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Memories of Milking by Eileen Cockburn

Wednesday 7 August, 2019, by Karen Griffiths

We recorded Eileen’s childhood memories of farming in Redmire last year – find a summary here but she also gave us a written memoir which adds some more detail to her story.

Eileen Cockburn's written memoir of milking in the Dales
Eileen Cockburn’s written memoir of milking in the Dales

We’ve now had this typed up so we can share it. The story starts with her father, featured in this photo riding the grey mare with Eileen’s brother Matt in front leading the donkey.

Matt Heseltine aged 11 and his father carrying milk to Hogra Farm. Ann Holubecki collection
Matt Heseltine aged 11 and his father carrying milk to Hogra Farm. Ann Holubecki collection

MILKING IN THE DALES by Eileen Cockburn (née Heseltine)
Earliest [memories] going with my Dad to the small Barns let cattle out twice a day to drink, fother from half barn with Hay and milking into Back can and carrying back Home.
We milked at Top Dry Close; Miller field; Barn at home which was a continuation of our house, a loft for hay above with a row of holes to put hay down into racks in front of cows.
I was born before the Second World War at Hogra Farm in the village of Redmire in Wensleydale The youngest of 6 children, I had three brothers and two sisters. My parents kept a mixed farm, Swaledale sheep and Dairy Shorthorn cows for milking.
The house being in the village meant our land was scattered, some of it quite a way from the homestead. We had two Byres/cow sheds at home, one an extension of the house with a granary above it for storing hay for winter fodder. The other in a small gath, one of three at home had standings for 5 or 6 cows and a Dutch barn for hay on the end of it.
Our heaviest milkers, were housed in these two Byres, so milk hadn’t to be carried too far to home.
We also had some Byres with barns in some of our bye-side field[s], which in winter housed either young stock, or, drying off cows, ready for calving in the spring. These cattle had to be milked twice a day and let out to drink at the troughs fed by spring water. I remember as a child walking with my Father to see to these cows, with a back can on his back to carry the milk home in. We also had a Byre and hay barn up the Dairy Hill and the milk from there was carried back in two back cans, tied on either side of our donkey on a wooden saddle.

Matt Heseltine and donkey with backcans. Courtesy of Eileen Cockburn
Matt Heseltine and donkey with backcans. Courtesy of Eileen Cockburn

When the milk arrived home it was taken into our wash house across the yard from the house and cooled over a hollow metal corrugated structure with a hose pipe attached to the bottom end of the cooler and from there to a cold water tap. When set off the water filled to the top and was piped away with another piece of hose pipe leading to a drain, thus the milk was cooled. It then went into a sile which contained two pieces of metal plates, sandwiching a cotton wool sile pad to catch any impurities in the milk and on into 10 gallon milk churns. These were labelled and taken onto communal milk stands, then collected by lorry and taken to Express Dairies at Leyburn. All milk was sold to the Milk Marketing Board and a monthly cheque was received for what you had sent in. Randomly your milk was checked for keeping ability and butterfat content.
Sometime after the Second World War, my Father along with most other milk producers, started crossing his shorthorns with a black and white Friesian bull, as the friesians gave more milk per cow.

Matt Heseltine’s cows in the New Byre, Hogra, 1986. Courtesy of Eileen Cockburn

Then the Government introduced testing for tuberculosis, an anxious time waiting for the test results, if you had a reactor, she had to be slaughtered. You had to have more tests until you were clear and then annually. In the 1950’s my Father and brother Matt who worked at home, built a new cow Byre to house all our milk cows in winter. They installed milking machines in it which made things easier. In summer, the cows had to be walked twice a day from our summer pasture into the village and milked in the new cow shed and then back to the cow pasture. Luckily there wasn’t as much traffic on the roads then.
We also retailed a small amount of milk to anyone in the village who wanted it. In the early days people came with jugs and cans and we ladled however much they wanted into their receptacles. After the new Byre was built, it was bottled and sold that way.
All the cows were milked by hand until the new cow house was built. The donkey made a difference to the carrying of milk from by-side cow houses.
We kept two horses in the early days, used for shepherding, taking the milk churns from home to the churn stand and in hay time, they did everything from mowing the grass to turning the hay, rowing up and sweeping it to the barns. Taking the pikes of hay on a Pike bogey, to home. The donkey and horses along with other peoples donkeys and horses, were turned out and allowed to graze the village green, they kept them very tidy. Dad retired and Matt took over in the mid-60’s, married an evacuee, milked until he retired late 1980’s and died 18 years later on Christmas Day.

Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


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