Through the Byre – May 1911

The worst of farmhouses is that they always smell so of cows, remarked a young townsman to me, with an air of critical tolerance, as if he might be disposed to consider them more seriously if only the objectionable odour could be eliminated. “But I suppose it can’t be helped, “ he went on.

One day I was invited to visit a dairy farm in the company of some town friends. As we surveyed each other’s attire on the point of starting, I remarked, “I have put on a dark short skirt, because we shall probably be taken through the byre.” “Through the byre!” echoed one of the ladies in a tone of genuine consternation; “what would we be going into the byre for?”

Now, all my life, I have been accustomed to reconciling the oftentimes incongruous habits of mine of town and country, that it is as much first as second nature with me. But here I was at fault. It was unthinkable to the lady that anything so crudely unpleasant as a byre could be introduced into the conversation, much less that she should be invited to walk into one. As a matter of fact, the byre was not alluded to, nor did we see so much as the tail of a cow.

It is not so in other parts where I am more at home. The half-hour before tea is so invariably devoted to an inspection of the dairy stock and of the pigs, that, after all social civilities and enquiries have been exchanged, one knows exactly when to expect the question, “Would you like to see the kye?” And then we move in slow procession through the byres, listening to the recent history of each cow in turn, and learning something of the feeding of them.

Here the women know more about the business than the men, who have a detached air of proprietorship, as they lead the way along the line of cattle. And I think of my fastidious town friends when I listen to one farm-wife exclaiming to another upon the long distance her byre and her milk-house are from the dwelling: “It’s a heap extra wark when the byre’s awa’ oot the road like that.”

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