering of flesh so much prized by all our best retail butchers. Where do all the scraggy, bad-fleshed beasts come from that we see daily in our fat markets, and what is the cause of their scragginess? It is because they have been stinted and starved at some period of their growth. If the calf flesh is once lost, it can never be regained. A great deal of tallow may be got internally by high feeding, but the animal can never again be made one that will be prized by the great retail butcher. Our Aberdeen working bullocks carry little good meat. Draught as well as starvation takes off the flesh. They are generally only fit for ship beef.
Let me now offer a few observations as to the breeds of cattle best adapted for paying a rent—the great object of our cattle rearing and feeding. I have grazed the pure Aberdeen and Angus, the Aberdeen and North-country crosses, the Highland, the Galloways, and what is termed in Angus the South-country cattle, the Dutch, and the Jutland. Except the two latter, all the others have got a fair trial. I am aware that the merits of the pure Aberdeen and Angus form a difficult and delicate subject to deal with. I know that the breeders of Shorthorns will scrutinise my statements carefully. But my only object is to lay down my own experience, and I trust that I have divested myself of prejudice as much as possible. If store cattle of the Aberdeen and Angus breed out of our best herds can be secured, I believe no other breed of cattle will pay the grazier more money in the north for the same value of keep. But there is a race of starved vermin which is known by some in the north by the name of "Highland hummlies," which I consider the worst of all breeds. No keep will move them much. At the top of these I must place those with the brown ridge along the back. They can be made older, but it takes more ability than I ever had to make them much bigger. Keep is entirely thrown away upon such animals. As regards good Aberdeen or North-country crosses, they are rent-payers. He would be very prejudiced indeed who would not acknowledge their merits. I graze more cross-bred cattle than pure-bred polled. The Highlanders on our land are not profitable; they are of such a restless disposition that they are unsuitable for stall-feeding, however well they are adapted for grazing purposes in certain localities and under certain conditions. But, I repeat, for stall-feeding they are unsuitable; confinement is unnatural to their disposition. The last Highlanders I attempted to feed were bought at a cheap time. In the month of June they were most beautiful animals, and they grazed fairly. I tied them up; but they broke loose again and again, and ran three miles off to the glen where they had been grazed. There was one of them that his keeper never dared to approach, and the stall had to be cleaned out with a long crook. They consumed few turnips, and did not pay sixpence for what turnips they did consume. No other description of cattle, however, is so beautiful for noblemen's and gentlemen's parks.
As to the Galloway cattle, they also have had a fair trial with me. I was in the habit of buying for years from one of the most eminent judges of store Galloways in Britain—Captain Kennedy of Bennane—a lot of that breed. He selected them generally when stirks from all the eminent breeders of Galloway cattle, and bought nearly all the prize stirks at the different shows. In fact, he would not see a bad Galloway on his manors. The Galloway has undoubtedly many and great qualifications. On poor land they are unrivalled, except perhaps by the small Highlanders. Captain Kennedy's cattle always paid me; they were grazed on a 100-acre park of poor land—so poor, indeed, that our Aberdeens could not subsist upon it. I had ultimately to break it up for cropping. If I had not been obliged to do this, I should not have liked to have missed Captain Kennedy's Galloways. Although the Galloways are such good cattle to graze—and this goes to prove the truth of my remarks as to the forcing system, the Galloways at Glenapp being wintered out—they are not so easily finished as our Aberdeen and Angus or cross-bred cattle. They have too much thickness of skin and hair, too much timber in their legs; they are too thick in their tails, too deep in their necks, too sunken in the eye, for being very fast feeders. It is difficult to make them ripe. You can bring them to be three-quarters fat, and there they stick; it is difficult to give them the last dip. If, however, you succeed in doing so, there is no other breed worth more by the pound weight than a first-class Galloway.
As to what we term the South-country cattle, I have also given them a trial. My experience is that they are great beasts to grow; that they consume an immense deal of food, but that they are difficult to finish; and when finished they are very indifferent sellers in the London market. They generally carry a deal of offal along with them; but those who have patience, and keep them for many months, they may pay for keep. I have had a few German and Jutland cattle through my hands, but not in sufficient numbers to enable me to say anything about them worthy of your notice. After trying all the breeds of cattle I have specified, I have come to the conclusion that the Aberdeen and Angus polled, and the Aberdeen and North-country crosses, are the cattle best adapted, under ordinary circumstances, in the north of Scotland, for paying the feeder. Our cross-bred cattle, and especially the South-country cattle, are greater consumers of food than the pure Aberdeens. This is a part of the subject which has never got the consideration it deserves. When the cross and South-country cattle are two or three years old, and when the day lengthens out, they consume a fearful quantity of food. The age of cattle ought also to be taken into consideration. No doubt a young two-year-old will grow more than a three-year-old, and for a long keep may pay as well. But I have been always partial to aged cattle; and if you want a quick clearance, age is of great consequence. The great retail London butchers are not partial to "the two teeths," as they call them; and I have seen them on the great Christmas-day examining the mouths of cattle before they would buy them. They die badly as to internal fat, and are generally light on the fore-rib. I have always given a preference to aged cattle, as they get sooner fat, are deep on the fore-rib, and require less cake to finish them. Aged cattle, however, are now difficult to be had, and every year they will be scarcer with the present demand for beef. A perfect breeding or feeding animal should have a fine expression of countenance—I could point it out, but it is difficult to describe upon paper. It should be mild, serene, and expressive. The animal should be fine in the bone, with clean muzzle, a tail like a rat's, and not ewe-necked; short on the legs. He should have a small well-put-on head, prominent eye, a skin not too thick nor too thin; should be covered with fine silky hair—to the touch like a lady's glove; should have a good belly to hold his meat; should be straight-backed, well ribbed up, and well ribbed home; his hook-bones should not be too wide apart. A wide-hooked animal, especially a cow after calving, always has a vacancy between the hook-bone and the tail, and a want of the most valuable part of the carcass. I detest to see hooks too wide apart; they should correspond with the other proportions of the body. A level line should run from the hook to the tail. He should be well set in at the tail, free of patchiness there and all over, with deep thighs, that the butcher may get his second round and prominent brisket deep in the fore-rib, with a good purse below him, which is always worth L1 to him in the London market; well fleshed in the fore-breast, with equal covering of fine flesh all over his carcass, so valuable to the butcher. His outline ought to be such that if a tape is stretched from the fore-shoulder to the thigh, and from the shoulder along the back to the extremity there, the line should lie close, with no vacancies; and without a void, the line should fill from the hook to the tail. From the shoulder-blade to the head should be well filled up—as we say, good in the neck vein. I am aware that the preceding remarks as to the quality and proportions a beast should possess must be very unsatisfactory to you, as they are to myself; scarcely any one animal has possessed them all, and to look for the half of them in a good commercial beast would be vain. I have consulted no writer upon the subject; they are set down, and not in good order, just as they struck me at the time. Thick legs, thick tails, sunken eyes, and deep necks, with thick skin and bristly hair, always point to sluggish feeders.
