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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Our family farm in the 1950s (1)

A few days ago, we were sitting at the dinner table, as we do every night.

  "What was it like each day, working on a dairy farm?" Christian asked. "I mean, how did it work? What did you do?"

  What could be a more irresistible opportunity for reminiscing about life on a dairy farm in the 1950s? It occurred to me only then that in all the years Tracey and he and I had been together, ever since he was six, I'd never explained how a dairy farm worked.

  Of course, things have their time. Five years ago, he may not have cared less. Now he was asking. That's different.

  I'd never told him the most basic things about milking a herd of sixty or so cows twice daily. Neither Tracey nor he had much idea of how the dairy itself worked, why the yards and sheds were laid out as they were, or what happened when the cow went into a bail. ("Bail" or "bale"? I'm not sure. If you bail something up, you restrict its movement, so that's probably it.)

  Well, if Christian was interested, then I was delighted to trawl back over those things, and revisit them through the eyes of an adult.

  If I start at the very beginning and try to tell it all, there's a fair chance that I'll never get finished, and you'll get bored, and we'll all be disappointed.

  I'll just tell you first about a vital piece of equipment that we couldn't do without in the days when we didn't even sell whole milk. We sold only cream to the Butter Factory. That was it. Any other income came from wherever we could make it. That's another story - it's too early to get side-tracked with such details.

  That piece of mechanical marvel - and indeed it is - was the cream separator. Creamy milk went in, pure cream came out one spout, and skim milk out of the other.

Full-sized cream separator
  I tried hard to find a picture of one that was identical to ours, and I couldn't, but this isn't so different. To be truthful, I'm quite pleased with something that looks fairly similar - my sisters will agree, I think.

  In those early days, we milked by hand. We didn't have the money for milking machines.

  When I say "we", I mean my parents, as I was too young to help at all then. They milked our jersey cows, jerseys being famous for rich cream production.

  The milk went into that large top bowl, and was steadily poured via the tap into the separator, after the centrifuge hidden inside was cranked up manually to the right speed. Magically, it seemed to me, out of one spout poured a small stream of cream, and a larger one of skim milk came out of the other.

  The principle for a modern cream separator in this video is identical. The video presentation you see here is lousy, but it shows what happens. And I'll bet my pants that's Friesian cow's milk, not Jersey's. It's too thin.

  OK, your pants then. I'll bet them.

  The other piece of equipment is a truly beautiful piece of mechanical engineering. This machine is the heart of the dairy, no kidding. But that's for next time.

 Stick with me. This will all come together, you'll see. (continued)

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