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Anglo Saxon farming

The average Anglo Saxon was a peasant; the majority grew most of what they ate, and ate most of what they grew. Those at the top of the social scale may have garnished their lifestyle with imported exotica such as spices and silks, but they relied for the basics on their own lands, from which they extracted products by food rents and other obligations. For the average Anglo Saxon staying alive depended upon his or her own physical work, tilling the soil and caring for livestock. Livestock and arable farming were mutually indispensable: arable crops depended on the manure and labour of animals which in turn were fed on the products of arable land and pasture. People lived on their arable crops, enlivened by whatever animal foods could be produced; clothing came from the backs of their own sheep, and roofing and bedding materials from the fields. Rents, tithes and probably many other taxes were paid in foodstuffs.

Signs of change appeared around the middle of the Anglo Saxon period: free threshing cereals, especially bread wheat, were grown more widely as hulled cereals declined in importance. Arable farming as a whole began to expand in comparison to livestock husbandry; indeed, the two became inextricably linked as increasing numbers of stock were kept close to human settlements. As human population expanded, the areas available for open grazing had to contract. More of England was being ploughed instead of being worked with hand tools and this may have been the time when the heavy mouldboard plough started to make an impact. Both of these developments meant that more oxen were needed for traction. These animals would be kept near the arable fields where they worked, allowing those fields to be fertilised with their dung.  Growing human populations also increased the demand for animal food products, and more milking animals were kept close to settlements to facilitate dairy production. These milking animals, including sheep as well as cows, and large numbers of sheep must also have been kept in East Meon as the wool trade expanded. It is also in the Anglo Saxon period we start to see the widespread keeping of pigs with huge herds kept on wood pasture; the Domesday book records that there were over 200 pigs kept in East Meon by the end of the Anglo Saxon period.