In cold weather in the month of May, the old silky coat of the strawyard bullock is of great advantage. If we could get the qualities and proportions I have specified in animals, it would not be difficult to make them fat. It would be difficult only to make them lean, when once in condition. A high standing, want of ribbing-up and ribbing home, with the tucked-up flank, always denote a worthless feeder. You must all have observed how difficult it is to bring such cattle into a state for killing. It will take a deal of cake and corn to make them ripe. A great many can never be made more than fresh; it is only a waste of time and money to keep them on.
I have adverted to the way cattle should be treated in winter as stores. The earlier you can put cattle upon grass so much the better. Cattle never forget an early bite of new grass. A week's new grass in Aberdeenshire at the first of the season is worth at least two and a half upon old grass; and it is wonderful what improvement a good strawyard bullock will make in four or five weeks at the first of the season. If kept on straw and turnips alone in winter, he may add a third or at least a fourth to his live weight. But much depends on the weather. I have never known cattle make much improvement in April, or even up to the 12th of May, because the weather is so unsteady, and the cold nights when they are exposed in the fields take off the condition the grass puts on. The grazier will find it of great advantage to house his cattle at night during this season. In Aberdeenshire the 10th of May is about the earliest period cattle should be put to grass. Where there is new grass, first year, it is a most difficult matter to get the full advantage of it. There is no other grass to be compared with it for putting on beef in Aberdeenshire. You must be careful at the first of the season, if much rain falls, not to allow the cattle to remain on the young grass. They must be shifted immediately; and no one can get the proper advantage of such grass who is deprived of the power of shifting the cattle into a park of older grass till the land again becomes firm for the cattle. I have seen a small field of new grass in the month of May or the beginning of June utterly ruined in one night, when heavily stocked with cattle. When wet and cold the cattle wander about the whole night, and in the morning the fields are little better than ploughed land. In fact, the field so injured will never recover until broken up again.
In regard to my own farms, I cut scarcely any hay. I pasture almost all my new grass, and the moment the cattle's feet begin to injure the grass, they are removed. If cattle are changed to an old grass field, so much the better; but they will be safe on second or third year's grass, provided the land is naturally dry. By the 1st July, the new grass land gets consolidated, and you are safe. New grass fields are bad to manage in another respect. The grass comes very rapidly about the 10th June, and if you are not a very good judge of what you are about, it will get away in a few days, become too rank, and will lose its feeding qualities during the remainder of the season. By the middle of July it will be nothing but withered herbage. Young grass ought to be well eaten down, and then relieved for two or three weeks; then return the cattle, and the grass will be as sweet as before. It requires practice to know the number of cattle, and the proper time to put on these cattle, to secure the full benefits of new grass. Three days' miscalculation may cause a heavy loss. I have been bit so often, and found the difficulty so great, that I fear to extend my observations on this part of the subject, when I am addressing gentlemen many of whom make their young grass into hay, or sell the grass to the cowfeeders. The pasturing of new grass, in which the farmers of Aberdeenshire and the north of Scotland have a deep interest, may not apply to many other parts of Scotland.
I come now to the way cattle should be treated after being taken from their pastures and put on turnips. The earlier you put them up, the sooner they will be ready for the butcher. The practice of tying the cattle early up in Aberdeenshire is now almost universal; the success of the feeder depends upon it, for a few weeks may make a difference of several pounds. I recollect tying up a lot of cattle at Ardmundo, thirty in number—a fair cut of ten being left in the field at home on fine land and beautiful grass. The thirty were tied up by the 1st of September, the ten on the 1st of October. The weather was cold, wet, and stormy; and between the improvement the thirty had made and the deterioration upon the ten, there was by my computation, however incredible it may appear, L5 a-head of difference. Mr Knowles of Aberdeen happened to see the cattle, and when he came upon the ten he asked what was the matter with them. He could scarcely credit the facts; their hair was so bad that they actually looked like diseased animals, and it was long before they took a start. I shall state the method I adopt. I sow annually from twelve to sixteen acres of tares, and about the middle of June save a portion of the new grass full of red clover, and from the 1st to the 20th of August both tares and clover are fit for the cattle. I have for many years fed from three hundred to four hundred cattle; and if I was not to take them up in time, I could pay no rent at all. A week's house-feeding in August, September, and October, is as good as three weeks' in the dead of winter. I begin to put the cattle into the yards from the 1st to the middle of August, drafting first the largest cattle intended for the great Christmas market. This drafting gives a great relief to the grass parks, and leaves abundance to the cattle in the fields. During the months of August, September, and October, cattle do best in the yards, the byres being too hot; but when the cold weather sets in there is no way, where many cattle are kept, in which they will do so well as at the stall. You cannot get loose-boxes for eighty or a hundred cattle on one farm. I generally buy my store cattle in Morayshire. They have all been kept in the strawyard, never being tied. When the cattle are tied up on my farms, a rope is thrown over the neck of the bullock; the other end of the rope is taken round the stake; two men are put upon it, and overhaul the bullock to his place. When tightened up to the stall the chain is attached to the neck, and the beast is fast. We can tie up fifty beasts in five hours in this way. When tied, you must keep a man with a switch to keep up the bullocks. If you did not do this you would soon have every one of them loose again. They require to be carefully watched the first night, and in three days they get quite accustomed to their confinement, except in the case of some very wild beast. I never lost a bullock by this method of tying up. This system is like other systems—it requires trained hands to practise it.
I never give feeding cattle unripe tares; they must be three parts ripe before being cut. I mix the tares when they are sown with a third of white pease and a third of oats. When three parts ripe, especially the white pease, they are very good feeding. Fresh clover, given along with tares, pease, &c., forms a capital mixture. I sow a proportion of yellow Aberdeen turnips early to succeed the tares and clover. I find the soft varieties are more apt to run to seed when sown early than yellow turnips.
It is indispensable for the improvement of the cattle that they receive their turnips clean, dry, and fresh. When obliged to be taken off the land in wet weather, the hand should be used to fill the turnips from the land to the carts. The turnips should be pulled and laid in rows of four or six drills together on the top of one drill, with the tops all one way and the roots another; but it is better that parties should follow the carts and pull the turnips from the drills, and throw them into the carts at once. It is an invariable rule with me that the turnips are filled by hand in wet weather. Advantage should be taken of fine weather to secure a good stock of turnips, and a good manager will always provide for a rainy day. A very considerable proportion of turnips should be stored, to wait the severe winters very often experienced on the north-east coast. If I had sufficient command of labour, I would store the greater part of my Swedish turnips (if ripe). I would, however, store only a proportion of the Aberdeen yellow, as they lose the relish, and cattle prefer them from the field; but I require a proportion of them for calving cows in frost. Frosted turnips make cows with calf abort, and rather than give calving cows such turnips I would order them straw and water. Fresh Swedish turnips are indispensable to feeding cattle during the winter. It is a sorrowful sight to see a gang of men with picks taking up turnips in a frosty day, leaving a third of the produce on the land, and the turnips going before your bullocks as hard as iron. We have almost every year a week or ten days' fine weather about Christmas, and this should be taken advantage of to store turnips, if not stored previously. I have tried all the different modes of storing recommended. I shall not enter on the minutiae of the subject, as it is now generally so well understood; and I need only urge here that the roots should not be bled in any way, that the tops should not be taken off too near to the bulbs, that the tails be only switched, and that they be pitted and secured every night to keep them free from frost and rain. I have adopted my friend Mr Porter of Monymusk's plan (in a late climate and where Swedish turnips in some years never come to full maturity) of pitting them upon the land where they grow, from one to two loads together; and, although not quite ripe, I have never seen a turnip go wrong when stored in this manner. The land also escapes being poached, as the turnips are carted in frost, and at a time when the other operations of the farm are not pressing. A foot of earth will keep them safe, and they are easily covered by taking a couple of furrows with a pair of horses on each side of the line of pits.
In a week or ten days after the first lot of cattle is taken up from grass, a second lot is taken up. This is a further relief to the pastures, and the cattle left in the fields thrive better. This taking up continues every week or ten days to the end of September. At this period all feeding cattle ought to be under cover that are intended to be fattened during the succeeding winter. The stronger cattle are drafted first, and the lesser ones left until the last cull is put under cover.
It would be of no use to attempt to feed cattle, unless you can command a staff of experienced men to take charge of them. However faithful in other respects, these men must have a taste and a strong liking to cattle—they must be their hobby. Even with men of the greatest experience, the difference in the thriving of the different lots upon the same keep is great. They must not be oppressed with having too many in charge, or the owner will suffer by his ill-judged parsimony. From August till November a man may take care of, and pull turnips for, thirty cattle very well, or a few more, if the cattle are loose; but when the day gets short, twenty to twenty-five is as many as one man can feed, to do them justice, if tied up. Good cattlemen are invaluable. They must not only know what to give the cattle; but the great secret, especially when cattle are forced up for show purposes, is to know what not to give them. An inexperienced man amongst a lot of feeding cattle must be a great loss to his employer. Like everything else, the proper management of the animals cannot be learned in a day—the cattleman must be always learning. For myself, I can only say that, long as I have traded in cattle, have studied their treatment, have considered their symmetry, I am learning something new every other day. As regards the treatment of cattle when put upon tares or cut clover, there is no danger; but with turnips an ignorant man may injure the cattle in one week so much that they may not recover it during the season. The cattle must be gradually brought on, giving them a few turnips at first, and increasing the quantity daily, till in from ten to fourteen days they may get a full supply. When improperly treated the cattle scour and hove, the stomach getting deranged. It is a long time before they recover, and some never do well. We generally cure hove by repeated doses of salts, sulphur, and ginger. Occasionally a beast will hove under the best treatment; but if you find a lot of them blown up every day, it is time to change their keeper. In cattle which are being forced for exhibition, hove is generally the first warning that the constitution can do no more. I have seen cases so obstinate that they would swell upon hay or straw without turnips. Putting the animal out to grass for a couple of months will generally renovate the constitution and remove the tendency to hove; and after being taken up from grass, with a man in charge who knows what to give and what not to give, the animal may go on for a few months longer, and with great attention may at last prove a winner. Occasionally an animal may be found whose digestion no amount of forcing will derange, but such cases are very rare. Cattle feeding in the stall should be kept as clean as the hunter or valuable race-horse, and their beds should be carefully shaken up.
I change the feeding cattle from tares and clover on to Aberdeen yellow turnips, and afterwards to swedes, if possible by the middle of October. I do not like soft turnips for feeding cattle. The cattle that I intend for the great Christmas market have at first from 2 lb. to 4 lb. of cake a-day by the 1st of November. In a week or two I increase the cake to at least 4 lb. a-day, and give a feed of bruised oats or barley, which I continue up to the 12th or 14th of December, when they leave for the Christmas market. The cake is apportioned to the condition of the different animals, and some of the leanest cattle get the double of others which are riper. The cattle being tied to the stall places this quite in your power, while in the strawyard it could not be done. When ten or twenty beasts in the strawyard stand together, the strongest take the greatest share, and these are very often the animals that least require it. I consider the stall a great advantage over the strawyard in this respect, as you can give each beast what you wish him to have. My men are told the quantity of cake and corn which I wish every beast to receive. You must all have observed the inequality in the improvement of cattle in the strawyard when ten, fifteen, or twenty beasts are fed together. I have seen the best beast in a lot when put up, the worst when taken out. The first three weeks after the cattle are put upon cake along with their turnips, they will put on as much meat as they will do with an equal quantity of cake for the next five. It is absolutely necessary to increase the quantity of cake and corn weekly to insure a steady improvement; and if cattle are forced upon cake and corn over two or three months, it will, in my opinion, pay no one. To give unlimited quantities for years, and to say it will pay, is preposterous. To give fat cattle the finishing dip, cake and corn, given in moderation and with skill for six weeks before the cattle are sent to the fat market, will pay the feeder; but to continue this for more than two months will never pay in Aberdeenshire. This is no doubt a bold assertion, but I believe it to be correct. The cake and corn given to cattle day by day loses its effect, till at last you bring the beast almost to a standstill, and week after week you can perceive little improvement. Cake, and still more corn, appear to injure their constitution; grass, turnips, and straw or hay are their only healthy food. For commercial cattle, and for commercial purposes, two months is the utmost limit that cake and corn will pay the Aberdeenshire feeder. There can be no substitute for grass, straw, and turnips, except for a very limited period; though in times of scarcity, and to give the last dip to fat cattle, the other feeding materials are valuable auxiliaries.
