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The following oral histories were gathered by Nancy Weir McCowan for her "Brown's Corners" paper. 


Dairy Cattle
As Told to Nancy Weir McCowan

I don't really remember much about living at the Brown's Corners farm at Finch and Markham Road.  We left there when I was 3. But here are some stories, mostly from my siblings, all older than me. My own notations are in (brackets). 


Jack Weir:  

Dad sold milk from the Brown's Corners farm and it went to the Farmers Dairy.  It was trucked there by Harvey Dix or his son.  The Dix family lived a short distance north of Kingston Road on the west side of Markham Road (#48).  They trucked milk to several dairies.  (Different coloured tags were put onto the milk cans to tell the driver which cans of milk went to which dairy.) 

Ab Third also hauled milk and he took ours after Mr. Dix stopped hauling.  The Thirds, who were farmers as well, owned a truck and one use for it was hauling milk for the local farmers.  The Thirds lived three farms west of Brown's Corners near P. S. S. #2 School.  One day Ab gave me a ride in his truck.  He often gave me a ride to school.  I was about ten years old.  We drove to the top of the hill on Finch near the Rouge River and stopped at Tyrrell's to pick up milk.  This family milked about fifty head of cattle (an extraordinary number at that time) and shipped from twelve to eighteen cans of milk a day.  In the winter the cans were loaded on a stoneboat and drawn by a team of horses to the road.  While I was waiting for the milk to be loaded I was chewing on a plug of strong licorice - not the mild kind we see today.  Now and then I would lean out the window and spit in the snow, making a pattern.  The Tyrrells had a hired man who the kids called the "Old Dutchman".  He looked at me and exclaimed 'Look at Ver.  He chew Tabac!'

Harold Lawrie (married Peggy Weir): 

My mother, Gertrude Kirk, was a milkmaid before she was married.  She helped do the chores for various farmers and often did the milking.  At one place, she was readying the milk cans for pickup.  The farmer came along and found a can that was not full.  He said to her 'Put some water in'.  She obliged by adding a little and then he ordered 'Put some more water in!' This was a practice known as 'Watering the Milk'.  It was very much frowned upon by the Dairies but it was often done.  Some tests were done at the Dairy and sometimes the guilty farmer was caught and punished, possibly with a fine, or refusal to take his milk.

(Managing Editor's Note: Until comparatively recently, or at least during all the centuries of mixed farming, the pasture land for cattle was typically the poorest cleared part of the farm. The best of the arable land was for growing crops, either for human consumption or cattle feed. Crop rotation every four or five years was good for the soil and for yields.)

Neil Weir: 

Yes, we shipped milk.  Nowadays when I look back on it I really think that the Brown's Corners farm was not as good as the one at Malvern because it was too low, the south end of it in particular.  There were the ten acres down by the railroad that I called the Swamp -- that was the pasture field, and a lot of time there would not be much on it.  We had to take the cattle south down Markham road a half a mile and put them into that field for the day. Then they were brought home for milking and put into the barnyard for the night.  There was no way they could give much milk after a day in that pasture. Nowadays the dairy people would not even consider the techniques used then.  You have to feed much better to get a lot of milk.  The cattle were not as good, I suppose, but then they did not get a chance on pasture like that.  In the winter Dad fed the cows very well in the barn (grain, hay and especially silage) but in the summer, no."  (Dad did not own Registered cattle as long as I was around the farm.  He bought good 'grade' animals, mostly Holstein s.)


Jack Weir:  

There was a field of alfalfa behind the house.  For cattle this was their favourite pasture. However, farmers had to be very careful with their herd so that the cows did not eat too much of it at one time.  Alfalfa was a good milk-producing feed but it could be deadly.  Too much of it in a cow's stomach would cause gas by fermentation, and this gas would bloat the animal, often causing death. Usually the alfalfa field was well-fenced with a locked gate, and when Dad wanted the cows to have some alfalfa, they would be turned in for a short time - perhaps up to an hour.  Then they would be taken from the field before ingesting too much.

