Mr Crawford’s remarks on the “show vessel” of the Ayrshire cow brings to my mind poignant memories of my girlhood. We started with an Ayrshire herd in Cumberland because my mother was of opinion that there was no cow to be compared with the one she had always known. It does not make beef, however, and would not sell in this county, so we had to cross with the Shorthorn and some pure Shorthorns were also introduced.
By a strange perversity of nature, characteristic of Scotland, the “hardest Ayrshires with the smallest teats appeared to be the most valuable animals.” So at least, my mother always argued when the men of the family insisted that it was foolish to keep animals so difficult to milk that they could not be entrusted to a servant’s hands.
But, bred in the hardest Scottish school, she loved difficulties and scorned easy tasks. If a cow was “teuch,” that cow was close to her heart. She was probably not conscious of what Mr Crawford points out — that it was the “clever, nimble fingered wives and daughters” who made that “benighted fashion” of show vessel possible.
Still less did she realise that she herself was a product of generations of the subordination of clever-fingered women to the ruling fancies of their menfolk. The humiliation those “teuch” cows have caused me! — with their teats apparently disappearing into their their udders
For I was a degenerate “sport” of that breed of clever farming women whose true sphere was the byre, and many a time have I sat, despairing of life, under an abominable little beast that would not give me her milk, except in the thinnest “peerock,” because of lack of strength in my forefingers.
Then our mother would bid me rise, and with one strong pull of her powerful finger and thumb, a thick white stream would “strone” into the pail. She always said that she could milk as easily with her forefinger and thumb as with her whole hand. She was particularly happy with the cows whose hind legs and tail had to be strapped and roped while two people milked her.
With one, I remember the additional precaution had to be taken of holding her nose with the bull grips. It took three people, morning and evening to milk that cow.
There was one vicious-tempered little beast with a very tight vessel and microscopic teats well tucked up into the udder which all the servants shied at. They could not or would not milk that cow. But would mother allow it to be sold. No. I remember an elder brother laying down the condition — he said no cow, however much milk it gave, ought to be kept if it was vicious and the teats too small — that the cow was to be left entirely to her.
She was very happy for a few weeks putting all her strength into the difficult effort of taking the milk from an obstinate udder, until one day the cow knocked her down — in spite of the rope — and trod upon her ankle, injuring it so that she was laid up for weeks.
In the astonishing and unprecedented position of being propped in a couch with her injured limb extended in front, the family were now able to dictate terms to her, and the guilty cow was sold, but she was not the last cow to irritate the milkers with her shortness of teat.