I have kept on a favourite show bullock for a year, thinking I would improve him, and given him everything he would take; and when that day twelvemonth came round, he was worse than a twelvemonth before. You can only torture nature so far; and if you force a yearling bullock, he will never come to the size that he will attain if kept on common fare. If you wish to bring a bullock to size for exhibition, give him as much grass and turnips as he can eat. Begin to force only when he is two and a half to three years old, and by the time he is four years he will not only be a neater but a larger animal than if he had been forced earlier: forcing in youth deteriorates the symmetry of the animal as well as diminishes his size. I am speaking only of Aberdeen and Angus cattle, but I believe the breeders of Highlanders are also well aware of this fact. I am not speaking of pounds, shillings, and pence, or of the profit to the farmer; for who would think of keeping beasts bred to himself older than rising three years old? Calves dropped early should go to the fat market at the age of two years.
A word as to show bullocks. I believe they are the most unprofitable speculation an agriculturist can interfere with. To keep a show bullock as he ought to be kept will cost from 12s. to 15s. a-week, which amounts to about L40 a-year.
The method I adopt as to using cake and corn is the following:—On the different farms where I feed the cattle, I put a fourth part of their number only upon cake and corn at one time, and six weeks (which is about my limit of time for cake and corn, &c., paying the feeder) before they are to be sent to the fat market. When the six weeks are expired they are sent away; another fourth part of the original number take their place, and get their six weeks' cake. When they leave, the other cattle in succession get the same treatment. When turnips are plentiful the system works very well. The cattle draw beautifully, week by week, from the different farms, and come out very ripe. I may mention that almost all the cattle I graze are generally kept during the previous winter upon as many turnips as they can eat, and are in high condition when put to grass. I believe, however, that in the south of Scotland, where there is more corn and less grass land, this method would not be suitable. Large bills for cake are not easily paid, and when paid swallow up our profits. When cattle are fed almost exclusively upon the produce of the farm, the feeders know what they are about; but this method of feeding requires time and patience, and there is a long outlay of capital. Still, if the system is adopted and judiciously managed, upon medium or high-lying and low-rented land, the cattle treated as above ought to pay the rent and leave a fair profit to the feeder. There is no doubt that in the north, and especially in Aberdeenshire, there is a rage for fine cattle; and on my part it has almost amounted to a "craze." I would have been a richer man to-day if I had not been so fastidious in my selections; but I cannot endure to look at, and never will tolerate, a bad beast on my land. The gentlemen I buy from know my weakness, and they say, if they are anxious to sell, We must let M'Combie have a "pull." Many are the lots of beasts I have bought and culled, and I had to pay for it. Sellers have served me right. Still there is a fatality follows me that I fear it is hopeless now to endeavour to get over. A good bullock will always be a good one, and will easily be made ripe—requiring little cake or corn—and come right out at last.
The following is the system I have adopted in the selection of the cattle I have wintered. I buy the best lots I can find during the summer, fit for wintering and keeping on to the following Christmas. I then cull the worst of the different lots, feeding the culls and wintering the tops. By this method I secure a lot of wintering cattle for the great Christmas market of the ensuing year, without one bad or indifferent beast among them. The price I have obtained for several years, with the exception of the culls of my winterers, has been L35 a-head.
In Aberdeenshire I consider that a large bullock ought to pay 25s. to 30s. a-month for keep, if he is properly treated. We often get less, and sometimes a little more, owing in some measure to the way in which the cattle are bought, the price of beef at the time, the season of the year the cattle are bought, and the time they are sold. Before we were threatened with the cattle plague I always made a point of buying my beasts early in the season, beginning in January and buying monthly up to May. I had thus a chance of the best lots, whereas, if I deferred making my selections, these went into other hands.
Fifty years ago, and for many a long year thereafter, there were no shorthorns in the north. There were few turnips grown, and few cattle fed. The great firm of the Williamsons, who rented St John's Wells, Bethelnie, and Easter Crichie; James Allardyce of Boyndsmill; the Harveys of Beidlestone and Danestone, and a few others, were almost the only parties who attempted the feeding of cattle. Mr Harvey of Ardo, who was then tenant of Danestone, died only the other day, aged ninety. Messrs Williamson and Reid were the great Aberdeen butchers at that period, and the feeders had either to sell to them or send their cattle on to Barnet Fair on their own account, or in the hands of the jobber. The journey occupied a month, and hay was their food. The cattle stood the road best upon hay, and it was surprising how fresh and sound the drovers took them up. Disease was unknown; the lung disease, the foot-and-mouth disease, are comparatively recent importations.
I was in the lean-cattle trade when foot-and-mouth disease first broke out, and got a sad fright when I came up to Falkirk and found my drove affected. When it got into a drove on their transit, the loss was heavy. At that time the cattle were not made more than half fat, else they could never have performed their journeys.
I was well acquainted with the Messrs Williamson, and, when a boy, was the guest of the late George Williamson, St John's Wells; of the late James Williamson, Bethelnie; and of William Williamson, Easter Crichie. George Williamson was a great wit, and many are the anecdotes I have heard him tell. One of these I recollect. He was passing through Perth with a large drove of cattle, the bells were ringing a merry peal for the peace—St John's Wells said it was a sorrowful peal to him, for it cost him L4000. He told that the Messrs Williamson and Reid came to buy a lot of cattle at Bethelnie, and they were not like to agree, when Bethelnie's grieve volunteered the statement—much to the chagrin of James Williamson, but to the delight of Messrs Williamson and Reid—that there were turnips to put over to-morrow and no longer. Messrs Williamson and Reid did not advance their offer under these circumstances.
James Williamson was a smarter man in some respects than George; he had great taste as a farmer, but lacked the wit of his brother; while William of Easter Crichie, St John's Wells' eldest son, and a member of the great firm, took matters more coolly than either, but was a capital judge, and a good buyer of drove and store cattle. They have all gone to their rest, but have left a name behind them which will not soon be forgotten in Aberdeenshire. As a firm they were the largest cattle-dealers in Scotland of their day. William Williamson was most hospitable, and many were the happy evenings I have spent at Easter Crichie. It was a great treat to hear him when he became eloquent upon the Haycocks, the great Leicestershire graziers, and the bullock he bought from Mr Harvey and sold to Mr Haycock that gained the prize against all comers at Smithfield. The Williamsons were the largest buyers in spring, not only in Aberdeenshire and the north, but in Forfar and Fife, shires. At one time they had little opposition in the spring trade, and old St John's Wells' advice to the members of the firm, when they went to Forfar and Fife, was to "bid little and lie far back." The Williamsons generally brought down from Fifeshire on their spring visits a lot of the best Fife cows, and no doubt their blood are in many of the Aberdeen cattle to this day. The Williamsons also bought largely at the Falkirk Trysts. Although they had the spring trade mostly to themselves, it must not be supposed that the summer trade was equally in their hands. For a time, however, it was doubtful if they would not concentrate the whole business in their own firm; as when they had heavy stocks on hand, and prices showed a downward tendency, they adopted the daring expedient of buying up almost all the cattle for sale, that they might become the exclusive owners. This might have succeeded so far, but it was a dangerous expedient, and could not continue; and other energetic men, both in the north and south, began to oppose them. My own father became their greatest opponent, and, though single-handed, for years conducted as large a business in summer as themselves.
