Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on.
By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg
An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton & Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The call for milk
The North Tyne’s heather and bent land was sheep country, but in the 1940s and 1950s there were many farms that responded to the war and post-war cry for more food, especially milk, to feed a hungry nation.
Farms below Humshugh always milked cows where there was plenty gud grund to grow fothor (hay/straw) and roots (turnips/mangel) for the winter. But in those far off days, dairy cows were milked right up the valley from Kielder doon to Redesmouth. The table below is based on memory and a guestimate or two, so your verifications would be welcomed.
Electricity hadn’t reached the top end of the valley at this time so hand milking was the order of the day for farms above Bellingham. It was a great job on a cowld winter mornin’ snugglin’ up tiv an aad cuw with your peaked cap on backwards, provided she was a nice easy milker and she wasn’t yooky with lice. The area up atween the cuw’s bag and her back leg was a grand place to revive your frozen fingers before you started milking. But neebody gat upset when milking machines arrived - except the cuws for a day or two.
Where did the milk go?
Well it was first siled (filtered), and then tipped into a small holding tank and run over a plate cooler. The cold water circulated inside the cooler as the milk flowed over the outside into a 10-gallon can. When full to the mark, the can had its lid brayed on and a label attached.
In the early days you had to take the cans to the nearest railway station by whatever means you had, horse and cart, Fergie tractor and milk box, motor bogie or barrow. But then road wagons collected it from milk stands at farm gates on the road side. Journey’s end for the milk was the Co-op Dairy in Stocksfield.
The cleaned and sterilised empty cans then came back and were collected when you delivered the full ones. There was a communal milk stand in Bellingham beside the Demesne farm for the Demesne, Foundry farm, Reenes and the Boat farm. It was a great spot to catch up with local scandal, and get your leg pulled about where yi’d been seen on Saturday night, and whee yi’d been seen wi! It made you review and improve your evasion plans for the following weekend!
Pickering the Hexham vet
Dairy farming resulted in a lot more work for the Hexham veterinarians (the Pickerings) who serviced the valley. Compared to beef cows, there were many more cases of “ewor clap” (mastitis), “splet tits” to stitch up when a cow stood on it’s bed mate’s delicate udder.
There was also milk fever and staggers when the cuw went doon and refused to get up. It was often assumed that a cow that couldn’t or wouldn’t get up was just being an akward lazy owld bitch! So an ancient trick to get her up was to take the cat by the tail and pull it back along the cow’s back so it stuck its claws in. That did nowt for the cow or the cat! The cure was a bottle of calcium or magnesium and not milking her for a day or so. And even blowing air into her udder with a bicycle pump was used to stop milk secretion.
A hingin cleanin was the worst problem. This retained afterbirth was dealth with by the poor vet having to strip off to his bare torso (often in a freezing byre) before feelin inside the cuw and fishin oot the stinking afterbirth. Sadly for us Daft Laddies there wor need women vets in them days.
There were constant arguments as to which was the best breed. The well-respected Shorthorn that evolved in County Durham was the obvious choice. There were dairy types of Shorthorn and places like the Cumberland where their county Farm Institute at Newton Rigg had bred noted strains, as well as breeders in the Allendale district.
The Shorthorn was classed as a “dual-purpose” breed as it provided both milk and beef which in the end was the main reason for its demise. Dual-purpose was seen by many as “nee porpose”. The heifers could throw to beef and the steers or bullocks were ower dairy type and wouldn’t fatten. Trying to keep the right balance got too complicated so it was easier to swallow your pride and change breeds to a real dairy type.
The Dutch Friesians were seen as muckle greet hungry brutes that milked weell but wud eat an eye o’ hay afore-noon, and fill fower barras o’ skitta eftor-noon. And another complaint was that theor tits wor like Porcy Bolam’s prize parsnips - far ower big and easy to get squeshed. Daft Laddies liked them for hand milking as you could get two hands on the one tit! These were not good when milking machines arrived.
Fettlin the owld byres
The dairy regulations required a lot of money to be spent on renovating the old byres and making a milk room for the cooler and sink to wash the dairy utensils and the milking machine. Many byres had to be gutted and concrete laid to replace the hardened muck floors. Many a North Tyne cuw-standin’ in a byre was just a railway sleeper to form the edge of the grip (muck channel), and accumulated solid dry muck for the cow to lie on. It was cheap and effective and a warm lie for a cuw, if perhaps not ower hygienic for the dairy regulations.
To comply with the law, the Milk Marketing Board’s Dairy Inspector (Miss Armstrong) had te cum from Hexham to approve the farm for a milk license, and for that you had to have cement rendered waalls up to a certain height, and there were specifications for the height of the back and front of the grip, and the faalls (slopes) on all the floors. And you had to have concrete divisions between cuws to replace the historic wooden stanchions, and much more.
At right of picture is the old 'dairy' at the Hott Farm which had to be built to keep Miss Armstrong happy! Don't think it would pass now.
Many a comment was made that with all this bureaucracy, the milk was nee cleanor than frae the owld byres sweethed in cobwebs! And of course every pint of milk had te gan in the can. You dare not sneak a bit of cream off the top of the can to put on your crowdy in winter, or strawberries in summer - at least not officially!
Changes in the valley
It brought about major changes in valley farming. More root crops (turnips, mangels and kale) had to be grown, and more cereals (oats and barley) for both grain and straw. The result was mare muck to spread back on the farm so more machinery had to be bought – and all this meant more work for farm staff. It was a time when more purchased artificial fertiliser (bag muck) had to be bought – which resulted in heavier hay crops that the old hands sartainly didn’t like in catchy weathor! The one big positive of those milking days was the farmers got a regular income which they had never had before.
It all ended about the early 1960s when farms went back to beef. The farmers and their families who worked long and hard in those dairy days should be proud of the contribution they and the valley made to Tyneside’s milk supply during the war and post-war years.
They deserve a monument in Bellingham, maybe where the old milk stand used to be at the Demesne. A silver milk can would be nice, surrounded by three or four figures filling their pipes or maybe taking a pinch of snuff from Dobbin’s shop, having a crack aboot we’s gittin away, we’s wife hes tean off wi’ the dip salesman from the Scotch side, and the middlin trade at the mart.