Connected Communities

Cowkeeping in Liverpool

Liverpool cowkeeper courtesy of British Driving Society

Liverpool cowkeeper courtesy of British Driving Society

It’s all about cow keeping today as I go through a load of links that people have shared with us recently. Here’s an extended quote about the recent history of cowkeeping in Liverpool fromĀ Marion Hearfield

“A Dalesfhg member sent me “Cow-keepers from the Pennine Dales”, an article written by P J Mellor and published in the Dalesman in May 1978. From this article I have extracted the following interesting facts:

  • Cowkeepers came from anywhere west of the Pennines. Cumberland and Westmorland names occur frequently in the West Derby and Liverpool censuses as do names from Wharfedale, Wensleydale and Swaledale. Particularly after 1870, whole extended families decided that the lucrative milk trade was a better bet than ever-increasing farm rents.
  • Cattle for the milkhouses were bought, newly calved, often fourth, fifth or sixth calvers and kept throughout lactation. This varied but was usually about 18 months. Cows were usually replaced when their yield dropped below three gallons a day. They were then either sold for beef or sent to the country to re-calf. By the end of the 19thC 4,000 head of cattle were being kept within the Liverpool boundary and replacement stock was being bought from cattle marts as far away as Oswestry and Kendal. Cattle were driven through Liverpool by the dealers and dropped off, a few at a time, at the various milkhouses, to the consternation of the local population: “There’s a bull loose” was a common cry.
  • For the most part the cattle were kept indoors and fed rich rations (during milking, to keep them still): a mixture of brewery waste, molasses, Indian linseed and pea meal, all pre-soaked in warm water. [I suddenly remembered a visit we made a few years ago to one of the many windmills in the northern part of France, where the mill was originally designed and built to crush flax, extract linseed oil, and bash the residue into cattle cake. Now I can understand why, and how the cake was used. I’m sorry if this is all old news to some of you; it was new news to me.]
  • Grass from local parks, cemeteries and verges was collected and fed to the cows during summer. Milk and butter were yellow in summer when the cattle were eating grass, and white in winter when they were consuming hay.

I find the “end of almost every street” part of the following quotation hard to credit, and plan to check the West Derby census returns in detail. I see another essay topic crystalizing!

“The Cowhouses, all of a similar style, were purposely built on the end of almost every street. Constructed of brick, they comprised a large house with dairy, shippon, hay loft over stables, trap shed, muck midden and a cobbled yard all within high walls and wooden gates. Milking began at 5am followed by the milk round at 7.30am. Afternoon milking took place at 3pm and the milk round at 4.30pm, finishing about 6pm.

And, returning to the subject of quality of milk and quality of life, the following quotation completes this section:

“Most of the premises were officially called dairies but the proprietors always referred to themselves as cowkeepers and their premises as milkhouses, for there were other dairies which sold only “railway milk”. This was brought in by railway from the countryside and soon went sour. The cowkeepers’ milk was always fresh and they took great pride in the superiority of their product .. [but] .. the work was arduous and the hours long. It was a seven day week, all-the-year-round occupation. The only time off was an hour on Sunday for church-going.””