You’ve been robbed!


If you produce milk there are very strict legal guidelines. One of which is that the proportion of butterfat in the milk must not fall below 3.5%. Before you throw your hands up in horror, remember an ordinary sliced loaf can be over 3.9% fat. Mind you, we bred and fed for milk quality and the milk we produced was over 4.5%. It’s better for butter and cheese production. Not only that, but frankly, it tastes so much better.
When I was sent to school and tried my first bottle of school milk I point blank refused to believe it was milk. It took them a week to get me to drink the disgusting stuff. Pasteurisation is as good for milk as it is for beer.

Trading Standards, Environmental Health and other bodies watch over milk. I remember one farmer being approached by Trading Standards. He had a milk round and the Trading Standards department had had complains from some people that he’d been watering his milk.

To be fair to Trading Standards, they didn’t go in gung ho, because the complaints were a bit unusual in their distribution. They came from one street. If the farmer had been watering his milk they’d have expected complaints scattered across his entire milk round. Not only that but when they took samples, there was no added water in the milk. So what they did was stay with him and watch him milk. Eventually they cracked the problem.

Cows are creatures of habit. They would come in to be milked and stand in the same place in the shippon. This meant that they were milked in the same order. Each cow’s milk would be collected, poured through the cooler and then go into the bottling plant.
As this was happening, another lad was putting bottles in the crate and loading the crates onto the pickup. He loaded them in the same order, and of course did his round in the same order. What this meant was that customers often got their milk not merely from the same farm, but from the same cow!

In the case of those customers who were complaining, ‘their’ cow was in early lactation, pushing out a lot of milk. But she was producing it with less fat and protein than she would do later in lactation. In legal terms, we have a cow who is producing whole milk which isn’t legally whole milk. It was nearer to semi-skimmed.

The answer that the Trading Standards people came up with was for the farmer to introduce a holding tank in the system so the milk was more mixed. There were no more complaints.

But back then, people got their milk in glass bottles. The average milk bottle could make over 22 trips, and a broken bottle is still recyclable as glass.
Now there was one minor problem, blue tits used to break through the foil top and eat the cream.

Anyway the supermarkets stepped in. They drove the price of milk down to undercut the doorstep delivery. This they did in several ways. One way was to skim off the cream. (I know I know, the major retailers have been metaphorically skimming off the cream for years but this time they did it for real.)
You see, in their eyes, there was a lot of wasted cream in the system. Whole milk only had to be 3.5% fat and people were getting it at 4.5% fat, and worse than that, they weren’t paying anything extra for it.

But if you standardise milk down to 3.5% you’ve got all that extra cream which costs you nothing because you’ll sell the standardised milk at the same price as real milk. Not only that but you can then sell the cream as well.

Also if you homogenise the milk so that the cream doesn’t rise to the top, nobody will ever notice. After all they’ll not be able to measure the missing cream if it’s not visible.

Trust me, the milk tastes pathetic, but supermarkets have been able to make money out of it; especially when they didn’t have to worry about bottles but just sold it in plastic containers that were somebody else’s problem.

Oh yes, and the blue tits? Well like all birds they cannot digest lactose, so milk is no good to them. And now with homogenised, standardised, and grossly attenuated milk, there’s nothing in the bottle for them anyway.


I did put together a collection of stories. Some about now, some tales I was told about my grandfather and farming round Barrow in the war.


They’re available on kindle, but you can read them on any phone or tablet if you download the free kindle app.


It’s called, ‘And sometimes I just sits?’


yours for 99p



Point of Comfort


Now this is almost, but not quite, real history. By that I mean it’s what I remember of what my Dad told me, and that depends on how he remembered things.

My dad was born in Askam and at the age of fourteen went into farm service because he didn’t want to go into the Yard or down the mines. He got £13 for his first half year. In 1939 he volunteered and went into the RAF. But when he reached Preston they realised he was a farm worker and therefore in a reserved occupation. So they sent him back. Until he got married and settled down he went to the hiring fairs every half year and so worked on farms from Workington down to Morecambe. Indeed he watched the bombing of Barrow from Morecambe while he was working there.

