Glimpses of Farming in the Channel Islands (2)

By William E. Bear -Journal of Royal Agricultural Society. 1888

The total area of land and water in Guernsey is about 16.000 acres, of which about 10.000 acres, a slightly smaller proportion than in Jersey, are under cultivation. The climate i somewhat less genial than that of the larger island, frost in spring being less uncommon. But the chief drawback to Guernsey as compared with Jersey is that the "lay of the land" is quite different. Instead of sloping downwards towards the south, as Jersey does, Guernsey has the highest land on the south side, and the slope is toward the sea level on the north. This, more than any difference in soil - which is formed from rocks of the same characters as those of Jersey - renders the land somewhat less fertile than that of the sister island. Besides, Guernsey is not so well wooded as Jersey is, while the fences are more untidy, and the farming, apart from glass-houses, is less "intense". The differnece in rents alone would suffice to show that less is got out of the land in Guernsey than in Jersey, as far as ordinary farms are concerned; but this is chiefly because of the great returns of the potato crop in Jersey, and it by no means follows that the farmers who get the greatest returns secure the largest profits. The keen competition of Frenchmen who desire to rent land is scarcely at all felt in Guernsey, so that rents are not there, as they have become in Jersey, the margin of profit beyond the cost of the meagre subsistence which satisfies a Brittany peasant.
Unfortunately, when we come to official statistics, we must reckon Guernsey with the smaller islands that make up its bailiwick. In 1887 there were in the Guernsey bailiwick 1.553 occupiers owning the land they farmed, and 520 renters; the former holding 6.601 acres, and the latter 5.172 acres. Thus in Guernsey and the smaller islands the occupying owners are more than three times as numerous as the tenants, whereas in Jersey the two classes are nearly equal. It will be noticed that the preponderance of acres owned by the occupiers is much less than that of the number of owners. This is partly accounted for by  the fact that in ALderney a large proportion of the land is rented, and in one small island the whole of it. But the chief reason is that there are a great many freeholders who own only an acre or two, or sufficient for a house, garden, and glasshouse. Indeed, a great many working-men buy as little as half a vergée (nearly 2½ Guernsey vergées to the acre) for a greenhouse. This latter fact also explains the the very small average of land to each occupier. The total area of occupied land in the bailiwick of Guernsey in 1887 was returned at 11.773 acres, and the total nmber of occupiers (owners and tenants together) at 2.506. Thus the average area of a holding is only a minute fraction over 42/3 acres, as compared with about 7½ acres in Jersey. According to "Gardner`s Guide to Guernsey", the population of the island in 1881 was 32.607, of whom nearly 17.000 resided in St. Peter Port. This gives an average of 1.300 people to the square mile for the whole island, a density described by the book referred to as nearly three times that of any other European State. The population has increased since 1871 by a little over 2.000. These figures relating to population refer to Guernsey alone. The large number of residents from England, living on their property, must add considerably to the agricultural prosperity of the island.
The laws and customs affecting the inheritance and sale of landed property are almost precisely the same as in Jersey, though there are a few variations in the values of and rates of interest on the rentes and in the privileges of the eldest son in the two islands. Farm-rents in Guernsey range from 3 pounds to 10 pounds an acre, the most common amounts being 6 pounds to 7 pounds, or about 3 pounds less than in Jersey. Of course, where there is a good house, with a glass-house as well, on a small spot of land, the rent would be higher than the extreme given above as that paid for agricultural land.
A comparison of the cropping of the bailiwick of Guernsey in 1867 and 1887 is given on p. 389.
The decrease in the cultivated area (crops, fallow and grass) must be owing partly to the relinquishing of attempts to cultivate two of the smaller islands. Certainly in Guernsey itself there are no signs of land having gone to waste. On the other hand, the increased area occupied by dwellings and gardens in the island has, of course, been taken out of the agricultural land.
Comparing the following table with the corresponding one

