NEXT year marks the centenary of the formation of the first Young Farmers Club in the small Blackdown Hills village of Hemyock, Devon writes Phil Hill.

The Hemyock Calf Club No 1 was the forerunner of what has become an organisation with many thousands of members and made a huge impact on agriculture and farming internationally.

It began with just 19 teenagers, 12 boys and seven girls, from farms supplying the local milk factory run by the Wilts United Dairy Co.

The aim was to increase milk yields which had fallen after the First World War because of the lack of feed-stuff and manpower.

The youngsters were each allocated a Shorthorn calf to look after from cows giving 600 gallons in a year. The average locally was about 400.

The teenagers were given instruction in the latest agricultural knowledge with fortnightly meetings and time for social interaction.

The project was taken up by The Daily Mail, which took the youngsters to London in 1923 and 1924 to see the Empire and Ideal Home exhibitions and drove them round the capital in an open top bus emblazoned with the Calf Club logo.

They were filmed for Pathe News, with a parade of the calves, which was then shown in every cinema nationwide.

Soon afterwards the Government became involved and began to encourage the initiative.

Two teenagers from the original group were sent to Canada for six months in 1923 to work on farms.

After three years Ayrshire calves from cows giving 800 gallons a year were distributed in Hemyock, and after six years the milk factory had doubled its output.

The Calf Club still exists today as the Culm Valley YFC.

The initiative is being celebrated in Hemyock next year with events, a book and a bronze sculpture by Tanya Russell of a calf to be sited at the location of the old factory.

A crowdfunding campaign to fund the commemorations will be launched with a video on Saturday, March 7 at the 23rd annual Skills of the Hills hedge laying event at Regency House, Hemyock.

Organiser Heather Stallard said: "We would like nationwide support from anyone who has had a connection to the YFC and the farming industry. It is an important moment in the history of our small village.”

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