Sorting the nowt in the byre 1940s style

Cow looking at camera from her stall in the byre

The farming year is always the same. A time for ploughing, planting and harvesting. Through all that work is the need to look after animals on the farm. I was brought up on a mixed farm called Drumnaheath beside Kintore in Aberdeenshire. We had pigs’ hens, turkeys for Xmas selling, sheep and cattle. The cattle were called nowt. From Oct to May the nowt were tied up in the byre. This is the story of “sorting the nowt” this is looking after the cattle while inside during the winter season.

The nowt were taken in from the fields in October. The cattle for fattening were then tied up in the byre. In order to do this each animal was caught in cattle court and a rope tied round its neck and it was then dragged very reluctantly into the byre and eventually after a big struggle between man and beast it was tied up in a stall which had two beast in it. One on the right and one on the left.

Some cattle put up a big struggle

The staa as this was called was wide enough for a barrow of neeps to be wheeled between the two beasts. The day of taking in the nowt for winter was a hectic day. Once all the nowt were tied up in the byre it took a day or two before they settled in to being tied up. Once they had settled in the byre became a calm place again.

Sorting the nowt

Sorting the nowt in the byre followed this strict routine. The nowt were sorted twice per day. First thing in the morning about 7 o clock and again at five o’clock. The first thing to do was to clean out the forestaa this was the trough in front of the cattle where their food was given to them. This was done with a scraper on a shaft. You walked up between the two nowt in the staa and scraped out any hay or straw from the staa. The next job was to either use a barrow or a skull- this was an open wire basket- to give the cattle hashed neeps which were neeps sliced into xxx centimetre slices. Several times through the week the cattle would have had some bruised corn given to them.

Mucking the byre

When the nowt were eating their neeps the mucking was done. This was the removal of all the dung and soiled straw bedding from each beasts staa. These materials were loaded on to a barrow and once loaded it was wheeled out into the midden. This was in the centre of the farm buildings U shaped design.

Put down bedding

The next job was to bed the cattle in the staa with fresh straw from the barn which had been threshed by the mill. The next task was to fill the hakes with hay which was picked up on a folk from the other end of the barn. The hake had wooden slats made into a v shape structure which was attached to the wall in front of the cattle and above their eating staa.

Swiping the greep

The last thing to do was to swipe the greep. The greep was the 2-meter pathway down the middle of the byre. A byre could be a double byre with cattle tied up in staas at either side of the greep. A byre could be classed as a single byre which only had one line of staas and the greep.

Once the greep was swept clean the cattle satisfied with their neeps and now eating their hay that was the byre done till the evening time when the same thing happened. This task was one of the good jobs done during a cold frosty morning. The byre was a fine warm place to work. The cattle soon got to know you and speaking to them was normal.


Don Carney

Carney Heritage Productions