 Crops in Guernsey &C           1867 1887 
     Acres Acres
 Wheat                                    968 456
 Barley                                     623 399
 Oats                                       449 540
 Rye                                          30 12
 Beans                                        37 26
 Peas                                          50 5
 Total corn crops                    2157 1438
 Potatoes                                  789 877
 Turnips                                     142 89
 Mangolds                                244 247
 Carrots                                   221 190
 Cabbages, rape &C.               152  15
 Vetches, lucerne &C.             1527 1459
 Total green crops                 3075 2877
 Clover &C., and grasses under
 Permanent pasture               6143 5280
 Bare fallow                               709 23
 Crops, bare fallow and grasses    12958 11041


for Jersey, it will be seen that the figures for Guernsey and the smaller islands show a greater proportionate falling off in corn crops than those for Jersey; that the green crops, exclusive of clover, &C. have decreased instead of increasing, as in Jersey; that the increase in clover and grasses under rotation is much greater in the Guernsey bailiwick than in Jersey; and that there is still a much greater proportion of permanent pasture in the former than in the latter.
The figures serve to emphasise what has already been said as to the inferior "intensity" of Guernsey farming, although it is always to be borne in mind that in such statistical comparisons Guernsey proper suffers seriously by having Alderney, Sark and Herm, and Jethou reckoned with it. With all due allowance, Guernsey land as a whole is not as highly farmed as that in Jersey. When we come to the glass-houses, however, we have an "intensity" not touched in Jersey by the small farmers. In some parts of Guernsey nearly every farmer, as well as many a mechanic or other workman, has at least one glass-house, and many have several of these structures.
Before referring to what is done with the glass-houses, a few details about the fields may be given, and for these I am indebted chiefly to Mr. Le Patourel, of St. Sampson`s; Mr. Mahi, of the same parish; and Mr. Le Pelly, of St. Andrew`s; while Mr. De Mouilpied, of St. Peter Port, afforded me a good deal of information as to the best farms to visit. The old course of cropping, still pursued by a few farmers who disdain moderne innovations, is one of grass or "seeds" wheat, parsnips, potatoes, roots - prolonged sometimes by growing roots or some other feeding crop two or three years before returning to grass or seeds, in which the land rests two or three years. The more usual course now is one of grass or seeds, parsnips, potatoes, and broccoli or turnips (planted as soon as the potatoes are off), and potatoes again, with or without broccoli to come after them in the same year. Broccoli is now one of the most profitable of the crops grown in Guernsey, and it will be noticed that it takes an important position in the new course of cropping, while wheat is left out.
On a wel-cultivated farm in St. Andrew`s parish, belonging to Mr. Le Pelly, who keeps twelve splendid milking cows - Guernseys, of course - and sells the milk in St. Peter Port, the rotation pursued is (1) wheat, (2) parsnips, (3) vetches and turnips, (4) oats, with which clover, lucerne and ryegrass are sown, to stand for six or seven years. Mr. Le Pelly rears and fattens all his calves. I may mention, in passing, that he told me he never dried off his cows, and other Guernsey farmers said the same, giving as a reason that when the animals are  feeding on an abundance of succulent food, there would be danger of milk fever if they were dried; but some cows cease of their own accord to yield an appreciable quantity of milk for a few weeks before calving, and they are dried off. Mr. Le Patourel, however, informed me that it was the general custom to dry off the cows for a few weeks.
The wholesale price of milk in Guernsey is 1s a gallon (13¼ cubuc inches samller than the English Imperial gallon) all the year round.
Mr. Le. Pelly has eighty five vergées or thirty-four acres, of land, which constitute one of the largest farms in Guernsey. He stated that there was only one farm of 100 vergées (40 acres) or more in the island, probably referring to Mr. Le Patourel`s farm, which is about 50 acres in extent. It will be seen from his rotation that he grows a good deal of "seeds" and he needs a considerable quantity of fodder for his cows and bullocks; but he also makes hay, and as he sold some this year at 7 pounds a ton, its production is not unprofitable. He grows potatoes for export on about 4 vergées of land, and turnips after them, year after year - that is, on the same piece of land. Broccoli he also grows for export, and his last crop was sold as it stood at 36 pounds per acre; but as there are nearly 10.000 plants to the acre, and the heads commonly sell at 1½ d each in London in the middle of March, or at 1d clear of all expenses for carting and freight, a crop often realises 40 pounds an acre.
For his farm alone, Mr. Le Pelly told me, he would require four men, besides himself; but he employs more hands, including his son or sons, as he has other business on hand besides farming. In addition to selling milk in the town, he makes a large quantity of cider for sale, buying the apples of his neighbours for the purpose. He built an excellent glass-house last year, at a cost of 230 pounds, and grew tomatoes in it the first season which realised 74 pounds. As an instance of the value of fairly good land in Guernsey at a distance of a few miles from the chief town of the island, I may mention that Mr. Le Pelly recently paid 300 pounds in cahs (not the most common method of purchase) for not quite 21/5 acres.
All authorities agree that Guernsey farmers make their farms pay only by working with the men, when they employ any. But this is not all, for they are at work long before the hired men come on to the farm, and after they leave. Thelabourer`s hours are from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the spring and summer. Wages on farms average about 3s a day, with 10d extra when the men work two hours overtime, that is till 8 p.m. in busy seasons.
