Farming in WEM - John & Jenny Leese's Story

--- We came to the Wem area in 1965 to take the tenancy of a basic 22-acre County Council smallholding at Soulton, after gaining experience on various diary farms including a year at the Farm Institute (1956-7). We milked 16 cows and the churns went to the creamery in Wem. We had 200 deep litter hens and the eggs went to the packing station in Prees Green (now Hawk Depot). We bought fencing materials from Isherwoods, cattle feed from Wem Mills, building materials (e.g. sand, cement) from Tommys builders yard in Aston Street, farm equipment from Burgess opposite the church in Wem and our groceries were delivered by Tudor's of Wem twice a week.

Over the next 27 years we built up a herd of cows from nothing to finish up at our sale, with 70 head of cattle of which 25 were heifers to replace cows as they became too old to milk. We bred from the best cows using nominated AI bulls. At the same time we brought up our family of three children.

We started with a bucket plant and churns, moving on to a milk line and bulk tank where the milk went straight from the cow along a milk line to the tank, where the milk was cooled down to below 40C. This was during our spell at No. 10 Lacon Holdings (1971-81) where we introduced loose housing. The cows where free to move around the kennel shed between milkings and with free access to water.

Our final move in 1981 was to No. 2 Lacon Holdings where we set up a herringbone parlour and a Collinson feed auger system which fed concentrates to the cows, as they where being milked, according to their milk yield.

Over the period from September 1965 to March 1992, we saw the value of cows go from 100 a head to 800 and we became TB and Brucellosis-free. Foot and Mouth in 1967-8 wiped out most of the herds in the Wem area including several at Lacon. We were lucky to miss it, but couldn't move or sell anything for 6 months.

We had benefitted from the Shropshire County Councils 9000 acres of land let as smallholdings to young farmers. Now, sadly the remaining holdings are being sold and no longer available to rent.

The Farm Institute: At the end of WWII Shropshire County Council took over agricultural education. Initially technical subjects were covered, e.g. tractor maintenance. Then in consultation with the N.F.U. and N.U.A.W., genetics, crop and animal husbandry, farm machinery, farm management, and manual skills were included with specific courses directed at the smallholder and hill farmer. Courses were part time and residential taking place at Harper Adams, Shrewsbury Technical College, and the Shropshire Adult College. In 1949 the Shropshire Farm Institute at Walford Manor opened. It had 750 acres and pioneered part-time courses in agricultural subjects.

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