But one comment he made was about Point of Comfort at Goadsbarrow. He remembered that during the height of the Great Depression, there used to be a lot of lads camping there. Apparently if you were unemployed and lived at home with your parents, you got a shilling a week. If you lived out, you got one shilling and sixpence. So lads would make themselves a ‘tent’ out of a bit of canvas and a few bits of wood and live there. On the days they had to go in to collect their money, they’d go home, give their mum the shilling and the clothes they were standing up in. They’d put on clean clothes, collect a bag of food and go back to where they were camping.

My father remembers them camping on the seaward side of the road. Now you can still see the Scar of stones, but back then he remembered there being grass on it. It might be that they also camped on open land further along, as you can see from the picture, with the old road being so slow, nobody bothered to fence it.

The picture, an old Sankey postcard, is taken from further north up the coast. The Scar itself is beyond the house. To find it now, it’s where Long Lane comes down to the coast from Leece.

Apparently there were a couple of other places where lads would camp. They’d play a lot of football, and with sixpence in their pocket it was even possible to think of going to the flicks on a Saturday night and getting chips on the way back.


I did put together a collection of stories. Some about now, some tales I was told about my grandfather and farming round Barrow in the war.


They’re available on kindle, but you can read them on any phone or tablet if you download the free kindle app.


It’s called, ‘And sometimes I just sits?’


yours for 99p

Soft Focus


There’s no doubt about it, winter is coming in. I’ve caved in and lit the fire in the living room for one thing. Not only that but I find myself wearing a jumper and a jacket when I go and look sheep in the morning, even if it isn’t raining.

Yesterday morning was a bit special. It was a lot brighter and clearer than the photo, so when you looked across the bay you could see the cloud moving slowly down the valleys on the opposite side.

So it seemed a good day for a neighbour to lay cattle in for winter, and he was short handed to I gave them a hand.

Now laying cattle in can be an interesting process. If the weather is pleasant and cattle feel that there is still enough grass, then they’re not particularly bothered about coming in. Similarly if it’s really miserable, cold and wet, they’ll just huddle under the dike and sulk, and they can be the very devil to move.

Adult cattle aren’t too bad. Milk cows come in at least twice a day anyway so they get downright miffed if you forget them. But young stock can be ‘interesting.’ It’s like escorting a bunch of lively teenagers through a busy town centre. You count them when you set off and you try to keep an eye on them, but it’s only when you finally arrive and you still have the same number that you can afford to relax.

Before now I’ve just seem perfectly sensible heifers just set off and run. There doesn’t appear to be any obvious reason for this, even their mates in the same bunch look askance at them as if wondering what on earth they’re playing at.

Breed and character come into it. I let a big batch of cattle into the lane. At the far end of the lane people were waiting to turn them into the yard. There was apparently fifteen minutes between the first ones arriving at the far end, and the laggards who wandered in at the back with me. First to arrive were the limis, who crashed into each other and refused to actually go into the yard until the others came but instead huddled together in a shifty manner just outside the gate.

The others made their way along the lane at a more reasonable pace, until finally I turned up with some young Belgian Blue bullocks who were ambling along like a lot of elderly milk cows without a care in the world.

There again the previous March, when we turned them out in the opposite direction, it had been somewhat different. With the scent of spring in their noses they’d thundered down the lane as if re-enacting the Pamplona Bull Run, a solid wall of cattle bursting out of the lane and into the field.

Then you get those who want to be fetched in but we’ve decided that it isn’t time yet. One miserable day in autumn we fetched one group of cattle in. A group of dry cows saw this happen and ran down to the gate so they were ready to come in as well. Unfortunately it had been decided we’d leave them out another week. They had plenty of grass and were doing fine. They spent the next hour leaning over the gate looking daggers at me every time I came into sight and were still sulking next morning.

But one of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that, at some point in Autumn, my father would always say to me, “We might as well lay cattle in. It’ll be less work.”

And it was true because we were no longer carrying feed round fields for them and messing about with taking them bits of hay or straw or whatever.

Then when spring came, we’d turn them back out, secure in the knowledge that they’d be far less work outside than they were inside.

So surely, following that through logically, every year should have got easier and easier until eventually there’d be almost no work at all?


But anyway, it might be that you’re at a bit of a lose end yourself and are looking for something to read.

