The Countryside Museum
Washday :: Dolly Blue :: Woman's Work :: Youngstock

Feeding Young Stock

Girls in white coveralls, feeding calves, 1900s

In between cooking meals and baking for the men of the farm, washing clothes, cleaning the house, and handling the dairy work, the women had outdoor chores to cope with.

At lambing the wife often nursed weak lambs back to health, keeping them warm in the "slow" oven of the kitchen range. When the lambs were strong enough to be penned outdoors in a byre or outhouse, the women or children bottle fed them there, but they were not allowed to be "pets" for long. They would be fostered onto a bereaved ewe as soon as possible. Pet lambs soon grow up to be big, strong, demanding around humans and a nuisance!

On a dairy farm, women's maternal instincts were often harnessed to the feeding of calves, who were allowed to stay with their mothers only for the first few days of life. After that, the cows joined the milking herd and the calves were fed a ration from the total milk output.

Girls at Newton Rigg Dairy School learning to feed calves, turn of the 19th / 20th century

A calf has to be taught to drink from a bucket by giving him a finger to suck, then leading his nose down into the milk so he is sucking "up", rather than down in his instinctive position. This requires patience and a knack of "teasing" the calf into the right movement. Often the teacher ends up with the bucket of milk over her feet when the calf, in his impatience, "bumps" the bucket with his nose as he would bump his mother's udder to make the milk flow freely. Of course, once he has learnt how to drink, he no longer needs a finger to suck, but the transition from "sucking down" to "sucking up" may take a week.