There have been news reports recently about how little money farmers are receiving for their milk, making dairy production uneconomic and this reminded me of my childhood when I would go out to the field with my cousins to call in the cows for milking. They were usually lurking by the gate but we would call, “Kye, Kye,” to make them follow us along the muddy path to the milking parlour. On one occasion it was so muddy I left my wellington stuck in the mud as I lifted my foot to walk on.
Living in south London, my regular holiday visits to my uncles’ and grandfather’s farms on the west coast of Scotland were paradise. There was a hill behind the farms and the lochside in front. All day long I would muck around on the farm with my cousins, interspersing chores such as collecting eggs with damming the burn (stream) or making dens. In the early 1950s they still had two Clydesdale horses to pull the plough but they were later replaced by a tractor.
|My uncle ploughing|
|My grandfather driving the tractor|
When the cows reached the milking parlour they walked to their regular place and waited for their milking machine to be put on individually. Occasionally a cow would be hand-milked and I tried, with very little success. The milk churns were taken to the station at the bottom of the lane, where they were collected by train but on Sundays there was no train so my uncle would drive them to a depot in Arrochar in his Land Rover. I loved riding in the back between the churns, sliding along the shiny metal bench. When Dr Beeching closed the local station it was no longer viable to produce milk on isolated farms like theirs.
From these photos it is evident that I was used to lambs from a very early age but what I liked best was helping to wean the calves. My uncle would mix food into half a bucket of milk and then I would put my hand into the bucket and feed the calf from my fingers which it would think were teats. After a while I would extract my hand and the calf would realise that it could eat from the bucket. There were always cats and kittens on the farm, fed with bread and milk to make sure they still hunted for mice and rats. The sheepdogs were collies who only became pets in old age. I loved to watch the sheep being sheared and even the dipping was interesting.
At Harvest time our job was to keep the men supplied with flasks of tea and “a piece and jam” (jam sandwiches). We would dare each other to hold on to the electric fence for a second, hoping to miss the pulse of electricity. Sometimes we missed it and sometimes not. The train from London to Fort William passed the field so we could wave as it went past. Sometimes I went to the farm in the winter and was able to toboggan down the hill.
Looking back, farms in the 1950s were pure Enid Blyton adventures for children, but not such a picnic for the farmers and their wives, working hard every single day.