November 1, 2008

Northumbrian milking machine tales: Getting the cuws used to being machine milked.

Byres, hemmels, shippons and mistles - milking machine tales
by Jack Dent (2005)

After a milking machine was installed, I had to spend sometime showing the farmers how to use and clean it. On one farm I was doing an installation for one of the nicest farmers I have ever worked for. His greatest pleasure was to go to Leyburn market every Friday to meet his friends and discuss the state of the stock trade, and he always wore a smart blue suit and a pristine white shirt.

The night we were to use the machine for the first time, it happened to be a Friday night, so Charlie duly arrived back from Leyburn and looked into the byre to see how I was getting on. I told him I was ready to demonstrate the machine working, and if he could get changed, I would instruct him in its use.

He said he would appreciate if I did the milking that night and he would just watch. He added that he hadn’t missed a milking for over 40 years, and was looking forward to watching someone else milk his cows.

“Fair enough” I said and proceeded to start milking. Charlie stood at the back of the byre which is not very wide in small Dales byres. There was the “standing” where the cow stood which was as long as the cow, then the two-foot wide muck “grip” behind the cow, then if you were lucky, there was about three feet of “back walk” before the wall. Charlie stood there revelling in the fact that he wasn’t having to milk for the first time and he had divested himself of his jacket and tie and just stood there, the epitome of contentment.

Photo: Cowshed with milk pipeline direct to the dairy. Source: Kenneth Russell (1969) The Principles of Dairy Farming.

Now milking for the first time was never the easiest of tasks. I was strange to the cows, and the machine was a new experience to them. In those early days a cow would fetch a lot more money if an auctioneer could declare that “she was used to being machine milked”.

Well of course the inevitable happened. As I was putting the unit on the heifer, she coughed and poor old Charlie was directly in the line of fire. It was a bullseye, right dead centre on Charlie’s pristine best white shirt. I waited for the explosion but he looked at the mess and casually remarked – “I don’t suppose that would have happened if I’d been milking”.

He then departed leaving me to finish the job.

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