Open-Air Dairying

By Mr. A. J. Hosier

Journal of the Farmers' Club, Part 6. November 1927

Address to a Meeting of The Farmers' Club held at The Surveyors' Institution, 12, Great
George Street, Westminster, S.W.1, on Monday , 31st October, 1927.

Open-Air Dairying

I HAVE been asked to read a paper on "Open-Air Dairying." I suggest that the subject should be "Economic Open-Air Dairying."

Farmers are looking for something that will give them a just reward for their labours; they cannot have protection, nor a subsidy, therefore we are faced with foreign competition with almost every commodity. Our only salvation, therefore, is to produce as cheaply as other countries. This is possible with milk and milk products -- I know, because I am at present producing milk cheaper than the average costs of production in Denmark and New Zealand, taking summer and winter together. The only hope for the farmer, is to produce a good clean article cheaply, and see to it that the milk is distributed to the public cheaply. If milk could be sold to the public at 1d. per quart under the present prices, the consumption would probably be 15 per cent. higher, the surplus bogey would disappear, and a healthier market would result.

In originating my system of Open-Air Dairying at Wexcombe, I did not seek to follow present methods, but rather to dig down for myself to discover a bedrock basis on which milk could be produced cheaply, cleanly, and naturally.

In 1920 the Estate was purchased in a derelict state, the 1,000-acre farm consisting of poor and foul arable land, and neglected downland, mostly heather-covered and unwatered.

In 1922 I commenced dairying with a Portable Outfit in the experimental stage.

In 1923/4 I milked 80 cows, keeping out on the Downs all the winter, with an average yield of 633 gallons per cow.
-- Value of production per cow £33-10-0
-- Cost of production per cow £22-6-0

In 1924/5 I had 80 cows and the yield was 658 gallons each.
-- Produce per cow £38-15-0
-- Cost of production per cow £23-10-0

In 1925/6 I increased to 154 cows, with an average of 720 gallons each.
-- Produce per cow £40-2-0
-- Cost of production per cow £23-15-0

In 1926/7 I again increased to 210 cows with an average yield of 725 gallons each.
-- Produce per cow £40-12-0
-- Cost of production per cow £21-10-0

In 1927, this year, I have 320 cows, and 150 heifers and young stock.

The System

I have five herds of cows , averaging between 60 and 70 per herd, and each herd is milked and managed by a man and a boy.

I have constructed a Portable Milking Plant for each herd, and this is moved over fields where the cows graze. The Bail -- or shed -- is constructed with six stalls, and the cow is secured by fastening a chain round her hindquarters. Between each cow is a feeding hopper for concentrates, and these can be delivered to the cow in the correct quantity. After the cow is milked, the attendant releases her by pulling a rope and raising the door in front of the shed, then she goes out into the open field, and her place is taken by another cow.

Before milking commences all the cows are driven into an open compound or yard made of chestnut fencing.

A milking machine is installed in the bails, and this is designed especially for Portable Bails. The milk passes from the Teat Cups through the nickel plated pipes to the milk churn at the end of the shed. If once a week recording is practised, each cow's milk is intercepted and deposited into the Recording Bucket.

The cows are eager to come into the bails when fed with concentrates, and it is interesting to see the regularity with which they push in for their turn.

Why the Out-of-door System Scores

1. Clean milk and sanitary conditions. The milk being produced from cows living in the open is better in every respect -- it is clean, not cleaned -- because the surroundings are clean. The milking outfit being moved frequently prevents the land becoming foul, and there is no need for expensive and palatial buildings or intricate systems of drainage.

Medical doctors are attaching great importance to fresh air, sunshine, and vitamins, and there is not the slightest doubt that milk produced under such conditions is of much greater feeding value than milk produced in stalls. It keeps longer, and is higher in butter fat; infectious diseases of the udder are almost unknown, because the conditions are not conducive to disease.

