Arable farming in 18th century

Mixed farming predominated in Highland Perthshire with rents largely paid in kind.

Oats and bear predominated and tended to be of inferior quality and predominantly used as cattle feed and straw. The grain component of the human diet was mainly satisfied by the specialist crop farms in the neighbourhood or supplies brought in from the numerous marketing centres dotted along the edge of the Highlands.

At the end of the 17th century there were seven consecutive years of disastrous harvest and famine throughout Scotland. 1723 and 1773 - 5 were also famine years.

Infield / outfield system

The land labelled 'infield' or 'croft' differed from 'outfield' both in the variety of crops grown and the permanence of the cropping. Oats and barley were cultivated on infield while only oats were cropped on the outfield. More importantly, however, the infield was continuously cultivated receiving the entire manure collected annually in the vicinity of the farm steadings. In the 17th century there were parts of Scotland were the barley infield alone was dunged. The outfield only received dung in the year prior to its temporary cultivation.

Dodgshon has interpreted the infield as the arable land of the farm in early mediaeval times, compared to the outfield land which he envisaged as intakes from the waste, mainly between the 15th and 17th centuries.

The ground within the head dyke was primarily arable land, although patches of pasture also occurred on which tethered livestock was grazed. Throughout its pasture breaks those parts of the outfield in grass were termed 'ley grass' or 'tath grass' and mainly provided pasture ground for the home-based dairy herds when not at the shielings. As well as fattening the livestock this added dung to the outfield.

Merkland and Plough

The term 'merkland' referred to a unit of land measurement the value of which was calculated on a scale of merks (13s 4d Scots). Its area has been much debated with Innes estimating that one Merkland equalled 34 2/3 acres of mixed land. Dodgshon demonstrated a correlation with 7 to 9 acres of infield. This assessment determined stocking levels as infield stubble, straw and corn was used to provision the livestock.

The term 'plough' referred to an area of land based on the amount of ground a plough team could plough in one year. One plough approximated to one merkland.

Page last updated - 28/11/16