A good deal of straw is imported, and some hay; but most of the latter consumed in the island is grown there. Potatoes for winter use, as well as new potatoes for export, are grown in Guernsey.
An inspection of some of the green-houses (or cool-houses) belonging to small growers of fruit and early vegetables was very interesting. Mr. Le Patourel has four of these houses, in which he grows grapes, potatoes, and tomatoes, without artificial heat; as the term "green-house," as opposed to hothouse, implies. Potatoes are grown before tomatoes, and grapes commonly in the same houses; but when the grapes cover the glass, the houses are devoted to them only. As tomatoes pay at present much better than unforced grapes, however, many of the  constructors of new green-houses do not plant vines in them; or, if they do, they adopt the method noticed in one of Mr. Le Patourel`s houses -that of keeping the vines cut low down, so that they may serve chiefly as an insurance in the case of the tomato crop failing to grow or to pay.
Some of the best managed of the cool-houses that I visited, were four belonging to Mr. RObin, of the Vale, who has about six vergées (not quite two and a half acres) of land. In one of these, 108 feet long and 36 feet wide, he had a splendid crop of tomatoes, which some one had offered to take at the market price of three tons of fruit. A good many of the tomatoes were ripe, and they were selling in the last week of June at 10d to 1s. a pound in London, I believe. The average value of the whole crop might very safely be put at 60 pounds a ton, as it was an early crop, and the fruit was very fine: so that the gross returns for the produce of a second crop (following potatoes) in this one house would be at least 180 pounds. Probably the total was a good deal more than that amount; but the crop was an extraordinary one, and there is the cost of freight and commission to come off. Mr. Robin grows his plants in rows 2 feet 9 inches apart, and 18 inches from plant to plant, in the rows. As an instance of making the most of the land outside the green-houses, I may mention that I noticed a plot on which parsnips and carrots had been sown with radishes. The last were taken first up, and the carrots were ready to be taken up when I was there, leaving the parsnips. Rents in the Vale, a famous fruit-growing district, are from 2 l. 10s to 3l. per vergée, or 6l. 5s. to 7l. 10s. per acre, for holdings of fair size, and up to 8l. per acre for small, and even 9l. for very small pieces of land.
Another Vale farmer, Mr. Bisson, grows melons and cucumbers, of course with heat, and grapes and tomatoes with and without heat. A few days before my visit, when potatoes were quoted at 2s. to 3s. per cabot at the outside, Mr. Bisson realised 6s. 8d. per cabot for some that he sent in small packages to Covent Garden; but his tubers were full-sized and well grown. There is no doubt that many Jersey growers do themselves harm by sending a lot of under-sized tubers mixed with the fair sized ones; and as their regular custom is to put some of the biggest on the top of each barrel, buyers are apt to discount their produce by making a full allowance for what is expected to be found underneath.
Four or five companies have recently been formed to grow, in St. Sampson`s, near St. Peter Port, early vegetables and fruit for export, and all but one are supposed to be paying well. I visited three of these very interesting establishments, and greatly regret that space will not allow of a full description of what I saw in them and learned about the system on which they are worked. It may be pointed out that any one who intends to go in for glass-houses would do well to visit these establishments, in order not only to see how forced vegetables and fruit are grown for market, but also how, in two of them at least, glass-houses can be constructed in the most econimical manner. Two if not three of the companies employ the same manager, Mr. Bulgaize, who appears to know how to make the undertakings pay. His method of growing tomatoes is a peculiar one, as far as my limited experience enables me to judge. It is not nearly as pretty to look at as Mr. Bashford`s, and it  seemed to me that the plants were far too thick, so as to half smother each other; but the test of results is the only one of importance, and it is not for an outsider to criticise in positive erms an experienced grower. In some of the houses of the Guernsey Fruit Growers`Company, which were begun only in August 1887, and are in sets of spans without inside divisions, costing only 5d. per square foot, French beans were grown in alternate rows with tomatoes, and after the beans were picked, the plants were taken out and tomatoes put in their places. There were then tomatoes in rows 3 feet apart, and I foot from plant to plant in the rows. This is very thick, and the only explanation of such thickness is that the plants are not allowed to grow more than about 3 feet 6 inches high, or to produce more than a few clusters of fruit each, the idea being to get the fruit which comes first quickly ripened, and then to uproot the plants and put in others, so as to obtain two or three crops in a season. Melons and grapes are to be grown after this year.
The Guernsey and Jersey Fruit and Produce Company has been established three years, and its establishment appeared to me to be the best worth seeing of any that I visited. Two crops at least are grown in as season in every house, and three of some kinds of produce, such as tomatoes. No grapes are grown. The chief crops are tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, potatoes, French beans, and roses. About 30 tons of tomatoes are produced in a season, and 7.000 to 8.000 melons. A splendid crop of melons had just been picked, except a few of the latest, in the last week of June, and a second crop was to be ready in September. After that cucumbers would be put in, for cutting in January and February, then melons once more, and so on. In this way two crops of melons and one crop of cucumbers are obtained in twelve months from the same houses.
The great number of hot-houses and green-houses in Guernsey make work for a large staff of employés. In the busy season men employed in them are paid 4s. a day, and women 2s. 6d.