One day, when Scarborough Fair was on in Agincourt , the whole family was away for a longer time than usual.  When we arrived home we were stunned to see that the cows had broken into the field of alfalfa and no one knew how long they had been in there enjoying their meal.  By this time, many of them were lying on the ground, bloated and near death, due to damage to vital organs. Besides making a quick call to the veterinarian, it was vital to open a passage to the cow's stomach, and let the poison gas out as quickly as possible.  Most farmers kept a tool called a TROCAR. 

(Dictionary - Fr. Trois three  plus carre (side)  - a surgical instrument for drawing fluid from a closed body cavity, consisting of a small tube which is pressed through the wound made by a stylet projecting from its end, the stylet then being withdrawn through the tube).   

On every cow there are two humps near the rear end (the hip bones).  To find the proper place to insert the trocar, put the little finger on top of the left hump and, spreading the fingers out, bring the hand around to the front of the two humps where there is an indentation.  The Trocar is rammed into this spot.  The spike or "stylet" is then pulled out, leaving the hollow tube in the open wound so that the gas can escape.

That particular day Dad lost about eight of his cows even after using the Trocar.  The damage was already too much for the cows to survive.

( This kind of tragedy was a common occurrence on farms.  It could happen to any kind of animal, not just cattle (horses and sheep, etc.)  In the past, this type of thing had even made the local news:)

 Mr. Joseph Ramsay, who has gained more than a local reputation as an expert veterinary surgeon, performed a very delicate operation recently on a cow belonging to Mr. Robt. Ormerod of Brown's Corners.  The animal had bloated and would soon have died.  Mr. Ramsay made an incision, liberating the gas and removing some of the contents of the stomach, with the result that the animal is all right again.


Nancy Weir McCowan:

Besides, alfalfa, another crop which could be dangerous at times was sweet-clover.  Certain breeds of cattle such as the Ayrshire, had to be de-horned, usually when they were fully grown but still young, so that they could not injure the other cattle.  Sweet clover is a feed which thins the blood.  It was important that when the farmer intended to de-horn his animals, that he not feed them sweet clover before the operation, or else there was the danger that the animal would bleed to death.  The de-horning operation was done with special, large-sized shears. 

One summer we visited some former Kingston Road neighbours who now live in Nova Scotia .  During the course of the conversation, Bob McClung told Bill that he remembers helping to de-horn one of the McCowan animals, and it, unfortunately, bled to death.

Of course, in those days, every herd of cattle needed the services of a bull in order to keep the milk flowing.  At the special time in her "cycle" the cow would be "mated" with the bull, producing a calf in nine months.  Before calving, the cow went through about a six-week "dry" period, and upon birthing the milk would begin to flow again.  At a dairy farm, the calf would usually be taken away from the mother as soon as possible, and her milk would, instead of going to the calf, be sent to the dairy.  The calf itself would be fed milk from a pail as long as it needed milk and then weaned onto chop (ground-up grain).  Meanwhile the cow would be "bred" again and the cycle would start over.  Dairy farmers always hoped that a new calf would be a female so that she could be kept in the herd for milking.  Bull calves were almost always sent away to market for meat.  Occasionally, if the farmer needed a new bull and the new calf looked like a good one, he would keep the bull calf for breeding purposes.  

Back in those days farmers did not know much about "genetics" and really could only go by the looks and important physical  characteristics of the animal.  As a judge of animals, our father was probably one of the best of the local farmers as the following excerpt from a newspaper clipping attests.


Hold Summer Meetings
Young Men's Stock Judging Competition

The annual gathering of the Agincourt branch of the Farmers and Women's Institutes held in that village last Thursday has probably never been excelled in attendance and interest, each of the sessions being remarkably representative of the best in agriculture and domestic science to be found in York County .  A feature of the farmers' big meeting held in Heather Hall and immediately adjoining, was the stock judging under the personal supervision of C. F. Bailey, assistant deputy minister of agriculture, and W. J. Bell, live stock specialist, together with J. C. Steckley, county representative. (the Agricultural Rep.)

