Irene Brown talks about her work as Milk Tester

Irene and colleague
Irene Brown, 84 years of age, interviewed at St John’s Town of Dalry by Donald Tait.

Irene worked across Dumfries and Galloway and for a period in Lothian and the Borders as a Milk Tester for the Scottish Milk Records Association.

  • Interviewed: 20 August 2012.
  • Ref: DG5/1/1/2.
  • © Photo: Donald Tait.
  • © European Ethnological Research Centre, 2013.


IB: The worst thing was having to get up at about four in the morning sometimes – where you had to be there at the milking and take a sample from each cow, night and morning. To arrive with all your stuff at the farm before the milking in the afternoon.

DT: Right. So you’d typically arrive in the afternoon.

IB: Yes, but ah started off in Dumfries, ah did about 2 months down here but then, because ah could drive, they wanted me to go to Lothians and Borders.

DT: Oh aye, uh uh uh.

IB: So ah went up there because they had a van there.

DT: Right. So you would have a kind of a circuit of farms that you visited … is that …?

IB: You had about twenty farms (DT: Oh gosh, right) and you went round them one a day or if it was a big farm you got 2 days to do it in. And you had all this equipment to cart about with you.

DT: Yes, uhu, can you remember what kind of equipment you had to lug around?

IB: Well we had a … we had sulphuric acid and amyl alcohol and, that was the 2 things that you tested the milk with. You’d all your pipettes and butyrometers (instrument used to measure fat content in milk) an a centrifuge to, to put them in to, to get a certain speed up to separate the butter-fat from the milk.

DT: Right. So you were looking to find out what the proportion of butter-fat was?

IB: Yes, each cow had. And then you’d to write it all down: how much the cow gave; the butter-fat; and then, calculate the butter-fat out.

DT: Uh hu, and you had to do that for every cow in the herd?

IB: Yes, and you had to write it on a sheet and then write it from the sheet into a record book.

DT: Right. So a lot of, a lot of book-keeping and record-keeping and …

IB: A lot of work yes. And a lot of testing as well. You had to test all this stuff.

DT: And it all had to be done to a very, very high standard?

IB: It had to be, yes.

DT: And it all had to be accurate.

IB: It had to be accurate.

DT: And would people come round to look at the work that you were doing to make sure …

IB: Well, we had such a person as a supervisor that came now and again to see if you were doing things properly.

DT: Right. And you always managed to pass the inspections?

IB: Well, ah seemed to [laughs].

Irene and colleague