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How Big was a Drove?

How Long was a Drove?


Three thousand sheep or four hundred cattle take up a lot of room.  Here are two extracts from local papers, the first from the Bath Chronicle of 2/8/1797:

Mr McPherson,gardener, and Mr Maggs, the present tenant of the farm at Claverton, received from Lord Galloway’s farm in Scotland, on Wednesday last, 400 head of Cattle, which will very soon be fit for slaughter.  They left Galloway on the 28th of June, and came under the care of ten drovers.  Notwithstanding the expence [sic] attending their being brought here, we hear with pleasure that they can be rendered at prices far below the exorbitant charges of the dealers in this country.  They were near a month on their journey, travelling about 20 miles a day; the train was full a mile in length...A further drove of about 500 is very soon expected, with a number of Scots Ponies... 


A mile long!  Twenty miles a day for a month!  Good Grief!


The second, more lyrical in nature, is from the Bedfordshire Times & Independent of 11/11/1910:


Many generations of Bedfordshire farmers have resorted to Elstow Green on the Fifth of replenish their pastures with young stock.  Welsh herdsmen left their hills, each with a drove of a thousand and more, visiting fair after fair in England until the little animals had all been translated into wads of banknotes.  Whether the owners ever took off their coats while in England may be doubted.  Cattle plague and its restrictions stopped the Welsh business in the sixties, and it has never recovered its old form.

The sight of hundreds of Welsh beasts walking through Bedford on Saturday recalled the larger droves of black and red runts which in past days used to thread the lanes of Kempton in search of pastures with running water.  Hence the Mill was a resort.  After a short haggle between grazier and miller, the headmoney to be paid for the accommodation was agreed on, and field after field was soon blackened with the visitors.  They would fringe the river-side for a drink and...have an earnest and silent browse.  With morning came the cries of drovers and dogs, and yet another telling by the owners to see that their property was intact before going to the fair.


Tollgate payments from the Roderick & Jonathan accounts suggest a smaller number – 80 to 120 on average.  A drove of 500 would have been delayed intolerably by the gates as each beast was counted through.  Probably a very large herd/flock would be divided up into, say, five smaller droves which would make their way semi-independently before joining up again at the end.  This method would also make it easier to find overnight accommodation for the beasts.