Mr James Anderson, Pitcarry, who is still alive and tenant of Pitcarry, was also an extensive dealer, and sent large droves to England—a man who through life has enjoyed the respect of all classes, of great coolness, and proverbial for his rectitude. The writer was sleeping with him at Huntly the night of an Old Keith market; and in the morning Mr Anderson was in the middle of a deep discussion, when his topsman knocked at the door. On being asked what he wanted, he said he had lost four cattle. "Go and find them," was Mr Anderson's answer, and he immediately resumed the discussion. My father often told how Mr Anderson and he were at a dinner at Haddington, given by the East Lothian Farmers' Club, on the day of the cattle market, when Mr Rennie of Phantassie was chairman, and where, after dinner, a discussion arose about an Act of Parliament. Mr Anderson told them they were all wrong, and that the contents of the Act were so and so. The books were brought from the Council Chambers, when Mr Anderson was found right, and all the East Lothian gentlemen wrong. He is a very well-informed man, and has all the Acts of Parliament at his finger-ends. I was present at a Hallow Fair when a cross toll-bar was erected, and many paid the toll demanded. At last Mr Anderson came up with his drove, and having the Act of Parliament in his pocket at the time, he broke down the toll-bar and sent the keeper home to his honest calling.
But James Milner, Tillyriach, was perhaps the most remarkable among all the cattle-dealers of the time. He was a very large tall man, with tremendously big feet—a great man for dress—wore top-boots, white neckcloth, long blue coat, with all the et-ceteras, and used hair-powder. He was, withal, very clever, and had an immensity of mother-wit. He rode the best horse in the country, kept greyhounds, and galloped a horse he called the "Rattler." The rides he took with this animal are the talk of the country to this day. The Rattler was very fast, and would jump over anything. There was no end to the hares Milner killed. He was tenant not only of Tillyriach, which was at that time the property of Sir William Forbes of Craigievar, but he rented Carnaveron and other farms in the Vale of Alford. His position was good: he dined with the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. On one occasion he had Sir William Forbes to dine with him at Tillyriach, and collected all the horses, cattle, and servants from his other farms, and had them all coming as if from the yoke when Sir William arrived. Milner wanted allowances for several improvements from his landlord, and, among the rest, allowance to build, and payment for, a large dwelling-house; but he outwitted himself for once, as Sir William was afraid of the man, and refused to give any allowance whatsoever, remarking that his wealth in cattle and horses was so enormous that he might build himself in so that he would never get him out. However, Milner built an additional large dining-room at his own expense, and it being finished all but the chimney-top, he got up one summer morning very early, ordered his men and horses along with a mason to follow him, and went to William Laing, one of his sub-tenants, of whom he had a host, quietly removed a new dressed granite chimney-top which Laing had lately erected, without being detected by the inmates, and had it placed upon his room ere ever it was missed. There it remained for fifty years, until the houses at Tillyriach were taken down. Milner was very fond of a lark; he was the best possible neighbour; but if he took offence or considered himself slighted or overlooked, he would have his revenge. There was a rather troublesome neighbour who had offended Mr Milner, and of whom he could not get the better, except in the following way:—He put a large drove of cattle among his corn during the night, and was there in the morning with his appraiser to pay the damage. The damage is never in such cases estimated at the loss sustained by the owner, and a man may easily be ruined in that way. Mr Milner was the Captain Barclay of the Vale of Alford. He must have the best of everything—the best horses, the best cattle; and at the first cattle-show in the country, at Kincardine O'Neil, he gained the first prize for the best bull. He had the finest horses in the country, and it was worth something to get a "lift" of Milner's horses; and the most grievous fault his servants could commit, was allowing any other horses in the country to take as heavy loads as his.
Tillyfour and Tillyriach adjoin, and are now one farm. My father was in Tillyfour, and Milner in Tillyriach. The crop was all cut by the sickle, and wonderful were the prodigies performed by some of the shearers. When the harvest came near a conclusion, there was generally a severe "kemp" between neighbours who would have "cliach" first. One season Milner had fallen much behind his Tillyfour neighbours, and it became clear that Tillyfour was to gain the victory. Milner ordered Rattler to be saddled, and he was not long in galloping with such a horse, and on such an emergency, over the length and breadth of the Vale of Alford. He collected the whole country, and cut the last standing sheaf on Tillyriach in one night. The first thing heard at Tillyfour next morning was one volley of firearms after another, which was continued through the day, with a relay of shooters, and in the very teeth of my father's people. It cost Milner a great deal of Athole-brose and powder, but he did not mind trifles to gain his point. It was the custom at that time that the party who finished harvest first communicated the intelligence to his neighbours by the firing of guns.
 For description of a day at Tillyfour, see Dixon's 'Field and Fern,' Part North, p. 158-181.
 Whisky and oatmeal mixed.
Another anecdote or two of Milner, and I have done with him. As he was dressing at the glass one morning, at an inn in the south, and in the act of powdering his hair, and tying his white neckerchief, which he always wore on high days and holidays, James Williamson of Bethelnie said to him, "Ah! what a pretty man you are, James!" "Yes," said Milner, with an oath, "if it were not for these ugly skulks of feet of mine." He always carried large saddlebags on his horse on his journeys, well replenished with all necessary auxiliaries for a change of dress, as when he went north he had often to dine with the Highland proprietors, and Milner was not the man to go otherwise than in full dress. He took a good deal of liberty with his fellow-cattle-dealers, who were not so exact as to their wardrobes, and carried generally in their pocket only a spare shirt and a pair of stockings. Milner's traps were a great additional burden on his horse. While going north he thought proper, one morning, to fasten them on my father's horse. My father took no notice of this at the time; but falling a little behind before coming to the top of a high hill, he contrived to unloose the mouths of the bags. The cattle-dealers always dismounted at the top of a hill, and walked down, either leading or driving their horses before them to the foot. My father dismounted, put the whip to his horse, a very spirited animal, and down the hill he galloped. First one article of clothing, then another, went helter-skelter along the road for a mile, one here and one there—ruffled shirts, white neckcloths, long coats, cashmere vests, boot-tops, pomatum boxes, cotton stockings, &c. &c.—not two of them together. It took Milner a long time to collect the contents of his bags; he was very sulky during the day, and his own horse carried the saddlebags in future. On a journey in the north, his comrades proposed that he should dress himself (and he did so to some purpose), and call on a gentleman, a large owner of fine stock, but whose land-steward and the cattle were some forty miles distant from the manor-house. Mr Milner did so; was well received and hospitably entertained; and at parting the gentleman gave him a letter to his land-steward, with instructions as to the sale of his stock. Milner was very quick, and he had his doubts as to these instructions; and as from forty to fifty miles was a long journey out and returning, he became anxious to know the contents. He returned to his friends, and communicated his suspicions to them. One more daring than the others proposed that the letter should be opened; a tea-kettle was got, the water brought to the boil, the wafer put to the steam, and the letter opened. The contents read thus:—"Be sure and sell the old cows, but do not sell the bullocks upon any account." I need not say what a rage Milner was in; calling the gentleman out was the least punishment he might expect.