Under the system I adopt it is possible to draw milk from the cow and deposit it into an airtight and insulated receptacle at the end of the shed, at a temperature of 35 deg Fahrenheit, without ever coming in contact with the air, and untouched by hand. Such milk should be practically sterile, and would keep for a week or more in its raw state.

2. Tuberculosis is the worst enemy of the milk producers, and apart from being a danger to the milk, it takes a heavy toll of their cows. The unnatural conditions of keeping cows in warm byres, congregated together and inhaling each other's breath, the foul and unsanitary yards and land around the homestead, the mud in wet weather, and the germ-laden dust in dry weather, are contributory causes of tuberculosis.

If all cows were kept in the open air on dry land and properly fed, tuberculosis would be non-existent in 5 years. My own cows living on the hills never develop the disease, because it is a Sanatorium for them; even when re-acters are bought they do not develop the disease -- that is my experience.

3. The low cost of wear and tear in an outdoor herd is proof that the cows are healthy, they have a certain amount of grazing all the winter in open weather, and this, with exercise, keeps them fit; there are not so many barrens, the cows calve down much easier, and the calves never scour, because of the natural conditions if they are well fed. I generally put the close calvers in a sheltered field for the calves' sakes.

If the cows are out continually Nature gives them thick long coats, but if they are in warm stalls for 6 or 8 hours daily their coats are not so thick, and, consequently, they feel the cold when turned out; they stand around the muddy yards and shiver.

Cows do not suffer from frost or even snow, which only temporarily affects the milk yield.

There are many more advantages in keeping your cows out; in the Spring your outlying barrens with their long coats are eagerly sought after by the Grazier, and generally fetch several pounds more than housed barrens.

If you have an early bite of grass, either from land dressed with nitrogenous manures or from water meadows, as sometimes happens in March or early April, you can turn in your cows without risk of chill, scour, or any other ill effects, and so save hay whilst increasing your milk yield.

4. Low labour costs. It will readily be seen that if a man and boy are able to milk and feed 70 cows in winter the labour bill is very low. My average labour cost per gallon of milk last year was 1-7/16 d., this included feeding the cows and cooling the milk. There is no manure carting and spreading (a very heavy expense) so that there is no need to employ extra men on the farm at all, unless it may be for hay harvest or certain other seasonal work. In the hay harvest, the milkers are able to devote considerable time to the hayfield.

The system also reduces to a minimum the costs of hay carting for this reason -- there is no need to cart hay to the homestead. The hay is required where it grows so that we use sweeps and build the ricks in the fields.

The enormous expense in labour alone, necessitated by the indoor system makes it impossible to compete. It matters not whether you are grass farming or arable farming, every ounce of food has to be brought to the buildings for the cows, and then there is extra work for feeding, cleaning out sheds, washing cows, and, finally, carting out manure back to the root land or pasture, and spreading.

If you examine the two methods of producing milk, you will find that on the average farm milking 60 or 70 cows, at least seven people are necessary for carrying out the farm work, whereas the system I am working, one man and one boy only can accomplish the job easily.

Now let us calculate the labour bill on the two farms. The 70-cow indoor dairy uses seven men, costing somewhere about £2 per week each, including Sundays, £14 per week. The out-of-door machine milked dairy, one man, £2, and one boy £1 5s., £3 5s. per week, a saving of £10 15s. weekly, or £550 per year.

My accounts have been investigated by Mr. E. P. Weller, of Bristol University, who I believe is present, and may like to make some observations. I think he could tell you that my labour costs last year were 50 per cent. below the next lowest, also my total production per acre on grassland was equal to the highest production of any arable farm, whose accounts he investigated.

5. Pastures. The open-air system with the portable milking plants, has had a marvellous effect on my pastures at Wexcombe, far surpassing my expectations. Downland covered with heather and valueless a few years ago, is now good dairy land, all the heather having disappeared; there are thousands of acres of accessible downland, which might be reclaimed in this way with its low initial cost and no buildings required. It is very difficult for the Vale Dairy Farmer to produce milk as cheaply in the orthodox way.

The improvement has been effected by severe treading by the cows, to destroy the old mat, and to consolidate the land, which, through neglect, becomes spongey and prevents access of air and moisture to the roots -- the more such land is trodden the greater the improvement. The portable outfit, with yard, is folded over the land.

Generally speaking, in its preliminary stages the downland does not maintain enough stock to tread it sufficiently, so I take the cows off the new pastures just after Xmas, and concentrate on the old downland, stocking very heavily, and feed hay from adjacent fields, with concentrates; this gets the land in form for the next summer, and, incidentally allows a very early bite of grass to grow on the new pastures.

Manurial residues have a wonderful effect. It is well known that the nitrogen in cake is in a very digestible form; hence it is excreted mostly in the urine; it is volatile and highly soluble, and this acts like magic on poor and light land. By taking the milking plant to the poorest land and depositing the dung and urine directly on where it is wanted, there is no waste, and you get full advantage -- contrast this method with the old way of making manure in yards. When you have finally taken the trouble to cart it to the land, you have mostly Humus; the most expensive constituent -- the Nitrogen -- has vanished. The published tables of manurial values are for ideal conditions -- you get far from ideal conditions generally -- in my case, I get all there is to be had.

The above method gives me all the advantages of the new grassland treatment with Nitrogen, without buying the Nitrogen, except in the cake.

Close grazing is very necessary. I find that if the grass is allowed to get ahead of the cows, especially on the reclaimed downland, it has a tendency to revert to its original state, and so become unpalatable for the stock. In very grassy times, if I find that the stock cannot keep down the grass on the grazing areas, my practice is then to shut up the field and mow it. If too much grass is left on the pastures in the Autumn, I concentrate on the grassy parts with the milking plants and either feed it or tread it in. The more my pastures and fields are worked, the more they respond. I like to see the cows tread up some mud sometimes, and I also always use the spiked chain harrow. It is quite as necessary to cultivate the grassland as the arable.

The Nitrogen from the concentrates has greatly extended my grazing period. I can almost say I get 8 months' summer and 4 months' winter. Last year I did not begin using hay till late November, and I used very little in April.

I am quite convinced that if I were dairy arable farming, my output would not be so high as with grass, and my expenses would be very much heavier, although, by taking the milking bails to the roots and forage crops it would greatly reduce cartage.

You can scarcely realise what the manurial residues have done on my land. I have a block of land in two fields, where I commenced operations, consisting of a total of 86 acres, which is keeping nearly a cow per acre, and this adjoins land let for about 1s. 6d. per acre. In 1924 the soils were identical when I commenced dairying on my portion. The land is very light, friable and chalky with very little soil -- part was old down and the other part arable -- and last year I had one cow per acre on from April 18th till the following January.

This year I put 65 cows on the fields, and I have made 80 tons of hay as well, which will be more than sufficient for the cows next winter.

The open-air system of dairying has:

There is no reason why the system cannot be adopted by the small holder on a small scale for hand milking if his buildings are unsanitary, or his farm consists of detached fields.

Several years ago I quite successfully experimented with various artificial manures. Finding such quick results from the cow treatment, these were discontinued as being unnecessary, and at the present time it is impossible to distinguish the untreated land from that ,on which the money was spent.

I shall doubtless be overwhelmed with criticism, but my simple answer must be that my costings have been analysed, checked and re-checked, and I have been begged, beseeched, and implored by other producers to withhold them from the public.


Mr. C. E. TANGYE, M.D., D.P.H. (County Medical Officer of Health, Wiltshire County Council) (Visitor):

I am greatly honoured by your request that I should second this vote of thanks. Every public health official must be deeply interested in the question of pure milk free from disease, and perhaps at times we are looked upon as being hypercritical in that connection. But I think none of us will go quite the length that the Chairman of the United Dairies went last week when, as reported in the Press, he stated that raw milk, no matter what care may be expended on its production, cannot be accepted as 100 per cent. pure.

In Wiltshire we have displayed a fair degree of activity, perhaps an almost unpopular degree of activity, in sampling milk and in obtaining results from a very large number of farms, not only through clean milk competitions but under the Milk and Dairies Act and so on, and we are in a position, I think, to contrast the respective output of one farm against another. Of course there is a large bulk of milk which is only fit to be pasteurised, but there is an increasing amount of milk which is 100 per cent. pure. ("Hear, hear.")

The last two farms that I have visited in Wiltshire were turning out such milk. One was an orthodox farm run on the very best principles and supplying certified milk, the other was Mr. Hosier's farm. Both those farms may be described as producing milk 100 per cent. pure, but there was this difference. The first farm was producing costly milk at a loss; Mr. Hosier was producing cheap milk at a profit. (Applause.)

The economical production as demonstrated by Mr. Hosier at once places his system far ahead of all the others -- the rather new-fangled systems which have given so much work to officials, from the public health point of view, because his milk is for everybody and not for the favoured few.

Cleanliness is assured on Mr. Hosier's farm first and foremost, I think, by the absence of cowsheds, together with the absence of the necessity for repair, upkeep and so on. At a stroke Mr. Hosier removes this, the most costly problem, as far as I am concerned, at any rate, and one which has been a bone of contention between officials and the farming community for 40 years and more, without in many instances a great deal of result.

Another point which has struck me very much is the extraordinarily efficient method of milking adopted. I feel convinced that in that lies the safeguard for the purity of the milk supply in spite of the points just mentioned by Mr. Mackintosh. The health of the cattle is assured by what Mr. Hosier has described as sanatorium conditions. We have for a long time past known that a child can be kept healthy or restored to health by open-air conditions in hospital, but we seem only recently to have heard that even in this climate we can say the same of cattle. No one can visit Wexcombe without feeling that this system is destined to have a great influence not only on agriculture in this country but on public health. ("Hear, hear.")

Mr. Hosier has stated his case with convincing force. I felt on hearing his paper that I would very much like to have the paper addressed to my own fraternity. I am certain that when they know of this -- and some do know of it already -- they will be enthusiastic in of these methods. I have much in seconding the vote of thanks.

Mr. R. BOUTFLOUR (Harper Adams Agricultural College, Newport, Salop):

I think the Farmers' Club are to be congratulated on having Mr. Hosier here to-day. I may claim more or less to have discovered Mr. Hosier and to have dug him Out. I first met Mr. Hosier some five years ago when he was a very retiring individual and very loathe at any time to leave Wexcombe. After a certain amount of persuasion I got him to come and lecture in various parts of England.

I think to-day we have had an intellectual treat, because I would say that Mr. Hosier is one of a very few men; he is an original thinker. I only wish that all here had had the same opportunities that I have had of spending hours in Mr. Hosier's company. You have only heard to-day a tithe of the Hosier system; you have only seen a demonstration of one-tenth of the brains of Hosier. The whole farm bristles with brilliancy. I once gave a lecture on Mr. Hosier's farm, and I called it "Farming Ingenuity." His farm is a place of the greatest interest.

First of all I would remind you that his farm is probably the coldest in England. Marlborough being right in the centre of England has a very low mean winter temperature, lower than that of Aberdeen. You can hardly go there any night in the winter at about eight or nine o'clock when you will not have to wipe ice off the windscreen. Then you go out on to the Downs and see the cowshed lit up with electric light and a boiler by the side of it. You see cows in the pink of health, many of whom were in nothing like the same condition when they arrived at the farm. Many of them come over in droves from Ireland and the change that takes place in those cattle is remarkable.

The first thing of interest is to look in the farmyard. The whole farm is perfectly wonderful; there is not a thistle or a weed on it, and it is full of wild white clover. The farmyard is a perfect disgrace; it is full of docks 6 ft. high, he having no use for such a yard. Another point I want to emphasise is that when Mr. Hosier bought the farm in 1920 it was a derelict arable farm. To-day it is a perfect grass farm. The land has never been what we call properly laid down. It was seeded down and the cows trod the seed in. I should call it to-day one of the best grass farms in Wiltshire, without any exception, if it is judged on its grass and the large percentage of clovers.

There is one thing you must not do in making a comparison otherwise confusion will result. You must not think in terms of outdoor cattle and then think in terms of indoor and outdoor cattle. It is all right if you leave your cattle out always, but not if you keep them half the day outside. If you attempt to make comparisons under those circumstances you will only get into trouble.

I have had the pleasure of taking a thousand farmers over this farm, and one of a party of 150 who went there described it in this way: "My goodness, it is like reading 'Alice in Wonderland.'"

Mr. A. J. HOSIER, in reply, said: I thank you, gentlemen, very much for listening so patiently to me and for the vote of thanks you have been kind enough to pass. If I had not been engaged on this system for five years I am afraid you would not have listened to me for more than five minutes. But having tried it out I can speak with some assurance.

I might mention that during the first year or two when I was starting and perfecting my system it was viewed with ridicule and met with derision by a good many people, some of whom are now using the same sort of outfit and leaving their cattle in the open.

There are so many questions to reply to that I am afraid I shall have to cut the answers a bit short. Mr. Mackintosh asked about the cost of the outfit and also about the cooling. I mention the two together because possibly there may be some confusion. The cost of the present outfit I put at about 300 guineas, including everything that is necessary for milking the cows but not cooling. The cooling, as you heard, is at present being done by several farmers using water, but in my paper I said it is possible to cool the milk down to 35 deg. You may and probably did think I was talking out of my hat. As Mr. Mackintosh suggested I shall be using brine. I have so far designed an outfit that will cool the milk before it comes in contact with the air, in fact it need never come in contact with the air until you bottle it. Beyond that I do not care to give details of how I intend to do it.

I might mention that I have papers here in regard to the clean milk competition in Wiltshire, and since sitting here I have been looking down, some of the figures for the only open-air outfit that I know was entered for the competition, and I see here that out of ten counts five of them are below 1,000 -- and the coli bacteria are nil in every one of them. So that even if the milk is not cooled until some time afterwards it is possible to produce a good clean milk that will pass well below the certified standard.

Another point that Mr. Mackintosh touched on was whether I was coming under the hand of the Sanitary Inspector through not having floors to my cowsheds. I would remind Mr. Mackintosh that probably within the meaning of the Act it is not a cowshed. It is a portable outfit on wheels, and I very much doubt if within the meaning of the Act it is recognised as a cowshed. If not then I am all right.

Mr. Middleton asked a number of questions. He wants to know if I can double the number of my cows again. At present I have got about 1,000 acres of land and at the present moment I have about 500 head cattle on them. It would be rather a big problem to hope to be able to keep a thousand. Still, I do hope and believe that each year I may be able to increase my cattle, because there is enormous scope for me there yet. The feeding of the cattle on the land continually with no loss of residues whatever has had a most marvellous effect on my land. As I explained to you in my Paper, land that adjoins mine lets for about eighteen pence per acre; while my land which has been under treatment for a few years will almost keep a cow an acre now. This is on very thin chalky land.

I think I am able to give you some assurance that I shall be able to keep more cattle there than I am able to keep at the present time. You can understand that to tackle a thousand acres in this intensive way is rather a big proposition. It means that each year I have been creeping farther inland with my intensive stocking; in other words, the land that I have tackled mostly has been closer home. The land that has been tackled the least and the last is the farthest away from home. Some of the land has not had intensive treatment to it for more than a twelve-month. Other parts of the land have had intensive treatment since about 1923, and you can easily realise that I do hope to still further improve the land very materially.

The milking hours of my men are 5 o'clock in the morning, and from 3 to half-past 3 in the afternoon. The milking takes about two hours in the mornings and a little under in the afternoon, that is with the man and the boy. That includes the washing up, the getting ready for the milking, and the various small jobs that there are to do; in short the two men do everything except cool the milk.

In my own case, I am not cooling with water in the field. In my five dairies all the milk is taken to a central dairy and there I have one man to do the cooling. The figures I gave for the costings represented the total labour charges under all heads for the milk on the farm. The light used is electric light generated on the spot and driven by the engine that drives the milking plant. The milking plant is operated by an oil engine. The yard is composed of chestnut fencing and is about one-eighth of an acre in size. Each cow is fed as it comes into the bail by a device which measures the quantity that you wish to give that cow. In short each cow's food ration is put up for her when she walks in to be milked. The cows are not fed automatically. The hay ricks are built in the field and so are just in the right place to be used in the winter without long-distance carting. The chief manurial residue that I get is in the urine. I attach more importance to the urine than I do to anything else from the point of view of the improvement of my pasture. It acts like magic on poor, light, hilly land.

Then I would like to reply to Lord Bledisloe's questions. He says that I certainly did give some of my costings, but only vaguely. If Lord Bledisloe would like to come to my office I will show him my whole figures for five or six years past. Undoubtedly we have got to produce milk cheaper or go out of business. If we can produce milk cheaper we can sell it cheaper.

As Dr. Dyer said, the best thing to improve grass is the use of cake. There again it is the nitrogen, I presume. In my case half of the farm was dressed some years ago with superphosphate and kainit at the rate of about 3-1/2 cwts. an acre each. It has never had any other dressing, and the other half has never had any had any dressing at all. To-day I cannot tell the difference -- although there was a very great improvement when the treatment was first applied. In my opinion the cow-treated land to-day is as good as the dual treated land.

I would like to suggest to Mr. Price that in the figures he mentioned there was no steam used, otherwise probably those bacterial counts would have been very much better than they are at the present time. Was that so? (Mr. Price: No steam was used). Mr. Cumber suggested that no water would cool milk down to 35 degrees. I presume he meant in the summer and not in the winter. Sometimes in the winter we get cold weather. It was brine that I was referring to. I was not saying that I was cooling milk to 35 degrees, but it is possible and it will be done. The method of cooling is actual as regards water only at the moment.

I believe the milk-producing business will become more and more a specialist's job. We have got to produce milk cheaply and sell it cheaply. It is no good for us to produce milk at 7d. or 8d. a gallon and then the distributors to charge the prices for distribution that they are charging to-day. To my mind the remedy is for everyone who is producing milk as I am on the outdoor system to join an association and retail all the milk so produced. That is the last word in regard to my methods generally. If we produce the milk cheaply we want to let the public have it cheaply, and in that way we shall cut out the foreigner with his condensed milk and powdered milk and so on. If we can sell milk cheaply the public will buy it in preference to the foreign product of condensed and dried milk. Our only salvation is not to get as big a price as possible out of the public for the milk but to get a fair price and to produce as cheaply and as well as possible.

Thank you very much, gentlemen, for your kindness.

The Nature of Health (Introduction and Table of Contents)
Medical Testament
McCarrison bibliography (References)
Speeches by Sir Robert McCarrison and Sir Albert Howard
Correspondence in the British Medical Journal
Food and Health -- Lionel Picton
Soil Fertility and Health -- Sir Albert Howard
Soil Fertility: The Farm's Capital -- Sir Bernard Greenwell
Open-Air Dairying -- A.J. Hosier
Farming for Profit with Organic Manures -- Friend Sykes
Nutrition and Health -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Nutrition in Health and Disease -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Studies in Deficiency Disease (Introduction) -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Diseases of Faulty Nutrition -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration -- Weston A. Price
The Saccharine Disease -- T. L. Cleave
An Agricultural Testament -- Sir Albert Howard
Ill Fares the Land -- Dr. Walter Yellowlees
Food & Health in the Scottish Highlands: Four Lectures from a Rural Practice -- Dr Walter Yellowlees

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