Naming the parts of the cowhouse

We’ve already mentioned the origins for some of the words used to name the parts of a cowhouse in Swaledale, but we’ve now brought these all together to go with a nicely labelled drawing of a cut-away cowhouse.

Swaledale barn parts

Booses/buses –  the stalls where the cows were tied. A wooden post in the middle of a buse allowed two cows to be tied side-by-side without bumping into each other. Probably from the Old Norse ‘bas’ meaning box.

Skelbuse – wooden or sometimes stone-built division between the hay store (mew) and the cow stalls (booses). From Old Norse ‘skelja’ meaning to divide & ‘bas’ meaning box. Also called the boose’yead (ie boose-head) in Upper Swaledale.

Group or groop – stone-lined channel behind the stalls (booses), where the cow muck collected.  From Old Norse word ‘grop’ meaning drain or open sewer.                                                                                                                                                 Boskins – wooden panels or large flagstones forming the division between the stalls (booses), again possibly from Old Norse ‘bas’ meaning box.

 Mew – large open part of the cowhouse where the hay to feed the cows was stored, right up to the rafters. The word ‘mew’ can have the meaning of ‘to shut away or confine’ but in this case it is more likely to come from the Old English ‘mūga‘ and Old Norse ‘múgi’ having meanings of stack, swathe or crowdAnd indeed ‘mow’ descends from these too.

Rudster or rudstake – wooden post to which cattle were tied using a chain, from the Old English ‘rodd’ probably related to Old Norse ‘rudda’ meaning club

 Settlestanes – stones forming a kerb along the back edge of the cow stall. From the Old English ‘stān’ for stone.

Truffs/throughstones – long stones binding together the inner and outer skin of the walls, usually projecting in parallel lines on the outside of the cowhouse.

Foddergang – passage-way linking byre to mew along which hay was carried to feed the cows, from the Old Norse ‘fóthr’ feed & ‘gangr’ to go.

Baux/baulks – wooden loft over cow stalls where green hay and bracken for bedding was stored. Early ‘stick-baux’ were made from wooden poles interwoven with heather. More recent baux were made from sawn planks of wood. From the Old Norse ‘balkr’ and Old English ‘balc’.

Forking’ole A small opening with a door, built high up in the back wall of the mew through which hay was forked into the mew.

 Muck’ole Cow muck collected behind the tethered cows in the group. It was regularly shovelled outside through the muck hole located at the end of the group nearest the hay meadow. The pile of muck was then spread by hand onto the field in order to feed the next hay crop. Muck comes from the Old Norse word ‘myki’ meaning manure or dirt.

Recess – a small hole built into the inside wall of the byre where a tin ‘budget’ or backcan for carrying milk might be rested along with a candle or lantern or perhaps cattle medicines and a milking pail and stool or ‘coppy’. There were no windows or electric lights inside the cowhouse.

Ventilation holes – hay that hadn’t completely dried could heat up and sometimes catch fire so good ventilation into the mew was essential.

Doors into mew and byre – different cowhouses have different arrangements and numbers of doors. A cowhouse with a single door into the cow byre end is probably an earlier type than one with doors into both the byre and mew. Sometime doors were inserted into older cowhouses. Sometimes they were closed up and new ones created. All part of the individual cowhouse’s story.