The increase over the exports of 1886 was upwards of 37.000 packages, and the number has nearly doubled since 1883. The weight of the grapes is estimated at 502 tons, and of the tomatoes at 1.000 tons. It is strange that there is no mention of peas, beans, melons, cucumbers, of figs, all exported in considerable quantity. Apparently the values to not include the cost of conveyance to and sale in London, as the tomatoes come to less than 3¼ d. a pound, which is a very low price. They certainly make more than that average price in London.
 Being a great admirer of the Guernsey breed of cattle, it was a pleasure to me to inspect a few of the herds in the island. Mr. Le Patourel, who is the principal shipper of cattle in Guernsey, has a remarkably fine herd of twenty milch cows, and a few bulls and young stock. The old Excelsior (by Fair Lad) and the Climax strains are represented in the herd, in tracing descent from bulls, and the Elegans, Cornucopæa, and Bonny Lassie families, in tracing from cows. The famous herd belonging to Mr. James, of Les Vauxbelets, was dispersed by auction in ENgland while I was in Guernsey. Mr. Le Pelly`s herd has already been referred to in connection with his farm. The Excelsior strain is represented in that as well as in Mr. Le Patourel`s herd.
One of the best small lots of cows I saw was that belonging to Mr. Edward Weedon, who lives about a mile from St. Peter Port. He has a fine bull, Vulcan V., which he says is the only purebred Vesta left in the island, all the rest of the family having been sold to a well-known English breeder, Mr. Christie. It is advisable here to refer again to an excellent mixture noticed as grown on Mr. Le Pelly`s farm, as it was found on Mr. Weedon`s farm also, and is much in favour in the island - one of clover, lucerne, and ryegrass, sown to lie for six or seven years. Mr. Weedon`s farm of fifty vergées well repaid inspection, as it is excellently cultivated. Strawberries and flowers are among the crops.
Mr. Mahi, of the Vale, and Colonel Gifford, of St. Sampson`s, also have some capital specimens of the Guernsey breed. Mr. Le Carré, of Les Blicqs, St. ANdrew`s, is especially well known as a breeder. The Lady Jane strain is one of the most famous represented in his herd. Mr. G. Le Page, of Catel, and Mr. Prevost, of the same parish, should also be mentioned in this connection; but there are other notable herds which did not come under my notice, and two or three of those named above had to be left unseen. I was much struck with the generally high standard of excellence in the Guernsey cows that I saw. The uniformity of type is certainly greater than it is among the Jerseys, and it seemed to me that the same might be said of the standard of merit.
The numbers of the several classes of live stock in the bailiwick of Guernsey for 1867 and 1887 compare as follows.