On one occasion he was in the south, where he bought cattle as well as in the north, and had an appointment to purchase a rare lot of cattle. James Williamson, Bethelnie, was also anxious to secure the same lot. The two were at the same inn; and after Milner went to bed, his shoes were turned out of his bedroom to be brushed. Williamson got hold of them, and had them put into a pot of water and boiled for hours. He contrived to do away with his stockings in a way I shall not mention. When Milner rose to continue his journey, he might have got the better of the loss of his stockings, but his shoes were a hopeless case, and he was obliged to defer his journey. New shoes had to be made; and as Milner's feet were so large, lasts had first to be made; and thus it took several days to get him fitted out for the road. James Williamson, meanwhile, bought the cattle and had his laugh at Milner, who reaped a share of the profits. It is now about half a century since Milner died, at a comparatively early age; but there still remains a lively impression of his person and exploits among the older residenters of the Vale of Alford.
James Allardyce of Boyndsmill, tenant of Cobairdy, was also a great farmer, but of a different stamp. He was a friend of the late Duke of Gordon, who introduced him at Court; he also always wore powder. Many were the stories he told of his journey to London, and the great personages he was introduced to there. He was the best chairman at a public meeting I ever saw; and at a public sale it was a perfect treat to hear him. He was a master of the art of pleasing, and no man could put a company into equal good-humour. He had something to say in every one's praise, and no one else could say it so well. He spoke the dialect of his own county (the kingdom of Forgue) and never affected the English language. He fed—such feeding as they got!—sixty bullocks annually, which were always sold to one or other of the dealers, and went to Barnet Fair. Cobairdy's winterers and their prices were an interesting topic of conversation every spring, as the season came round.
The great English dealers were the Armstrongs, James and Thomas, the Millers, Murphy, Robert M'Turk, Billie Brown, John Elliot, the Carmichaels, &c. &c. The Armstrongs were from Yorkshire; they bought largely of our good beasts at Falkirk, Falkland, and Kinross. Their credit was unlimited. They paid the cattle, not with Bank of England notes, but with their own private bills; and whereas they left home without more money than was necessary to pay the expenses of their journey, they would return with hundreds of pounds. For example: they would buy a lot of cattle for L860, give their acceptance for L1000, and get the balance (L140) from the seller. At last, however, they became bankrupt, and paid 3s. per pound. My father lost L3300 by them; and a great many of the returned bills are still in my possession. Messrs John and William Thom lost about the same sum. The Bannermans of Perth lost L4000—in fact, were ruined by their loss. My father and the Thoms stood out. The Thoms lost very heavily by the Millers also. My father's losses by bad debts were fully L10,000 in all. John Thom of Uras, Stonehaven, was also one of the firm that lost heavily, and has always, to his credit, paid 20s. in the pound. It was a saying of an old friend of mine that no great breeder or great cattle-dealer ever died rich; and this has held good in the great majority of cases. John Elliot and William Brown bought largely of our Aberdeen cattle, and attended Aikey Fair as well as Falkirk. Brown, who was very clever, had raised himself from being an Irish drover. He rented a farm in the neighbourhood of Carlisle, and died a few years ago much respected. Elliot was a Carlisle man, and so were the Millers. Elliot latterly became a Smithfield salesman, but died many years ago. But Robert M'Turk stood, in my estimation, at the top of the tree. I have known him buy seventy score of Highlanders at the October Falkirk Tryst without dismounting from his pony. I have seen seventy-five score of Galloways belonging to him in one drove passing through Carlisle to Norfolk. I have known him buy from a thousand to two thousand of our large county cattle at Falkirk, sweeping the fair of the best lots before other buyers could make up their minds to begin. He rented large grazings in Dumfriesshire, where he wintered and grazed the Highlanders, and which, I believe, his relatives still retain. He was a warm friend, and very kind to me when I was almost a boy, and on a busy day he trusted me to cull the beasts he had bought from myself. I shall never see his like again at Falkirk or any other place. I have a vivid recollection of the stout-built man upon his pony, buying his cattle by the thousand; his calm and composed demeanour was a striking contrast to the noise made by some jobbers at our fairs in even the buying of an old cow. Although plain in manner, he was a thorough gentleman, devoid of slang and equivocation. He was the Captain Barclay of Dumfriesshire, and furnished an exception to my friend's remark, for he died in independent circumstances. He paid for all his cattle ready money.
The Carmichaels were another extensive firm of English dealers; they bought largely at Falkirk, Aikey Fair, and in the north. Robert Carmichael, of Ratcliffe Farm, near Stirling, was many years appointed a judge of Highlanders at the Highland Society's shows. But we had also the Hawick Club, a set of giants—Halliburton, Scott, and Harper—a very wealthy firm; and James Scott died the other year worth seventy or eighty thousand pounds. As a company they seldom bought runts—a term by which our Aberdeen cattle were known to the English jobbers; they bought large lots of Highlanders, especially Highland heifers, in October and November; but they were open at all times, when they saw a good prospect of profit, to buy any number, or any sort. I once came through Mr Harper's hands at a bad Hallow Fair with seven score of Aberdeen runts in a way I should not like often to do.
