Grit Blogs > Maple Field Milk

The Milking Bail

Nick Snelgar head shotWe have this week, experienced very heavy rain in extraordinary “ropes” from thick thundery skies. Our chalk land did its best to absorb the downpour. Talk about a top-up.

Now this time on this new blog, I want to describe the “milking bail.” The word was coined by the late Arthur Hosier in 1922. Hosier was a farmer in north Wiltshire (near Marlborough), Southern Britain working a farm of valleys and high chalk pasture sweeping up to 800 feet (260 metres) – land covered with wild grasses but  inaccessible from the homestead. His thinking was marvellous and new. He could see that milking large numbers of cows would allow him only to graze the land immediately close to the farmstead, the milking parlour and the sheds where the winter food would be kept.

He decided to construct a mobile milking parlour on wheels and he called it a “milking bail.” The contraption consisted of 6 cow stalls each with its own personal feed trough together with a stationary engine to drive the milking machine. The cows walked into the stalls for the food on offer; were milked by machine and afterwards, walked out of the stall straight into the pasture. The milk was stored in churns and taken to the dairy at the end of the milking session.

By these clever means Hosier could follow his milking herd (which quickly became herds in the plural) with the equipment needed to milk them rather than, twice a day, bringing the herd back from the pasture to the fixed and gloomy parlour at the farmstead. All the muck and mayhem was left on the pasture as prime fertilizer.

What a fantastic leap of lateral thought. By 1932 Hosier had 4 herds each of 70 cows; each with its own cheap outdoor “bail” (ref; Graham Harvey-”We want Real Food” and all his work on pasture farming).

So the endless task of scraping muck off expanses of concrete; the endless task of washing down with gallons of water twice a day; the timeless task of driving the herd to and from the pasture faded into Wiltshire memory.

The cattle were outwintered – no housing. The winter fodder was ricked in the fields – no buildings and no endless maintenance of buildings.

The outwintered cows exhibited no disease (ref; Open-Air Dairying by A.J. Hosier; a journal of the Farmer”s Club Part 6 November 1927).

So this is the origin of the milking bail. Hosier invented a completely new approach to dairy farming which was cheap, nomadic, efficient and allowed dairy herds to access any pasture at any point on the farm.

We are in the process of building our own portable 2-berth milking bail at the moment and as soon as it is finished I shall describe it in detail with all attendant costs.

Our bail will be powered by a tractor using the power-take-off to run the vacuum pump. We shall use bucket milkers and transfer the milk into churns for transport. All the twists and turns of our tortuous journey to find all the equipment will be talked about in this blog.

So nothing is entirely new. Successive generations try to put old inventions and methods into modern settings.I feel that this idea was lost too quickly and at great expense to the countryside. This is the start of the revival. I want to meet A.J. Hosier”s descendants and talk it through with them. Milking bails were completely lost by the 1960”s – trampled out of site by the capital grants and the subsidy pouring in from government.

Interestingly in the opening lines of “Open-Air Dairying” Hosier says “Farmers are looking for something that will give them just reward for their labours “

Both our Jersey cows are enjoying a quiet life at the moment – just concentrating on looking after their calves and quietly ruminating and watching me over the fence as I tear about picking up pieces of secondhand equipment and putting them down again lost in wonder at what it all means.

The Processing Room is under construction . Drains are being designed; screeds quoted for; mysterious plastic sheets to go on the walls are being sourced … and today – a meeting with our local Environmental Health Officer (before we start anything).

And as Brucy and Tess would say on Strictly … “keep on dairying!”