For a mere 99p you can now acquire ‘And sometimes I just sits?’


Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

Noises off


With farming life you get seasonal sights and scents, but you also get seasonal sounds. I remember stopping the tractor on top of the silage pit where I was buckraking grass. I sat there and listened and could hear seven forage harvesters working on seven different farms. Since then, four of those farms are no longer in existence, the houses are domestic dwellings and the land is farmed by neighbours. Mind you, round here the neighbours are still family farms. If you wander into the yard looking for somebody, the boss is probably the one with a muck fork and wheelbarrow, not somebody in the office playing Solitaire on the computer waiting for the broadband to come back on.

This morning as I walked round checking sheep, the seasonal sound was the Maize harvest. In my lifetime I’ve seen breeders produce hardier varieties of maize and a crop which was once rare in the south of England can now be seen growing regularly in Ayrshire. Because October was such a sodden month round here, I suspect that the harvest is running slightly late. As it is, this far north we can only grow maize for cattle feed, and the sound is the noise of the contractor’s big self-propelled forage harvester working away.

It has to be said that modern farm machinery looks awfully expensive. I remember seeing figures which said in the 1960s you had to sell 3,000 finished lambs to buy the average tractor. Currently it’s about 10,000 lambs to buy the equivalent mid-range tractor.

So a lot of us use contractors. For the maize harvest the contractor will turn up on farm with over half a million pounds worth of equipment. The tractors will work all year round, the loading shovel might spend winter loading salt in a local authority distribution depot, whilst the self-propelled harvesters will start with silage at the beginning of May and finish with Maize in November (or December if it’s a bad year.)

I must admit I’m not a fan of maize. I’ve got nothing against it as a crop or a feed, but I’m not enthused by the season you have to harvest it in. I remember one year when people round here were still trying to harvest it between Christmas and New Year. In this area, Milk Cows will go inside for the winter in October, and I’m old fashioned enough to get nervous if all their winter feed isn’t inside with them. Having to rely for winter survival on a crop that isn’t harvested and might never be doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep.

Cattle tend to spend winters inside. It’s not that they cannot cope with the weather, more that round here our winters are so wet that the land cannot cope with cattle. It is possible to winter them outside happily enough, if there aren’t many of them, you’re feeding them on a stubble field you are going to plough anyway, and they’ve got plenty of room to lay down on dry ground with a bit of shelter from a hedge.

Sheep on the other hand are a lot lighter on their feet. Not only that but they don’t take well to being housed. I remember years ago talking to somebody who did house his ewes. He used to bring them in and shear them again. If he left them with the wool on they’d sweat, get chilled and get pneumonia.

So with sheep at this time of year we’re constantly managing the grass. Grass will grow if the soil temperature is over 4 degrees C, but at that point it’s growing pretty slowly. So at some point the grass will probably ‘run out.’ Also at some time our bottom land will get so wet that even sheep would make a mess, so we have to take them off it. So at the moment we’re trying to get the bottom land eaten off.

Yet because the tups are in with them and we’re hoping to get them in-lamb, our ewes also need a ‘rising plane of nutrition.’ At the very least they don’t want to go short.

Also we’re already hoping to get them off the lambing fields. This means that these fields get a chance to green up and have a bit of grass on them for when ewes start lambing.

At some point we’ll have to start carrying hay or silage out to feed our sheep. Later, when they’re heavily in lamb we’ll have to take a concentrate feed out to them. But the more grass they’ve got, the less expensive feed we have to buy.

So managing the grass is something you’ve got to get right.

Getting the timing right

sal and trees

It’s interesting watching the effect that changing the clocks has on livestock. With dairy cows they adjusted very rapidly. If you were an hour ‘late’ they were all queuing in the cubicle house muttering to each other, wondering where you’d got to. If you were an hour early they were all sitting snoozing in their cubicles. They’d turn their heads to give you a surprised look, wondering what on earth had got into you.

Sheep on the other hand pass through life with a blithe disregard for the time. You appear, you do whatever you’re doing and you leave. As much as possible they ignore you. It’s only when you start feeding them in winter that cupboard love kicks in and they keep an ear cocked for your arrival. Even then it’s not the time; it’s the sound of the vehicle which they react to.