The business of the "Club" was principally confined to the months of October and November, but individually they had large stakes in the country. James Scott was one of the largest sheep-farmers in Scotland, and one of the greatest buyers of sheep at Inverness. I could tell many anecdotes of the firm of Halliburton & Co., but I fear tiring my readers. I will, however, venture on one or two. As I have already mentioned, they were very powerful men. On one occasion Halliburton had arrived at Braemar very tired to attend the fair. He had fallen asleep on the sofa, and a thief was busy rifling his pockets, when he awoke, took hold of the thief, held him with one hand as if he had been in a vice, and handed him over to justice. It was told of James Scott, who was a very quiet reserved man, that once when he was in the Highlands he was insulted by a party of Highland gentlemen; from better it came to worse, and ended in Scott nearly killing every man of them. Halliburton was much respected, but he was a great declaimer as to prices of cattle falling when he was a purchaser. At an Amulree market he was very early on the market-ground. A soft-looking country man, well dressed, came up with thirteen very fine polled cattle, which Halliburton bought at a price that satisfied even him as to their cheapness. He took James Ritchie, an Aberdeen dealer, to see them. On hearing the price Ritchie was astonished. "Oh," said Halliburton, "I have often told you, James, what country men would do, but you would not believe me." The seller was very anxious to get the money, as he said he had horses to buy; but Halliburton told him horses were dangerous, and he must wait his time. He began to be suspicious that all was not right, and in a short time the seller was apprehended for stealing the cattle from Wemyss Castle. He was tried at Perth, and transported for fourteen years, and Halliburton and Ritchie had to give evidence. The judge said to Halliburton at the trial at Perth, "You surely must have known the cattle were too cheap." Halliburton answered, "My lord, the next market would have proved if they were too cheap or too dear."
The payments at Falkirk were all made through the bankers; there were always from four to six bank-tents on the muir. When I took payment for my cattle I went generally with the buyer to the bank-tent. This was merely a common tent, with a bank-office attached. The banker calculated the amount, and received the money, which he put to my credit, and after I concluded my business I got an order for the amount on Aberdeen. This avoided all risk of forged notes, &c. Strange payments were sometimes offered. On one occasion an Irishman, who appeared to have been "holding his Christmas," bought sixty horned cattle from me, the best in the fair, at L14, 14s. a-head—a long price at that time. The beasts were good, and the price was good. He presented first L70 in gold; he then took out a handkerchief, the contents of which were L100, L20, L10, L5, and L1 notes. Such a miscellaneous payment I had never seen offered, and I believe no one else had, at Falkirk or any other place. It would have been hopeless for us to attempt counting it, and Mr Salmon, agent for the Commercial Bank, took the business in hand. Looking first at the confused mass of notes, all "head and tail," and then scanning the appearance of my customer, he began his task; but with all his practice it took him a quarter of an hour to assort the payment. He threw back two L1-notes to the buyer, who got into a towering passion, and, with words that I cannot put upon paper, asked him if he thought he would offer forged notes. Mr Salmon meekly replied that M'Combie might take them if he pleased, he had got nothing to do with that, but he would not. Our Irish friend then exchanged the notes, for he had no want of money. I did not even know the gentleman's name; I never saw him before, and I never, to my knowledge, saw him afterwards.
There were in such large markets as Falkirk and Hallow Fair great chances of good prices to be had at times. When cattle were selling dear, buyers from England, Wales, Ireland, and all parts of Scotland, congregated at Falkirk: they were not all judges alike, and some sellers at such a time were always sure of a good price. For the amusement of my readers, I will give a few examples. On the second day of an October Falkirk Tryst (I had sold out, as I generally did, the first day), I was standing with a dealer from the north who had forty or sixty—I think sixty—two-year-old polled stots to sell. He had just parted with a customer for 2s. 6d. a-head, having offered them at L8, 15s., and refused L8, 12s. 6d. A gentleman's land-steward came through the lot of cattle with a milk-white horse, and his eyes looked first to the right and then to the left with wonderful quickness. He asked the price of the cattle. I thought the seller's conscience a trifle lax when he asked L13, 13s. a-head. Being very young I turned my back, as I could not keep my gravity. The owner then asked what he would give. L11, 11s. was the answer. No sooner were the words out of the man's mouth than down came the clap, "They are yours." I could stand it no longer, and drew back aghast. The buyer became suspicious that all was not right; and my father, who was held in great esteem both by buyers and sellers, acted as umpire, to whom both parties referred the transaction. Being the only witness, I was closely interrogated by the umpire, the buyer, and the seller. I told the price asked and the price offered. The matter had now assumed a serious aspect. My father, after hearing the evidence, which was not denied, and the price having been fairly offered and accepted, could only decide one way. I recollect his words when he gave his decision: "Well, sir, the beasts are dear according to this market, but they are good growers, and you will soon make them worth it; my decision is, you must take them." They were paid for, and went across the ferry to Fife again. In a rising market I have seen cattle raised L1 a-head; and if the jobber does not take a price when there is a rise, and fairly in his power, he is a fool, for he will soon find out that the buyers will have no mercy upon the sellers when in their power. In all my experience, the above, in a dull day, or any other day, was the most glaring start I remember.
I never attended the fairs in Angusshire, but on one occasion Mr Thom hauled me off to Forfar market in the beginning of November, before Hallow Fair of Edinburgh. We were in partnership at the time, and bought seventy small polled stots to take to Hallow Fair, to which we had sent off two or three droves the week before. We could get but one drover, a townsman, to assist in lifting them, and had to turn drovers ourselves. We had not gone above a mile on our way to Dundee with the cattle when it came on a fearful night of rain, and got very dark. Mr Thom quarrelled with the drover—a useless creature—and sent him about his business, so that we were left alone with our seventy beasts in the dark, on a road with which we were entirely unacquainted. We went on for hours, not knowing where we were going, till at last we came to a bothy, where we asked the servants what we were to do with our charge, and if we were on the road to the ferry at Dundee. We were told, first, that we had taken the wrong road, and were miles out of our way; and second, that we might put the cattle into a field close at hand. We put the cattle up accordingly, and went to a public-house near by, which was kept by a very decent man, Edward, a cattle-dealer. We got supper, and took an hour or two in bed; and between one and two o'clock in the morning, the rain having abated and the moon risen, we started the drove and had the beasts at Dundee and across the ferry by the first boat at eight o'clock in the morning, with no assistance whatever. We now started fairly on our destination for Edinburgh, and having got food for the cattle and bread and cheese for ourselves, about three miles up the south side of the Tay we hired a sort of drover, and bent our way by Rathillet. About dark we arrived at —— (Mr Walker's), where we not only got as much turnips and straw to our beasts as they could eat, but were ourselves treated like princes by Mr Walker. He gave us the best bed in the house, would not let us go without a good breakfast in the morning, and would accept of scarcely any remuneration. We