 Live Stock in Guernsey       1867 1887 
 Cattle                               7.308  7.813
 Horses                               1.923 (in 1869) 1.502
 Sheep                                1.348    566
 Pigs                                  6.718  4.035

It will be borne in mind that these numbers include those of animals kept in Alderney, Sark, and the smaller islands. As in Jersey, there is a considerable decrease in the number of sheep and pigs.
There are no better butter cows in the world than the Guernseys, and the people of the island appear to think that they make the best use of them. So long as they get 1s. 6d. a pound for butter in the cheapest season, and 2s. for a great part of the year, they may well be satisfied, and have no need to change a system under which they, in reality, dispose of a considerable quantity of cheese at those high prices. By  churning the whole milk, soured, and churning it into a lump, they necessarily work a substantial proportion of caseine into their butter, which is decidedly too solid and cheesy. its fine natural colour makes it attractive in appearance, and the Guernsey residents will give more for it than for any other butter. The old dolly churn is still generally used, though Englishmen in the island and a few Guernsey men have the barrel churn. There is no dairy factory in the island.
The cart-horses in Guernsey, as in Jersey, are small and carelessly bred. I do not remember having seen a sheep, and the pigs escaped my attention.

To Alderney I paid a visit, but not to Sark - which is, I believe, well worth seeing - or the smaller islands (Herm, Jethou, Brechou, Lehou and Burhou), which are not at all important from an agricultural point of view, and need not be further referred to. Alderney has a deserted appearance, owing to the houses of the farmers being all, or all but three or four, in the little town of St. Ann`s. The absence of trees, too, adds to the desolate appearance of the island, which, however, is by no means devoid of natural fertility. Its exposure to the winds of the Channel is, of course, against its cultivation for many purposes, and it is chiefly devoted to the feeding of cattle, though some parts of it are tilled. The total area is 1.962 acres, and the habitants in 1881, including the military and their families (517 persons) numbered 2.048, as compared with 3.333 in 1851.
To Mr. Shade, the cattle exporter of the island, I am in debted for most of the information I obtained about it, and for his kindness in driving me to all the farms worth seeing. The rent of good land is usually 2 pounds, a vergée, 5 pounds an acre; but 50s an acre is a more common rent, and how the farmers make the land pay at even the smaller sum is a mystery, as they appear to export scarcely anything besides a few cattle. The land is a great deal subdivided among owners, and by far the greater part of it is let. Wheat (nearly all bearded) and oats are grown a good deal on the cultivated land, as well as mangolds, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, vetches and lucerne. I noticed some tremendous crops of lucerne and ryegrass mixed. From 20 to 23 bushels of wheat per acre would be reckoned a good crop. Potatoes are allowed to grow to their full size, for winter use, none being exported.
There are several rather large farms, chiefly in grass, on which 25 to 50 cows are kept. Mr. Barker, an Englishman, who has 25 cows, and has gained the first prize for two or three years for bulls, was good enough to show me his farm and his herd, which is a very good one. He has sent most of his surplus cattle to ENgland. One of his cows, which had calved a month, was said to be giving 20 pots of milk a day, equal, I believe, to about 40 pints. I was much struck with the healthy and hardy appearance of the ALderney cows, and with the excellent bags which they nearly all have. The breed is now scarcely distinguishable from the Guernseys, except that the standard size of the Alderneys is a little smaller than that of the other breed. But as the Guernsey people have always freely imported Alderney cows, though not the bulls, the breeds are practically identical. It is not long since Jersey also received Alderney cows.  There are, however, still some black cattle in Alderney. The breed had black points originally, but as the Guernsey breeders will not buy cows with black points, only white-nosed bulls have been used in Alderney for some time past, so that black points are nearly extinct.
Alderney has a great disadvantage in not being able to ship to England without transhipping at Guernsey. It would probably pay the farmers to co-operate in buying and using a cargoboat, for there is obviously a great deal of undeveloped wealth in Alderney. Possibly, however, the people of the island are quite as happy in their comparatively easy-going and primitive mode of living as their more enterprising neighbours in Jersey and Guernsey.


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