Kirkcowan – What's Going On?



According to the Old Statistical Account, the land in the northwest of Kirkcowan parish was poor and thin with the only possible crop being black oats. In the south east part, however, after the spreading of lime and dung on the land had become common practice, “excellent crops of oats or barley” were produced. Even then the parish was able to grow more of these crops than was needed for its own consumption. Lime, a recent innovation at that time, not to be found in the area, was brought in the form of sea shells from Whitehaven to local ports. Kirkcowan farmers then trans— ported the shells from the sea to their own land in single—horse carts.

Depending on the port at which they landed and the situation of the farm, the journey was between six and twelve miles long.


There were 200 Galloway horses and 1600 Galloway cattle in the parish. Both the local horses and the local cattle, sturdy breeds well—suited to the land and its grass, were considered excellent breeds. There were almost 10,000 sheep in the area, with different breeds on different types of land. The wool from the sheep which grazed on the fells was considered the finest. Wedders (castrated rams) of three to four years age weighed between 38 and 42 lbs.


Agriculture was improving steadily, but by this period pastoral (stock—raising) farming was on the increase and arable (crop—raising) farming was becoming less popular.


Galloway cattle, it had been discovered, developed more if kept on their home ground in the parish until they were two years old and were then sold via Dumfries markets into England where they could mature better as they fed on the richer grazing lands there for a year. Finally sold for slaughter in London, they were “greatly esteemed. “

About 9000 black—faced sheep comprised the regular stock of Kirkcowan parish during the mid—19th century on sheep farms.

 Less hardy breeds were more valuable but did not thrive as well on the soil or in the climate of the area. The annual clip of wool averaged 1200 stones (26 1b. to the stone), with a value of 9s to 17s per stone.


By the time of the Third Statistical Account, due to better drainage and the annual use of lime and

artificial fertilisers, much of the pasture land in the parish had been turned into crop land for the raising of turnips and oats.


The earlier mentioned Galloway cattle were during this present century mostly replaced by Ayrshire dairy cattle now able to feed on the crops of turnips and oats being produced in the parish. A number of sheep farms still existed in the northern part of the parish.


Since the publication of the 1962 Statistical Account , the face of farming within Kirkcowan Parish has changed again. The swing has been away from dairy farming into raising cattle for beef. Only two dairy farms, Boreland and Holm, remain in the parish and the recent cutting of milk quotas by the EEC. is causing them problems. The main breeds of cattle are Galloway—Angus—Friesian Shorthorn crosses.

The types of crops grown have also changed with tie complete disappearance of oats and turnips as animal feed. These have been replaced by grass, silage and hay with odd acres of barley, again all grown as animal feed.

Sheep farming still has a large part to play in the agriculture of the parish with the black—face or black—face and Blue Leicester cross— breeds being predominant. The wethers (wedders) all go for meat and there is a large export trade to France for Iamb with a growing market for the same in Spain. Wool still plays a large part in sheep farming and a lot of animals are sold as stock replacement to lower land farms as far away as Wales. The stocking ratio of farms is up over the last 25 to 30 years due to better grass management and improved breeding and feeding methods. One of the biggest advances is the improvement in animal health through the development of new medical ion and treatment methods. For example, nineteen years ago Clugston Farm bought 60 ewes from outside the area; 20 died because they had no natural immunity to a local tick—borne disease.

Nowadays, thanks to the advances made in animal medicine, the farmer can carry out his own immunisation programme.

These advances have been paralleled by the development of selective sprays which allow the farmer to spray for almost any kind of weed and give him the best type of fertiliser for any kind of soil or ground.

The labour force on farms has generally dropped by about but the individual farm worker today is much more than a labourer; he is a very highly and diversely skilled worker. Increased mechanisation and the disappearance of rural amenities are also factors which have contributed to the depopulation of the countryside and the difficulty of recruiting and keeping younger workers in the industry. The only work which is contracted out is the hiring of specialised machinery such as ditch—diggers and lime—spreaders.

Local farms often did not get mains water or electricity until much later than the towns and villages in the area. Clugston has only had mains water since the mid—1960ts and electricity since about a decade earlier.

The average size of farms has changed very little, with only one big amalgamation. Craighlaw Estate, after the expiry of several tenancies, kept the farms in hand and ran them from the estate. The old type of farm tenancy, which used to be granted for three generations, is tending to be replaced by a new, shorter type of agreement whereby the landlord and tenant become partners, thus decreasing somewhat the tenant’s security of tenure.

One farm in the parish, Mindork, has been lost to agriculture, having gone almost entirely over to forestry, not under the Forestry Commission, but financed from the private sector. Only 200 acres of the farm remain unplanted.

At the present time farmers are being advised to diversify instead of specialising in one aspect of agriculture.

Tourism is one of several side lines being advocated to create prosperity on agricultural land in new ways.