Sal, current Border Collie, resident guardian of good order, and for all I know, Keeper of the Sacred Flame of Eribor, has her own innate sense of timing and refuses to be swayed by the clock.

She will appear outside her kennel at what she considers the right time. There she can glance in through the windows and check whether I’m having my breakfast or not. She is reasonably generous; she’s willing to give me a quarter of an hour or so. Finally she feels that the day is wasting, she obviously has things to do even if the rest of us haven’t. At this point she will bark to remind us that time is passing. The fact that thanks to the clock changing I appear an hour later is an almost personal affront.

It should be noted that her enthusiasm for starting work is weather dependent. When the rain is drifting in sheets across the yard, she obviously catches up on her reading or whatever, because she manages to stay snug and out of sight.

Anyway this morning was pleasant, so Sal was chivvying me along well before I’d finished my coffee. As we walked down to the Mosses to check the sheep down there, there was rag on the grass for the first time. Whilst I was down there I had a look at the hedge I was working on last winter. Looking at the photo you can see why I had to quarry it rather than merely lay it. Sal was mooching about in the undergrowth deciding how the next bit ought to be tackled.

It was one of those quiet mornings. The wind turbines spun languidly, energy generation was something that happened elsewhere. At one point I could hear a leaf as it fell, tumbling through the branches on its way to the ground.  The twenty-first century was a dull rumble barely at the edge of hearing.

Linguistic good taste.



I took the car in to get an MOT and service this morning. As I walked home two women passed me walking in the opposite direction. As one said to the other, “He were having a fag behind the recycling bins.”

Such is the joy of the English language that this probably means something entirely different depending on what part of the English speaking world you hail from.

Apparently it was the Canadian, James D. Nicoll, who commented that “We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

When we acquire these words, we sometimes give them meanings that the original owners had never contemplated. So we have raddle. This can apparently be spelled ruddle or reddle (because all three words mean the same thing.).They may have originated as a term meaning ‘to paint red.’

About the only use for raddle now is when you smear it on the chest of a tup or ram before turning him out with his harem. It has the advantage that it rubs off on them and you know that he’s working and that they’re coming in season.

Obviously a ewe that has been smeared with raddle is ‘raddled’ and that’s another word that has wandered off into more mainstream parlance. I suspect that it’s not perhaps as widely used as it might once have been.

It’s funny that dyes of varying sorts seem to linger around the fringes of agriculture. Years ago (probably pre-EEC) there used to be ‘stockfeed potatoes.’ What happened was that when the potato price collapsed, the government would buy up surplus potatoes that weren’t needed, to put a bottom in the market. They’d then have them sprayed with a purple dye and sold cheaply to farmers for livestock feed.

Because the supermarkets and other retailers didn’t particularly want the very big potatoes, they were often the ones chosen for cattle potatoes. Given that they were both very large and very cheap, I remember a lot of talk about the number of chip shops where you might find purple stained potato peel in the waste bins. After all the dye didn’t soak into the potato, and it also had to be safe because livestock were going to eat it.

Another place where they use a lot of dye is the slaughterhouse. Because of various regulations, some offals cannot be eaten. To make sure they’re kept out of the food chain, government inspectors will watch as they’re sprayed with dye. This stuff is designed not to wash off, to ensure that the stuff sprayed goes for proper disposal. To be fair to the authorities, it works.

There are disadvantages. I remember taking cattle in, and one of the lasses was doing the paperwork for me in the office. One of the slaughtermen came in off the line and handed her a sheaf of papers. She examined them carefully and then gingerly took them off him. Because the lads were spraying the dye about, they’d get it on themselves and then it’d get on the paperwork, and then it’d get everywhere.

As she said, “It gets so that I have to really scrub my hands before I go to the loo. Otherwise my husband keeps asking me whose are the hand prints on my knickers.”

Apple Chutney and Refrigeration Engineers

2 diced

Way back, probably in the late 1960s, the Milk Marketing Board decided to try and move farmers away from putting their milk in churns for collection and shift over to bulk collection. It would save them a fortune in labour and suchlike. Also the MMB paid for the churns, farmers had to install their own refrigerated tanks.

