Coverdale is perhaps less well known than neighbouring Wensleydale, but it also has a long history of dairy farming and cheesemaking. Marjorie Iveson has done several interviews for us with farmers in the dale, starting with Michael Horner who had a small village farm in Carlton.
Michael was born in 1942 at Middleham House Farm, and as soon as he was old enough, he started helping his father with the cows.
“I used t’go with him t’milk when I was a child, as long back as I can remember. I used t’get the cake ready for the cows while he milked them, and used t’hold the cows’ tails [laughing] so they didn’t slash him in the face with them.”
Michael Horner (76), of Middleham House Farm, Carlton-in-Coverdale
He eventually graduated to helping his father with the milking:
“I can’t actually remember when I started t’milk but m’father and I milked by hand up til 1970 when we got a milking machine. My father was born in 1900 so he was about 70 when he gave over milking.”
They weren’t the only ones to continue hand milking for so long of course as this photo of a farmer up at Castle Bolton shows.
The Horner’s cows were housed in two barns or ‘cow’ouses’ during the wintertime. Marjorie asks him what conditions were like milking out in these buildings in the following audio clip:
They then talk about how much milk they produced each day and what happened to it:
“Well in wintertime about ten gallons maybe, and I think we only had one churn in wintertime, we had a bit more in summertime, because they used t’give more milk when they were out at the grass… we cooled it, we had a cooler and what have you…y’teamed it into a container with a bob [?] and it ran down this corrugated thing, through what we called a ‘sile’ [sieve] where y’had a milk pad in and it ran into the churn then and by that time it was cooled…We sold a little bit around the village and the rest, that was picked up by Rowantrees, Coverham Dairy, each day…I think it would be made into cheese when it got t’Coverham.”
Michael let us have this photograph of him delivering milk locally as a young man.
There is an interesting discussion about treating sick animals. Like most farmers at the time they’d treat their animals first, only calling out the vet if they couldn’t sort a problem.
Michael sadly had to give up milking about eighteen years ago:
“I gave over [milking] in the year 2000, because I had t’eventually. When they did away with the, collecting y’milk by churn, y’had t’have a bulk tank, I bought a bulk tank. And then the Milk Mark, they took over, and they were going t’help the small farmer, but then, when it got t’the year 2000, they put this collection charge on which was £16 each day t’collect y’milk, and sometimes I wasn’t getting £16 for the milk that I was producing, so I had to give over.”
His cows were sold at Leyburn Auction Mart. Unfortunately they didn’t make a very good price as he was one of several people having to sell up for the same reason. He went into breeding beef suckler cattle, selling newly ‘calven’ cows with their calves at foot. He was clearly very fond of his dairy cows as this audio clip reveals: