Cowkeepers essays:   1800 Evening Post letter re milk yield

Some of the newspaper and journal articles I found during my research are a bit too long or wordy to include in the main body of my essay. So I have made them into separate drill-down pages, and introduced some punctuation in my transcript so you don't get too breathless. Any comments are in [blue italics]. Please click any of the links on the left to get back.

"Sir: This letter from Scotland was published by Lloyd's Evening Post on Friday, 3rd October 1800. The writer summarises various official reports which have been published recently and has a good go at the milk-dealers, their nefarious practices and excessive profits. I have omitted repetitive parts. As you would expect, these correspondents select data carefully, to support their case (not much changes then) so this may not be an accurate representation of the situation.

"The Letter signed “An Observer” in your Paper of the 30th Ult was, I presume, only intended to rouse the public attention to investigate a subject of acknowledged importance, hitherto much neglected; for the estimate there made is so random and far beyond the truth that I cannot suppose it had any other motive than to awaken curiosity by the apparent exorbitancy of the pretended profit. ... The following notices from the best and most recent authorities will aid your readers in forming a proper estimate. ... First, as to the real quantity of Milk which Cows yield on the average per annum:

"In these last estimates the Calf is supposed to be equivalent to the time the Cow is dry; but this would not hold good for the Metropolis, where the Milk is so much more valuable and much greater in quantity, because nothing is more certain than that the quantity of Milk from the same Cow is increased or decreased according to the richness or sterility of its food. Worse can hardly be imagined than that reported by Lord Winchelsea, which required almost three acres of meadow to each Cow; so that there is reason to believe that the same Cows would produce at least twice as much in the rich, highly manured pasture round London. Take into the account that feed still three times as expensive as grass is given ... there seems sufficient ground to believe that Mr Baird’s estimate is nearest the truth. ... [so] let it be supposed that the net produce is 1500 gallons per head per annum. a less quantity than which will not meet the public demand, for, suppose the number of Cows, according to Mr Middleton, 8500, the annual quantity would be 12,750,000 gallons. Admit the inhabitants, including all the contiguous villages, at one million, and the said quantity of milk would be little more than a quarter of a pint for each person per day, whereas thousands of cats and lap-dogs have a greater allowance, and some millions of gallons at least are consumed in pastry and other luxuries; so that this estimate needs a vast support from “The Black Cow", the pump, that everyone may have a little.

"Still, Mr Editor, it seems that the public prejudice may go too far against the Cow-keepers by not distinguishing them from the Milk retailers ; for, the estimate you have published not having drawn that line of distinction, is in that respect, as well as several others, very faulty. The estimated expence per head per annum is far below the truth.

Mr Middleton stated it, in 1798, at 7s per week. Hay is now 50% dearer; grains 100%; turnips quite prohibited; grass perhaps nearly the same. Taking all together, the keep this winter will probably be fully 12s per head per week; but making an allowance for the summer or grass months, it appears that half a guinea is the very lowest, say per annum:2760
The proportion of the keep of Bulls and Horses necessary to the stock is certainly 1/10th part2147
The cost of the Cattle with the necessary appendages requires at least a capital of £30 per head, the interest of which is 1100
The proportion of six men at 15s per week, and a Foreman at 30s, to 300 Cows, is per head about: 15s 5d.155
The Wear, Tear, Loss and Decay on the capital of £30 cannot be fairly estimated at less than 10% 300
In order to keep his stock always in full Milk, the Cow-keeper has to change his Cows as they grow dry, and sells them at 20-30% loss; say per head 5140
TOTAL COST per annum4100
1500 Gallons of Milk, sold to the retailers at 8 ½ d per Gallon, is:5326
Manure, Poultry, Hogs, &c: 1176
TOTAL PRODUCE PER HEAD per annum: 5500
Deduct: Total Cost 4100
Remains: Profit per Cow per annum1400

Given that the average herd by this time was supposed to be down to 30 cows per business, that means an income of £420 per family, out of which the cow-keeper has to pay rent, taxes, and household expenses.

"It therefore appears that while there is probably no sufficient pretence for the Cow-keepers to raise the price, there is no great cause of complaint, if they remain where they now are.

"But against the Retailers there is room for vast improvement. That a class of people, who have the least claims on Society, should be permitted to tax and poison them at their pleasure, is really astonishing. Mr Middleton gives such a history of their nefarious practices as requires even his authority to credit.

"Even were they honest, their allowance is vastly too high; perhaps it may require 1500 men and women to milk and retail from 8,200 Cows, the estimated quantity of 12,750,000 gallons per annum, on which they have at least 6d, on some 7d and allowing for wholesale measure probably not less than 8d per gallon, clear profit, which is equal to £425,000 per annum; whereas the said 1500 persons would be well paid at £100 per annum each, say £150,000, and the utmost stretch of scepticism, or of charity, will not allow us to suppose that they gain by skimming, and increasing of Milk, so little as one third, the estimated profit as above, so that it still appears that there is an imposition of nearly half a million per annum.

"NB It is to be observed that allowing for the re-sale of Cows, it reduces the estimated quantity of each two quarts or above 300 gallons per head per annum.

Yours &c; MODERATOR"

The fact that the letter originated in Scotland puts a possible alternative meaning on the writer's pseudonym.

Copyright © Marion Hearfield 2009