Founderings, Fleams and Farcy

A Fleam which was used to bleed horses in the district.
A Fleam which was used to bleed horses in the district.

I discovered a little gem a number of years ago in the form of a handwritten notebook.

It is in the possession of a local family in the district and contains golden nuggets of information recording material relative to everyday life in a rural farming community in the early to late 19th century.

Several pages were devoted to seventeen different cures and remedies gleaned from some neighbouring farmers and meticulously recorded by the note taker.

A number of the entries were attributed to a Mr Gilliland who is believed to have resided in the Ballydonaghy townland in the Crumlin area.

Common diseases in cattle, sheep and horse are touched on and there are “potions” suggesting cures for fresh cuts and wounds, inflammation, scratches, sheep scab, sore heels, strains and worms. The entries include a variety of chemicals, herbs and lotions available to the 19th century farmer.

For instance, a mixture of olive oil, ammonia and origanum was recommended for a strain “in any part of a beast” whilst a glass of whiskey and vinegar was the basis for sorting out a “stab of a nail or thorn” in a horse.

There are three separate remedies for curing the “Bloody Murrain,” better known as anthrax. Bole arminack, nitre and ale or beer were the basis of the first remedy. Another recommends four ounces of salts followed by an administration of salt petre two hours later. This was to be continued every two hours throughout the day or until “it turns and then slows.” The alternative given was to boil seven ounces of chalk in buttermilk. This was described in the notes as being “the best cure to be found, but bad for the dry murrain.”

Bleeding an animal was considered normal practice and was the basis for the curing of “farcy”, also referred to as “ferse” or “fersie” in years gone by. It was recommended to bleed an animal in an attempt to cure this disease which was a series of suppurating tumours. The remedies also recommend taking 6 or 7 quarts of blood from a horse which has been diagnosed with “foundering,” also known as laminitis, and then administering half a pint of whiskey and 2 ounces of pepper to a large horse “and walk him… If he sweats well he is cured.”

Several months ago an old friend of mine, who is a member of the farming community in the Dundrod area, produced to me what know could be classed as an “oddity.” It had been located in a drawer in a local farmstead by a member of the younger generation of farmers, but he had no clue as to what it had been used for.

It is a handheld instrument, similar to a penknife, with three opening blades, each with different sized points on each blade. Set inside the handle was another smaller blade. My old friend instantly recognised it as a tool which was used to bleed horses many years ago, when the horse was considered a necessity on the agricultural landscape. It is known as a fleam and the smaller separate blade was known as a thumb lancet.

There were numerous fleams in circulation, and some contained multiple blades. This one was stamped “D Miller & Son” and most likely refers to the Sheffield manufacturer who was operating in the 19th century.

The size of the chosen blade depended on the size of the horse to be bled. The fleam blade used on a Clydesdale horse obviously was larger than one used on a pony. My old friend had witnessed this procedure a number of times. The chosen blade of the fleam was placed against the jugular vein of the horse and struck with a small wooden baton.

The bleeding was stopped by a pinching movement and a pin was inserted. Several strands of hair from the tail of the animal was used for binding the wound.

My mother, in her childhood days knew about this process,but was forbidden to witness it. She was confined to the far side of the half door when the gory procedure was taking place.

Things have now moved on, and the farmer’s best friend has been replaced in subsequently by a modern workhorse – the tractor. I’m sure bleeding the hydraulic cylinder systems these days is a less grisly undertaking!

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