H.D.Barley, farmer, stockbreeder and agricultural writer

Harry Douglas Barley was born 26 February, 1901. His father, William Barley, was a farmer at Bay Tree Farm, near Kings Norton, Birmingham. Both father and son were failed for service in the First World War due to rheumatic fever. H.D. Barley began his involvement in farming by helping his father's horse-drawn milk round and by an initially modest venture in poultry farming in which he rented a field from a local farmer and built his own poultry equipment. Barley ploughed back his profits into his poultry venture and gradually increased the size of his holding and his quantity of stock. By 1936 he was able to purchase a 50 acre farm adjacent to Bay Hill which he renamed Gay Hill Poultry Farm. His breeding methods produced birds that combined stamina and longevity, coupled with high production on a low intake. From 1921 onwards Barley poultry, mostly White Wyandottes, Leghorns and Light Sussex at this date, began to meet success in egg laying trials. The favoured breed from the 1930's onwards was Rhode Island Reds with which he won the B.O.C.M. Five Year Consistency Cup outright in 1952. By 1953 Barley was sending his poultry worldwide, having about 1,000 adult birds as well as up to 3,000 chicks each spring. His general policy was that two year old poultry proven in mating were put out on the stubble and used for breeding. Barley also wrote various articles on poultry breeding and poultry equipment, chiefly for Poultry World, spoke frequently on these topics and acted as a poultry judge for various organisations. Barley's venture into cattle farming and breeding was the result of a Second World war directive that his 50 acre farm at Gay Hill could not be used just for poultry farming. Faced with the choice of ploughing up or keeping a dairy herd, Barley adopted the latter course. During 1946-1947, he rented two other local farms, Bay Tree (formerly farmed by his father) and Oaks Farm, which increased his holding by a further 85 acres. He eventually purchased Bay Tree in 1956. Barley decided that pedigree Ayrshires would be the best dairy breed, due to their high attestation rate and their good milk production in ratio to food consumption. Starting with just two cows and a few heifer calves, Barley gradually increased the herd including the purchase of his own bull. He strove to breed as much as possible within the herd so that the offspring combined the desired attributes of health, stamina, longevity, consistent milk production and good butter-fat content. By 1953 the herd comprised 40 pedigree attested Ayrshires in milk, two stock pedigree bulls and 20 heifers. The herd was given the prefix 'Gay' and the individual animals named after Greek and Roman gods i.e. 'Gay Cassandra'. The cows were originally hand milked as Barley felt that earlier types of milking machines produced mastitis, though later on an Alfa Laval milking system was introduced. From 1949 onwards, Barley undertook a breeding experiment to evolve a 7/8 Ayrshire breed that was naturally polled by crossing with a hybrid strain of Swedish Whites crossed with British Whites (the old Park Cattle). The resulting animals were given names starting with `Cross' for the first generation, and the second generation names starting with `Ex' or `Sec'. For M.M.B. purposes, these cattle were regarded as a separate herd from the pedigree Ayrshires. Barley was also a successful breeder of racing pigeons with which he won various prizes. The land of all three farms comprised a medium heavy soil with clay subsoil. Gay Hill Farm had a mixture of old and new buildings. The old farm house was pulled down after Barley's purchase of the farm and a new house finally erected on a different site after delays due to wartime shortages of materials and labour in the early 1940's. Barley moved there with his wife, Enid Norma, whom he had married in 1941. The Gay Hill farm buildings comprised a brick barn of 1818 and a range of old sheds, calf pens and a hay loft. New buildings erected in the 1940's comprised a TT attested cowshed to house 40 cows and a long wooden egg room together with a brooder house. The farm house at Bay Tree was the former home of William Barley and his wife who moved to a newly erected house, `Greenbanks' c.1940. After H.D.Barley had also moved from Bay Tree to his new house at Gay Hill, the Bay Tree farm house was converted into farm workers flats. The Bay Tree farm buildings were arranged around a rough square, including an old timber hay barn. The tenancy of Oaks Farm comprised land only. Barley, who had been farming in official partnership with his wife as of 1959, sold up at the end of 1965, due to advancing years, the demands of 'perfect' stock for bull licencing and the inability to get heifers and bulls unrelated at the same time. The buildings and land were sold by auction together with the majority of the stock of poultry and cattle. Mr. & Mrs. Barley then purchased a small farm at Silverstone, near Drybrook, Gloucestershire where the polling experiment was continued with a small residue of the stock as well as some poultry farming. H.D.Barley unfortunately had a heart attack after a short while at Silverstone and he died 7 February, 1974 followed by his wife on 6 December, 1983.

More information

  • A full description is available on our online database

  • Reference number: D84/7

Farming Barley, H.D.

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