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 in paperback, or 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 for the ebook and £4.50 for the paperbook.

Tagged: , , , ,

18 thoughts on “You’ve been robbed!

  1. Annette Rochelle Aben November 22, 2017 at 12:37 pm Reply

    This is why, if I by milk at all.. I am buying raw milk directly from the organic farm

    • jwebster2 November 22, 2017 at 1:41 pm Reply

      yes, unpasteurized, and not homogenised. The best milk ever is that you take from the bulk tank a 4 degrees C 🙂

  2. Sue Vincent November 22, 2017 at 12:43 pm Reply

    I miss that first coffee with the cream from the top of the bottle. I miss doorstep deliveries …and even the holes in the tops where the birds got there first. But the best milk I ever had was fresh from the cow.
    The local milkman used to fulfil a really reassuring role too… early alert for local elderly folk who might be in trouble. Profit has taken more than just the cream…

    • jwebster2 November 22, 2017 at 1:42 pm Reply

      The local milkman was a social service. We’ve lost a lot when the supermarkets decided that milk was a market segment they wanted to use to sell cheap to drive footfall into the store 😦

      • Sue Vincent November 22, 2017 at 10:02 pm

        I agree. They were lifesavers too…in the lean times, you could always have milk, bread and eggs on the doorstep to feed the kids till the end of the week.

      • jwebster2 November 22, 2017 at 10:56 pm

        They were part of the community

      • Sue Vincent November 22, 2017 at 11:25 pm

        Something else we seem to be losing…

      • jwebster2 November 22, 2017 at 11:31 pm

        sadly yes. I know villages where half the population effectively merely sleep there. They don’t interact with their neighbours never mind the community. They work, live and socialise in the town and do little more than sleep and eat in the village 😦

      • Sue Vincent November 23, 2017 at 12:47 am

        Once behind closed doors, that is about it, it seems.

      • jwebster2 November 23, 2017 at 7:09 am


  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt November 22, 2017 at 3:10 pm Reply

    I knew the story of the blue tits and how they learned to get the cream off the milk bottles set on stoops by the milkman and taught it to other blue tits – and the caps had to be redesigned. Now I have a picture to go with it – thanks. My grandmother poured the cream from the bottle carefully into a smaller container for their coffee – Mexico, in the 1950s and eary 1960s.

    People who got their milk from their own cows would know about the difference in fat and protein and quality and mouth feel – but I didn’t, though it makes perfect sense now that you mention it. At least, once in my life (in grad school) I had a garden for several years and found out about the cabbage loopworm and how you have to spray the broccoli with Thuricide (sp?) to keep them from developing or you get all the little green worms (caterpillars) at harvest time, and how you can get a second crop from the same plants when the secondary heads develop. My kids learned about seeds and yeast when we did years of science fair experiments, but me being ill kept me from being able to raise food crops with them, and the telling isn’t nearly as good as the doing.

    I have told them the story about Mamina and the cream.

    • jwebster2 November 22, 2017 at 3:13 pm Reply

      you’re right, show, not tell 🙂

  4. rootsandroutes2012 November 22, 2017 at 4:01 pm Reply

    TBH I wouldn’t even know where to start looking for green top around here.

    • jwebster2 November 22, 2017 at 4:08 pm Reply

      neither would I. Sammy did look for proper milk and I think she ended up with Swarthmoor Hall. My memory might be faulty here

  5. oldhenwife November 25, 2017 at 6:44 pm Reply

    I buy raw milk from the Farmers’ Market, it comes from Lincolnshire but it’s the best I can do. The market is only once a month but amazingly the milk is suitable for home freezing.

    I can buy Grahams unhomogenised (cream at the top) organic milk from Waitrose. Not raw but I’m not endangering my health … HAHA

    • jwebster2 November 26, 2017 at 7:48 am Reply

      Homogenised milk does free well enough, I’ve never tried freezing real milk so genuinely cannot comment 🙂

  6. M T McGuire November 25, 2019 at 3:07 pm Reply

    Really interesting stuff. Thanks. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: