Friday, 23 March 2012

Dairy Cows of Old 27

Milked by hand some cows had teats almost as thick as your wrist , with front teats sticking out "east west".

Dairy cows of old, bore little resemblance to the diary cows of today. Back in the 40's every herd had its own bull often reared out of one of your own cows, served by a neighbor's bull, which was boasted to be the best in the neighbourhood. Blood lines and pedigrees' meant nothing when you had a fine looking bull running with the cows, however what came out of the "pot" was very often a different picture. This you would not find out until you had used the bull for three years when the first heifers calved down and came into the milking herd.

Up until that period in time; most herds were milked by hand and cows with teats almost as thick as your wrist were common place, and front teats sticking out "east west". Pendulous udders in the older cows, with udders only inches from the ground, these were kept on because perhaps they were easy milkers and perhaps the highest yielders.

Some of these cows were almost impossible to milk with a machine; the thick teats were not too bad as long as all four teats pointed "south". Some cows had low back quarters and empty looking front quarters, which did not suit the machine milking, I remember a big "duck stone" would be place on the claw of the milking machine, and then a cord would be over the cows back to hold the units up onto the front teats. Often the udder would be so low it was almost impossible to reach down to even get the units on.

Father started his herd by exchanging a sow for a cow around 1930 progressing on to a few more cows in small buildings with a cow shed and fifteen acres next to his father's farm. Then he married mother and they took on a farm near the edge of town where he was able to expand his herd. These would be a bit of a mixture of breeds including shorthorn and a few black and whites and everything in between.

Most of the milk went in Churns on the train into Birmingham and some mother made butter and cheese which was sold locally to shops or at the door. Then at some point the dairy started sending a lorry to pick up the churns from each farm, probably when the Milk Marketing Board was first set up.

This is what I remember of Butter churning

We Had an Old Butter Churn

We had an old butter churn, it was on a wooden stand,
A big handle on the side of it, to turn it all by hand.
The lid it had a sight glass, a valve to vent the air outright.
The lid clamped on with three screw clamps it up real tight

Mother turned the handle, till butter grains appear,
Drain the butter milk, rinse n' wash grains to till clear,
Add some salt and knead them, butter pats for this,
Packed into grease proof paper, on hot toast its bliss.


It was mid 30's that father broke his arm and that meant he could not milk cows by hand, and it was around this time that the local machinery dealer had got the first milking machines in. They were keen to get a machine installed on farms in their patch, and father decided to go for one, he bought an Alfa Laval four unit outfit. Of course it took a bit of getting used to the new way of milking, and did not help that a lot of the cows had "rough" udders not particularly suited to the new teat cups.

Father got impressed by the herd of cows that the neighbour ran, these were pure bred pedigree Ayrshire's, most of his cows had nice small uniform well placed teats and compact udders that stretched forward under the cows belly. On looking at them from hand milking point of view, it would be finger and thumb milking, but this was the era of the milking machine and these cows looked as if they were designed for it.

When we moved farms up into the village the herd could be expanded, and along with his old neighbour they went up to Carlisle to the pedigree Ayrshire sale and between then bought a lorry load of incalf heifers, this would total I think about twelve, the cattle wagons were not as big as they are today.
 This they did for the following few years, one of the last loads that came down were polled, they had no horns, these were the first we had ever seen and they were bullied by the cows with horns.You may have seen old pictures of Ayrshire cattle, their horns curled up pitch fork style, and they knew how to use them.

To remedy this father spoke to his vet and he had all the cows horn cut off. As the cows were all tied by the neck in stalls it made it easy to restrain them, first the vet tied string tight round the base of the horn to act as a tourniquet and I cannot recall whether they were injected with pain killer. The instrument for cutting was a huge pair of shears with five foot handles, and the grip of three men to close them. A barnacle was put on the cows nose and a cord held by another man while the operation took place.

The local name for this gadget for holding a cow by the nose is Barnacle, the rough drawing above gives you an idea of how its opened, by drawing a spring up the shank to open the jaws, then place it in the nose and let the spring go, it been such a long time since I used ours that I cannot find it to photograph it. The ring at the top is for a rope, then you can hold an animal the same as you would hold a bull by its ring, I can tell you they don't appreciate it at all, and it has the benefit of taking their minds what you are actualy going to do at them.

They made rapid progress down the shed doing about twenty five cows on some cows the string had rubbed off letting the blood flow readily, squirting high into the rafters of the cowshed, it took a couple of hours for the vet to stem the flow from first one cow and then another.

When the calves were born, each calf's horns were cleaned with a fluid to remove any hint of grease and a type of glue applied called "colodian" this ceiled the horn bud and in effect dehorned the calf. It was a bit hit and miss some calves having one horn of in some cases both horns, it all depended on how clean the bud was when the colodian was applied, and how old the calves were, they had to be done in the first few days after birth. This went on for two or three years when a pair of dehorning irons were bought and the horn buds were burnt out ensuring that no horns were missed. These were heated on a blow lamp one being heated while one was in use, and the forerunner of the modern gas dehorning iron.

It was predominantly Ayrshire cows that made up the herd for the next twenty years, when the British Friesian cows with modern udders and higher yields and father started using a Friesian bull through artificial insemination on the Ayrshire cows. In the 1950's the Milk Marketing Board start the improvement of cow confirmation, by the use of Artificial Insemination, and monitoring the progeny born this way to provide proven bulls.

Over the following twenty years or more the udder and teat confirmation improved and where everyone had more than a cow or two with curled up toes and deformed feet, these were improved as well. Then in the following twenty years again saw the tremendous improvement in yields, and this coincided with new improved management techniques such as cubicles self feed silage and parlour milking, and a change over to Friesian cows.

Father ran a dairy herd

Father ran a dairy herd, of mainly Ayrshire cows,
These were housed traditionally, tied in stalls in rows,
Brought down for milking, had to be tied with a chain,
Each knew there own stall, a left and a right contain.

Cows were used to standing, to their own side of the stall,
They would part to let you in between when you call,
A bowl full of corn, and in with the bucket and stool,
Milked by hand while they're eating, was good job when it's cool.

He was one of the first to try, a new fangled milking machine,
A vacuum pipe was installed, new motor and pump had to be,
Four unit buckets and a spare, four cows milked nice and clean,
This was quicker by far, once the cows got used to routine.

Milk was cooled in the dairy, with water from the well,
The dairy collected it every day, had to be cool to sell,
The fridge was a copper heat exchanger hanging on the wall,
On top a Dee shaped receiving pan, fresh milk we poured it all.

Well water runs on the inside the fridge, milk run down outside,
Churns were filled for the dairy, to a measured mark inside,
Labelled with where it's to go, at one time went by train,
Now a lorry picks up the churns, from a churn stand on the lane.

Thirty more years he milked this way, in churns milk was poured,
Restricted now by the number of stalls, yields he did record,
Bulk tank came and a pipeline too, milk tanker every day,
This took Father to retirement, very modern to do it this way.

Owd Fred

Ayrshire cows always had a noticeably better butterfat level that could be seen in the milk bottles that it was sold in, Friesian cow on the other hand were often down to 3% fat, with the "blue water" up the bottom 97% of the bottle. Because father had just the odd Friesian cow in his herd, when asked "why keep a Friesian cow in a herd of Ayrshire" he always replied "we wash the shed down with her milk if the well runs dry".
Cheese - milk's leap towards immortality.Clifton Fadiman (1904 - 1999)


  1. Gramps thought Holstein milk was poor stuff too. I often heard him use the same line !

  2. Thanks for this awesome share!! Keep blogging!!