But they offered a small premium if you shifted to bulk collection. I think it paid for the tank over three or so years, and so we made the leap and bought a 150 gallon bulk tank.
I can still remember it being delivered. The driver appeared in our yard with his articulated lorry. He’d got to where our lane met the main road; glanced at the map and realised he wasn’t sure whether he could turn round when he got to us. Not only that but there were no mobile phones so he couldn’t ask. So he’d backed his lorry about three-quarters of a mile, down a winding single-track road, between tall hedges, with at least one right-angled bend.

This was a seriously impressive feat of driving and my Dad commented on it. The old chap just smiled quietly and commented that after spending the war driving Scammell Tank Transporters, anything else was pretty much a doddle.



Time went on and in the late 1970s we ended up getting a bigger tank, 300 gallons this time. This was delivered by a chap who was an owner/driver who got all those complicated jobs employees don’t want. So he’d set out from home, load up with milk tanks and travel up one side of the country and down the other side, delivering them. He was normally home after three or four days. To pad his week out, on the other days he’d deliver ammonium nitrate fertiliser in hundredweight bags.

His next door neighbour was a fanatical gardener and asked if he could buy some ammonium nitrate. The driver said he’d have a word with a customer, and managed to buy a full bag of a farmer for him. He warned his neighbour to be careful with it, because it’s not the diluted stuff you buy in garden centres. Next morning, as he set off to collect a lorry load of milk tanks, he noticed that his neighbour had put the ammonium nitrate on his lawn. He’d put so much on it looked like there’d been heavy hail, the lawn was white. A bag, which would do a third of an acre perfectly happily, was largely used on a lawn not much bigger than a double bed.

When the driver arrived home three days later, the lawn was black. Anyway he advised his neighbour not to do anything; he probably hadn’t killed the lawn. He hadn’t, and the following summer he had to mow it every other evening or else it would have got totally out of hand on him.

But drivers aside, we were now left with pretty complex refrigeration equipment, compressors and suchlike. Of course it goes wrong. It’d been installed by a chap the MMB recommended at the time so we’d contact him for servicing and suchlike. He was based in the Lancaster/Morecambe area. Anyway you could never get hold of him and finally we got hold of a firm in Penrith. They send an engineer down and he sorted things out. We mentioned the other company and the engineer just laughed. Apparently if you wanted to get hold of them you had to phone the right pub. The chap was apparently a legend within the industry; he’d serviced the freezers in a cinema somewhere and ended up with melted ice-cream running through the foyer.

So we stuck with this chap from Penrith until he retired. He’d learned his trade in Glasgow and when he first started he’d get to various jobs around the city by climbing onto the tram or bus with his toolbox and letting public transport take the strain. Obviously that isn’t an approach that is ever going to work in Cumbria.

But the reason this chap came to mind is apple chutney. My mother used to make apple chutney occasionally, because in all candour we can have a lot of apples. But the problem with cooking apple chutney is the smell of it permeates the entire house, often for days. Anyway this chap was having a bit of supper with us after finishing working on our tank, and when the conversation turned by chance to chutney, he announced he had a method of making chutney without cooking.

My mother got the recipe off him and made some and frankly, it was a success. Anyway to scroll down through the years, I’m faced with a lot of apples. I like chutney. In fact I’ve always been partial to cold meat with a bit of pickle. So I decided to make some apple chutney.
Could I find my mother’s recipe? Not a hope. It was written on a piece of A4 lined paper over forty years ago. But anyway, we have google. So I had a look at various recipes and decided on this one.


450g    apples, peeled and cored

225g    onions, quartered

225g    stoned dates

225g    sultanas

225g    Demerara sugar

1 small teaspoon      ground ginger

1 small teaspoon      salt

cayenne pepper, to taste

225ml white wine vinegar


Chop the apples, onions and dates. Put the mixture into a large bowl and add the sultanas, sugar, ginger, salt, cayenne and white wine vinegar.

Leave for 36 hours, stirring occasionally, and then put into warm sterilised jars. It keeps for months, if not years.


I’m at the ‘stirring occasionally’ stage at the moment. It’s looking interesting. I used large crab apples and added a little more sugar. I’m quite looking forward to it.