1750 - Animal Shelters
There was considerable variation in the way different animals were accommodated on the farm. Being valuable creatures that were used for many kinds of work, draught horses needed housing all year round. Sheep, though, have almost always lived outdoors and pigs were usually left to wander freely in search of food. Some rudimentary kind of shelter was provided for dairy cows and the oxen that were once widely used for ploughing and haulage. Cattle being fattened for slaughter, however, were normally kept loose in a yard. Not until the 'High Farming' of the Victorian era - with its emphasis on keeping animals in controlled conditions - was housing generally provided for them. Why do stables have a special kind of door?
Until quite recently almost all farms kept cattle. Oxen were used for field work until the late 19th century, while cattle provided the farmer with an income from their meat, milk and leather as well as an inexhaustible supply of manure for use as a fertiliser. Though beef cattle might be over-wintered in yards or folds, there was usually a primitive open-sided shelter or a cowshed where the herd would be kept tied up. This last was a dark and noisome building but the stables for working horses were very different. Each animal would normally have its own stall, about ten feet deep and six feet wide, which gave it room to lie down. Stalls were arranged in rows, and in each there was a tethering ring, a manger for oats and a rack on the wall for hay. They were separated by sturdy partitions, higher at the far (head) end to stop the horses biting each other. The design of the floors was important, for both safety and sanitary reasons, and a widely adopted Victorian improvement was the provision of flooring in non-slip pavior brick, sloping gently down to a drainage channel. Some stables had a separate room at one end for storing feed, but another practice was to have the hayloft above the stable, with hatches or slots in the floor down which hay could be fed into the racks. The hayloft also acted as insulation for the stable, for horses are vulnerable to cold. Good ventilation was also important - hence the generous headroom in most stables and the distinctive door which, when its upper flap was opened, admitted light and air while keeping the animals secure inside. Stables come in a dazzling variety of vernacular and regional styles, some with stalls parallel to the roof ridge and later ones (usually brick built) with stalls facing across the building. The most elaborate are those used to house riding or carriage horses. The stable illustrated, built for a farm at Watersfield in Sussex and re-erected at the Weald and Downland Museum, has wooden cladding over a timber frame, with a tiled roof.
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