Stock judging is a comparatively new feature of the Farmers' Institute meetings, and great interest centred in the awards subsequently given to the young men entered in the competitive tests as to the outstanding features in dairy and beef cattle.  The deputy minister, at the close, expressed surprise and gratification at the expert knowledge shown.

The awards were as follows:  Dairy cattle 1.  J. M. Weir, Malvern.  2.  A. E. Kennedy, Agincourt ;  3. H. B. Elliott, Agincourt .  In the judging in the best points in beef cattle, A. E. Kennedy won the first award, J. M. Weir, second, and Fred C. Yeomans, third.  Each of the young men were given a cash award, but Mr. Weir, scoring the highest number of points in all, was awarded the handsome cup donated by Mrs. Joseph Kilgour of Sunnybrook Farm.  Mrs. Kilgour was present during the afternoon at the ladies' meeting and herself presented the coveted trophy to Mr. Weir.    Date - June 15, 1915 

Nancy Weir McCowan:

As a rule, cows are quite docile animals and  rather dull-witted.  Ordinarily, you can walk among a herd of cows and they will ignore you unless you try to come between a cow and her calf.  Then the mother can be a bit 'fractious' and will try to protect her own.  When milking cows, which I never had to do, one had to be watchful because there were always one or two which were 'kickers' or which liked to lean against the person doing the milking.

A bull, however, is another matter.  Up until they are about a year-and-a-half to two years old they are somewhat dependable but when they are mature animals, watch out!  Soon after they are born the farmer would insert a "ring" through the bull's nose (the boney part between the nostrils).  A wooden staff could be then attached to the ring and the animal could be led in comparative safety.  One day, Uncle Torrance Weir led his bull from his farm at Neilson Road and Sheppard Avenue all the way to the Agincourt Fairgrounds to show him at the Fair.  Of course, there was very little traffic then but it was a long way to take a bull by yourself.


Blake Weir:  

One day the hired man, Jack Johnson, was drawing out manure - the hard way - forking it on the wagon and then forking it off.   Dad had gone out to the chicken house to get a rooster.  He was going to kill it and then Mother was going to cook it for supper.  He was walking across the barnyard and the bull was outside.  Suddenly Jack Johnson yelled, 'Look out Jim!'  Dad turned around and here was the bull bearing down on him.  He had the rooster under his arm with his fingers laced through the bird's feet and he threw the rooster at the bull's face.  The bull stopped.  Jack had a fork in his hands and there was another fork there and they put the bull in the barn.  The next day he went to Market.  (Blake doesn't say what happened to the rooster but I imagine that he made it to the supper table anyway.)

You couldn't put a full grown bull into a box stall.  We always kept him tied up.  The cows were tied as well.  They were paired off with a wooden post between.  A chain was attached to each side of the post and each cow would be tethered with a chain around her neck.  (More modern stables to be built later on would have had steel stanchions for the cattle.  Stanchions are metal bars fastened in an upright position through which the animal's head is inserted.  The bars are held in position by short chains which allow a little movement, but the bars are too close together to let the animal get free.)

Attached to each post was a metal water bowl and the cows learned to push down on a bar in the bowl with her nose to open the valve and water would flow by gravity from the reservoir into the bowl for her to drink.

Jack Weir:  

If a farmer did not own a bull, he would have to take his cow to a local farmer who did have one.  The usual charge for the services of the bull at that time was $1.00.  It was hardly worth having a bull.


Ruth Weir Pike:  

When I was going to High School at Agincourt , the farm just north of the school on Midland Avenue belonged to Bert Kennedy.  The Kennedys had a bull, and we often saw a cow being led up the road.  We all knew where it was going and for what purpose.  We had a French teacher who often talked to us in French.  One day, he looked out the window and without thinking about it he said 'Voila!  Une Vache!'.  Everybody just burst out laughing and he blushed right to the roots of his hair.


 The Scarboro Heights Record V14 #11