Livestock Farming – meat, leather & wool

During the medieval period the mainstay of the diet in south-west Scotland was oats, with cattle, pigs and sheep slaughtered for meat. The diet was supplemented with a supply of eggs and fish. Livestock also provided wool, leather and manure for the fields.

By about the late 1800s a new crop-rotation system meant that there was now a lot of land lying under grass for much of the time which led to increased amounts of grazing land. Along with the cropping of hay, this proved an incredible boost to meat and dairy production. The Earl of Marchmont is credited for bringing Dutch cattle into the area at this time and breeding them with the native, Kyle breed on his estate in Berwickshire. Some of these animals were then introduced into Ayrshire (probably near Galston or Cessnock). John Dunlop of Dunlop is also noted for bringing similar Dutch, Teeswater or Lincoln breeds into Cunninghame which he bred with local cattle. Whoever was responsible, this new breed was noted for their milk yield and proved so popular that they spread across Ayrshire and into Dumfries and Galloway and other adjacent counties within a few years. Originally known as Dunlop or Cunninghame cattle they eventually came to be called Ayrshire cattle and now meet the needs of dairy farmers throughout the British Isles and further a field. Thanks to the new breed the town of Dunlop in North Ayrshire became internationally renowned for its cheese. Galloway famously produced its own beef cattle (sometimes called Carrick cattle in Ayrshire). 

On the rougher, higher ground indigenous blackface sheep were reared for their wool. The breed has been known to have been in south-west Scotland for hundreds of years and their origin is unknown but skilful breeding and draining of hill pasture has meant that they have steadily improved in quality. Other less widespread breeds in the region included the Cheviot and, in more sheltered areas, the Border Leicester. 

Markets sprang up and by the beginning of the 19th century, south-west Scotland was exporting beef, pork, mutton, cattle and wool throughout Great Britain. Drovers took Ayrshire and Carrick cattle to Barnet Fair near London every year. The journey was made on pony and took several weeks! In 1835 the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland held their show at Ayr on October 2nd. It proved so popular that the very next day, the Marques of Bute founded the 'General Agricultural Association of Airshire', which held its first show the following year in  Kilmarnock. The Association, which became known as the 'Ayrshire Agricultural Association' in 1852, was soon holding annual shows at Ayr which were designed to improve the quality of cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and poultry. 

During the 20th century, The growing of oats, which had been the main crop and staple ingredient of the regions diet in past centuries, was vastly reduced which left far more free land for cattle grazing. The production of cheese was replaced largely with dairy farms concentrating on the production of liquid milk and the harvesting of hay for feed was superseded in many areas by silage production.

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