An extract from the book Daft Laddies, Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) by Clive Dalton and Don Clegg. If you'd like a copy of the book, including an audio CD of a few of the best tales, just email Don on email@example.com
Photo shows Clive Dalton's grandfather, George Dalton, holding the first prize Shorthorn bull from Chesters estate in Humshaugh, at Hexham show in 1914.
In these days of genome mapping, DNA analysis, multiple ovulation and embryo transfer (MOET), cloning, and genetically modified (GM) organisms – you have to smile at the consternation caused by the simple process of Artificial Insemination (AI) on North Tyne and Rede farms in the 1950s.
As in all farming circles there are leaders who try new things, and countless sceptics who knaa nowt about it, but nivortheless have strang opinions forecasting doom and disaster for aall involved. There was a lot of it aboot in the 1950s when AI became available on local farms.
Artificial Insemination (AI)
AI solved the need to keep a bull, freeing up feed for an extra cow and calf. It was also a lot safer as housed bulls regularly caused injuries to farm folk. But the big selling point was that through AI you could get the services of a much better bull and at reasonable cost. And you’ll remember the boss was nivor maede o’ muney!
Aall a lot of blow’d rrubeesh, said the sceptics! So what were their concerns - real and imagined? The first was how to taalk aboot it – even to say the name. The word “artificial” usually referred to manure from a bag. That was bad enough but the word “insemination” was just gannin’ ower far.
Trouble started with the inevitable questions of “huw de they git the juice oot o’ the bull”? Nobody had been to the AI centre at Shinfield in faraway Coonty Durham to see the process, so there was only conjecture of mind-boggling proportions.
So when we farmin’ college students with wor fancy beuk larnin’ explained how the bull served into a warmed rubber tube and the semen was collected in a small glass test tube – well that was ower daft for woords. “Nee bull worth his keep wad dee owt as daft as that, man!” was the comment.
Then there was the question aboot huw the cuw gat bulled if there wasn’t a bull? Well, we explained, it was done by the “AI man” – in the North Tyne that was a Mr Jamieson from Hexham. Now you were clearly away wi the fairies, bonny lad.
Suddenly, we students were a font of knowledge of such things – but you had to watch what company you were in afore borstin’ forth with yor newfangled knowledge. It was aall right at the Saturday night dances to explain such things to the village lassees, but not to chorch folk ov a Sunday.
The dangerous bit was when you explained where Mr Jamieson put his hand and aboot the glass tube containing the semen (no plastics then) which could very easily break inside the cuw. This was seen as undiluted filth comin’ from the gob of somebody like mesel (CD) who blew the organ, tolled the bell and took the collection at St Cuthbert’s chorch!
There were many folk in those days who genuinely believed that the whole process of not letting nature take its course, by letting bulls do bull’s work, would do some irreparable genetic and psychological harm to cattle as a species. And then to explain that semen could be frozen and be kept for EVER was totally ower the top and would be the end of farmin’.
Phone for the bull
But probably the biggest embarassment for the daft laddie was phoning from a very public phone box to order the bull. Few farms had phones in those days so you had to go to the nearest public phone box with all the trauma of having the right money, pressin’ button A and not B at the right time, and then deliverin’ your message.
Then the biggest shock came when you got through to the Milk Marketing Board in Hexham, and a WOMAN answered! That was bad enough but then she started askin’ you questions:
MMB: “Good morning Sir, Milk Marketing Board Insemination Service”
Laddie: “Helloa, Aye – am caalin’ aboot a cuw from Nettle Hill.”
MMB: “Yes, I have the farm details, sir”. Is the cow standing, sir?”
Laddie : “Wey no, she was lyin’ doon in the byor when Aa left.”
MMB: “No sir, is she in standing heat or is she just coming on?”
Laddie: “Oh Aa see. By heck no, she’s stannin’ allright. The boss was just sayin’ she’s stannin’ like a dyke. She’s fair mad a bullin’.”
MMB: “What breed of bull do you want, sir?”
Laddie: “Oh, the boss wants Shorthorn but the missus likes them new Friesians they hev doon at Acomb.”
MMB: “So what’s the decision, sir?”
Laddie: “Well, the row was still ganin’ on when Aa left on me bike to phone up. Mebbe wise to bring baeth bulls’ juice, eh?”
MMB: “Has the cow been inseminated before sir?”
Laddie: “Oh aye – this will be the fowerth time. The boss was just sayin’ that if she doesn’t haad this time, she’ll gan te Archie’s Galloway. He’ll stop owt, Aa tell ye.
MMB: “Thank you for calling sir, Mr Jamieson will be there this afternoon.
It was all ower much for some folk and after escaping from the phone box on a hot summer morning after a grilling like that, and gollarin’ doon the phone so the lass cud heor - as Hexham, remember, was 12 miles away or more, the sweat was just dripping off you. It was a relief to get back on the hard iron seat of the hay turner.
Then followed the air of expectancy, waiting for Jamieson’s arrival. The poor cuw tied up in the byre was equally excited and to show this she bellowed all day, decorating the newly whitewashed walls in half circles of liquid green.
Sure enough, late in the day a little white Ford van came chugging into the yard and out popped Mr Jamieson in spotless Wellingtons and riding britches carrying a white box and a waterproof coat. Here indeed was “the bull with the bowler hat” as many farmers dubbed him. It was unbelievable for some – whaat in the wide woorld was he ganin’ dee?
The mystery deepened and was made no less enlightening when he asked for a bucket of warm water, a towel and bit of soap, and somebody to hold the cow’s tail oot of the way. Then he put his coat on back to front! Ye beggor o’ Hexham – what next?
Can you imagine how these details were received by good folk with puritanical views and sceptical about so-called scientific progress? Explaining that the cow’s cervix was palpated through the rectum wall and the semen deposited just through the cervix by the glass pipette, were details they begged to be spared from. That was just ower much filth for decent lugs, and was typical of the “modreen rubbeesh young folk larned at them farmin’ colleeges”.
Never the same again
The ultimate argument against AI was that a cow mated by AI wad nivor haad again tiv a bull. And the sceptics always had examples of folk they kenned from Deadwater down to Acomb with this awful experience. “The cuws wor rruined man, an waadn’t even haad te the Galloway bull efterwards”, they declared. The Galloway bull was seen as the ultimate in bovine impregnation – “if he cudn’t stop a cuw, nowt wad”.
Other doubting Thomases had seen these AI-bred calves and they were “nivor ony geud, man, and just blow’d rrubeesh”. I remember once viewing one of the early AI-bred calves in the presence of some sceptics, and, in an atmosphere of near wonderment, the comment was made – “Eeeh man! leuk heor, leuk whaat the bull wi’ the bowler hat’s gitten. Aye man, an’ it kindo leuks like Jamieson an’ aall.”
Imagine if they’d known about the recently discovered evidence that we humans share about 90% of our DNA with cattle and even a mouse! Aa knaa whee’d git the blame for this shock horror – owld Jamieson from Hexham!