started for Lochgelly after breakfast, but Mr Thom persuaded me to turn off and take Falkland market, which was held that day, while he and the drover proceeded straight to Lochgelly with the cattle. Falkland was far out of the way, but he assured me there were plenty of horses to hire there, and that I could easily join him at Lochgelly at night. When I got to Falkland I found there were only four beasts in the market that suited our trade, which was not encouraging, as I did not want plenty of money if I could have got anything to lay it out on. I found also that Mr Thom had been mistaken about the hiring. Not a horse was to be got at any price, and I had no help but to set off on foot for Lochgelly, on a road I had never travelled. I had scarcely left Falkland when I was overtaken by a heavy rain which continued throughout my journey. I had first to climb a long steep hill for about three or four miles, and when at last I got to the public road, I found it one mass of mud, in consequence of the large coal traffic, and the heavy fall of rain. I had a deal of money with me, and as it was quite dark, I was rather uneasy about it, meeting so many miners and coal-carters under such circumstances, and in a part of the country with which I was utterly unacquainted. The road is a very long one, and with such a protracted soaking in the mud, my feet began to fail me. I at last reached my destination, however; and with considerable difficulty—for I had never been in Lochgelly before—I hunted up Mr Thom, whom I found comfortably quartered beside a good fire, with supper before him. But my troubles were not yet over. One of the servants at the place was leaving, and what was termed a "foy" was being held that night. She had collected a great number of her friends, who kept the house in an uproar the whole night. We went to bed, but could get no sleep, the row these revellers made was so great, and our bedroom door was all but broken open two or three times. Our remonstrances had no effect, and sleep being out of the question, we got up about one o'clock, hunted up our drover, and started our drove once more, although the night was as bad as could be. By about nine o'clock A.M. we arrived at Queensferry; but by this time I had strained my leg, and was unable to proceed. I was therefore left on the north side in charge of the cattle, while Mr Thom crossed to the south side to procure the necessary food for the other droves during the market. It will thus be seen that we droved the seventy cattle from Forfar market all the way to Queensferry in two days and three nights during the short day of November, going out of our way once as much as six miles. I cannot say what the distance was exactly, but it must have been at least seventy miles—a feat in cattle-droving unparalleled in my experience. After a day's rest I crossed the ferry with the cattle, assisted by the drover. The beasts were dreadfully jaded, and with difficulty reached their destination, within a mile of the market-stance. The journey had told severely upon them, and two went down immediately on reaching the field. We tried every means to stir them, but failed. They were hand-fed, and with great difficulty got to the market, where they were quickly sold, though how they were got to their destination I never learned.
At a very good Hallow Fair, I had forty small-horned Cabrach beasts and forty small polled stirks standing alongside of each other. I had been within 7s. 6d. a-head of selling them once or twice, when a stranger priced them, a very well-to-do and apparently young man. My price was L7, 7s. a-head for the eighty. He just took one look through them, and said, "Well, I shall have them, and you meet me at the Black Bull at eight o'clock, and I will pay you for them." It not being the custom of the trade to get all our askings, I was a little nervous about my customer, but found he was all right. I met him at the Black Bull at the hour mentioned. He was in great spirits, and paid me in Bank of England notes.
Arthur Ritchie, Bithnie, a cattle-dealer from Aberdeen, used to tell the following story: In a bad Hallow Fair, towards sunsetting, a gentleman came round and asked the price of a lot of cattle. Arthur had given him a large halter, and he got an offer which he accepted. It was a great price for the market. The buyer refused afterwards to take them, and my father was made umpire. The buyer said that a glimmer came over his eyes, and he thought them better when he offered the price. However, he got ashamed, and took the cattle. An old respected servant of my own, who assisted me for years in the buying and selling of cattle—James Elmslie, very well known here and in the south—had sold twenty beasts very well at Hallow Fair for me. There was a "buffalo" among them of the worst type—a great big "buffalo dog." The buyer, when he paid them, said, "Well, James, if they had all been like the big one, I would not have grudged you the price." "Ah, sir," said James, "you would have difficulty in getting a lot like him!" I could scarcely keep my gravity. A very grave and solemn conclusion to a sale occurred to me at Hallow Fair. I had sold twenty beasts to a very rich farmer near North Berwick, who had bought many lots from me. He had employed a marker, who had just marked nineteen out of the twenty. The buyer was joking with me about the dearness of the cattle, when, in a moment, he dropped down dead, falling on his back, and never moving or speaking more. The event created such a sensation, that no more sales were made that day.
The English dealers seldom came north except to Aikey Fair. Then we had the Armstrongs, the Millers, Murphy, and other English dealers, and it was quite a sight to witness the droves going south; but Aikey Fair has now lost its ancient glory, and is only the shadow of what it was. It was a sight I shall never witness more to see the whole hillside covered with innumerable herds of "Buchan hummlies." Mr Bruce of Millhill showed the largest lots, and stood at the top as an exhibitor. Talking of Buchan, the names of Bruce, Millhill, and Smart, Sandhole, were household words at my father's board. My father and myself have bought thousands of cattle from them; no agriculturists have ever been more respected in Buchan. Mr Bruce, perhaps, was as solid, but Smart was the more dashing man. I have never met any one who would do the same amount of business with as few words as Smart, and do it as well. As one example: He brought sixty beasts to Mintlaw market—cattle were low-priced at the time. I had the first offer of them: he asked L12, 12s. a-head. I offered L12, and we split the 12s. The whole transaction did not take up half of the time I require to write it. Mr Bruce and Mr Smart were the best judges in Buchan. We had other great exhibitors, Mr Bruce, Inverwhomrey; Mr Scott, Yokieshill; Mr Milne, Mill of Boyndie; Mr Paton, Towie; Mr Milne, Watermill, &c. Mr Mitchell, Fiddesbeg, the Browns, the Rattrays, Hay of Little Ythsie, and Wm. M'Donald, were all extensive dealers in cattle in those days. The following anecdote of William M'Donald was told by my father: It had been a very good September Falkirk market, and Mr John Geddes, Haddoch, who was an extensive home grazier and dealer, had a large stock of cattle on hand. M'Donald and my father were both anxious for the chance to buy them, and pushed through their business at Falkirk as fast as possible to get to Haddoch. At that time the dealers accomplished all their journeys on horseback, and prided themselves on the fleetness of their saddle-horses. My father thought no one his match in the saddle. He reached Haddoch on Wednesday at midnight—the first cattle-market day at Falkirk being on Tuesday—but the first thing he observed on drawing near to the house, which remains on the farm to this day, although a new one has been built, was the main room lighted up. On coming nearer, he heard voices fast and loud, and one was that of M'Donald! It was all over! M'Donald had fairly beat M'Combie in the chase. My father got hold of Mrs Geddes, worn-out and disappointed, and got quietly to bed; and I have often heard him tell how M'Donald's peals of laughter rang in his ears as the punch-bowl went round, even to the dawning of the day. Neither M'Donald nor Haddoch knew my father was in the house. He left in the morning for Clashbrae, where he bought some smaller lots from the farmer there, who was a local dealer.