Cotton, Allen (b.1933)

Allen Cotton talks about his life in farming from his childhood and attendance at agricultural college to running dairy farms.  Although he has now handed over the management to his son, David, he is still involved in farming.


In his lifetime he has progressed from working with horses and hand-milking cows to very large herds and huge tractors, which are controlled by satellite navigation.  He talks about the tremendous changes that have taken place in agriculture in the last fifty years and about the problems that face all farmers today.

Allen Cotton, 2005. Allen Cotton, 2005.
Sound File
Listen to Allen Cotton - 1.76MB Duration 3:50 min.

AH: Can you tell me what kind of farming you started with in 1954?


AC: That would have been still dairying, basically dairying, rearing our own heifers, replacements for the dairy herd.  We grew mangolds for feeding them in the winter, we were haymaking. We actually, when we bought Bridge Farm we actually bought a baler which made small round bales, the Allis-Chalmer rotor baler which has been on exhibit actually at the Rural Life Museum.


In fact recently, we still own this machine actually, and it makes the small round bales which are about the same weight as conventional small square bales there but of course they were weather-proof because they are rolled.  They were actually weatherproof once you’d baled them. But it was a difficult machine to operate because you had to stop every time it tied the bales with string so you were perpetually stopping and starting all the time.


So that was one of the concessions. I know the first year we had Bridge Farm we were actually using horses to turn the hay.  We made a lot of hay because we’d only bought the farm in the spring and we hadn’t got the livestock to graze it all, and so we actually used, nearly wore the poor horses down because they were having to work twice as hard as they had done before. But we did actually have a, I’m just trying to remember; we had a Ferguson tractor in the early days for mowing.


And of course with the advent of the new set-up on the Common Agricultural Policy, we’re not tied, the subsidy levels are not tied to the amount of quota you have or anything like this which has a bearing on it as well.  This historic payment which we’re working on and then there’s going to be an acreage payment so it’s a transitional stage really at the moment on what they produce.


AH: And when will it be moved over entirely to acreage?


AC: It’s going over a period of about six years so that’s about 2012, I think, is actually [when] it gets entirely over to acreage.  But certainly a lot of people have been waiting to make a move about selling their dairy herd, selling their farm, until they could see which way, well actually to establish their historic payments as much as anything.  But certainly it’s a great period of transition again at the moment.  I think the fact that, that there’s this, a number of empty dairy buildings round about which could be converted to office accommodation or...


Well, in actual fact Bridge Farm has actually converted into office accommodation as well.  The actual traditional buildings which I said we put in the milking parlour was a pigsty once.  In actual fact it’s [office] accommodation now, it’s got fourteen people work in that office at Bridge Farm in the old buildings.


AH: What kind of business...?


AC: That is actually an agricultural research company which [] farming trust, and they do practical agricultural research and actually use the farm as their workshop as you might say.  We have maize trials as we grow maize now, that’s another difference in feeding the cows, and we’re growing something like sixty acres of maize a year.  And the maize has got a much higher feed value than grass, lower protein but much higher [].  And we have maize trials on the farm, we have grass trials, different varieties of grass, and also different sub-species in the grass, whether they’re more palatable, that type of thing.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Ann Heeley in September 2005. Photograph ©SRLM. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.