When I was five, my father began to accumulate a dairy herd for our farm. The cows were purchased a few at a time from other farms around our county, and brought home by Dad in his stock truck. They were then given names that began with the same letter of the former owner’s last name: Lena, Lana, and Lucille – I remember – came from Mr. Lane. But, lo – these many years, the other farmer’s names have slipped my memory. Of the cows acquired from them, only Beauty, Blanche, Blackie, Ruby, Sally and Sadie do I recall.
Warmly, however, I do recall the great affection my family held for our milk cows. We came to know them so well during morning and evening milking times. Wonderfully placid were those gentle creatures. With pleasure, oft did I lean against a milk cow to press my cheek against the warmth of a furry side. No other animal on the farm gave me such a sense of heartfelt contentment and inner harmony.
Enjoyment was found in accompanying my older sisters to the pasture to bring the cows to the barn at milking time; in helping to shut the 20 stanchions after each cow went right to her place in the barn; and in scooping feed into the long troughs that flanked the center aisle between the two rows of cows. My initial walk between the two long rows of heads was a little scary, but on that day I learned how dependably docile cows are. Well, there were exceptions. For whatever reason, known only to Beauty, she let me and my younger brothers know she held no love for us. We just knew enough not to be caught in the barnyard alone with Beauty.
Early on, Dad, Mom, and my oldest sister milked the cows by hand – until my father bought a milking machine. Then the entire chore became my sister’s. Dutifully, she milked the cows mornings and evenings, during her last two years of high school.
Our farm was never without cats and a dog or two. A grain farm draws plenty of mice and rats. Cats – helpful and essential in keeping down the unwanted intruders – surely earned their keep. The most cats and kittens we ever had at one time was 17.
At milking time, the cow barn was exactly where the cats wanted to be to not miss their daily portions of milk. In their impatience to be fed, they were often at bovine hooves. Sometimes a raised hoof was unintentionally set down on a tail or paw of a too rambunctiously impatient, too trusting ….. feline. Then there would be a flurry of action: bared claws and flailing paws accompanied by emphatic meows of vocal protest that I always likened to, “Oooowwwww! Get off, you big lummox!” The cow’s split-second reaction invariably released the trapped tail or paw whereas the cat invariably made a rocket-like exit from the barn. As you might imagine this scene was oft played out, usually with just bruised extremities. Less often the result was one less feline in the barn.
Any time my prankster oldest brother was helping with the stripping – finishing up to get what milk the machine missed – we three younger ones stayed out of reach should he try to squirt milk on our bare legs. What he thought fun, was no fun for us! But, the cats loved to have milk squirted their way and would even stand on their hind legs if it would help to catch more milk in their mouths. That sort of squirting, we loved to see.
The evening and morning milk was placed in dairy cans and set out front to be picked up every morning by a dairy truck. In looking back through the decades, I marvel that the milk could usually be counted on not to spoil, although, once in a while it did! Then the truck that hauled it off would bring it back, and the sour milk would then be fed to the hogs – thus not all was lost!
Some milk – as needed – would be set aside for our household, brought to the kitchen, strained, poured into a crock and allowed to set in the pantry until the cream had risen to the top. That I’d, now, throw out a carton of milk that had set overnight on the counter, seems a concern that was absent then.
A handy kitchen tool, called a skimmer, was used to skim the risen cream from off the top. The skimmer was full of holes to insure getting only the cream. For me it was a child’s delight to slide that tool beneath the cream to lift it up to put into a pitcher. Cream straight from the cows was rich, and thick enough to heap in a spoon. That’s not the way cream is viewed today.
The process of today’s homogenization breaks the cream up so fine that it doesn’t rise. Additionally – over the years – cream has continued to be thinned by the dairy manufacturing plants to meet the needs of our country’s increasing population in lieu – I suppose – of shrinking numbers of dairy farmers and to help keep down rising costs. How times change! Rich, thick cream back then was a valued farm commodity for the table as well as for sales. Higher grades of cream garnered greater profit for the farmer. We didn’t worry about getting fat from cream and all the fried foods that found their way to tables back then. Farm life kept us too active for pounds to accumulate!
Alas, after a few years in the dairy business, a new cow infected the herd with Bangs Disease caused by the Brucellosis bacterium, and our farm was out of the dairy business. The loss was financial and emotional as the cows – as required by Federal law – had to be destroyed. Bangs Disease – known as Undulant Fever in humans –is a much lessened problem, today.
Afterwards, for a number of years, we kept one milk cow – Rusty, off-spring of Ruby – for family consumption. But, eventually, the milk and cream quit coming up from the barn; for a while was delivered in cartons by a milk man; and finally, was purchased at our village grocery store. I recall, as I type, the different times in following years that I heard my father, with dismay, say – after he had opened a new carton of cream and poured some into his coffee – “oh, my, they’ve thinned the cream, again”!
Back in the eighties, I frequented a health food store that, one day, had a new yogurt in stock called Brown Cow. On top was a layer of cream – obviously, not homogenized. I was delighted! Every time I stopped by, I bought Brown Cow yogurt. One day, there was no Brown Cow in the cooler, nor was there the next time. I asked Tom, the proprietor, if he was still stocking Brown Cow. He told me, “No, because most customers who took the top off the eight ounce containers while still in his store, wanted to know what that stuff was on top.” More accurately, he said they would say, “Oooooooh! What is THAT!!?”
Sadly, I acknowledged that in a lot of ways, the old way was passing. The good end to this story; however, is eventually, I did find Brown Cow yogurt again – in another store that still carries it. So, to this day, a bit of the farm is still with me!
Seven vocabulary words; a cow poem for children by Robert Louis Stevenson; and a so true to life cow poem by Robert William Service will end today’s post.
placid – undisturbed, tranquill, calm, quiet
stanchion – a restraining device fitted loosely around the neck of a cow to confine it to its stall.
docile – easy to manage
bovine – pertaining to oxen and cows, or the quadrupeds of the bovine genus
skimmer – any utensil used in skimming liquids
feline –any animal of the cat family
lieu – in place of, instead
The friendly cow all red and white,
I love with all my heart:
She gives me cream with all her might,
To eat with apple-tart.
She wanders lowing here and there,
And yet she cannot stray,
All in the pleasant open air,
The pleasant light of day.
And blown by all the winds that pass
And wet with all the showers,
She walks among the meadow grass
And eats the meadow flowers.
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 – 1894
I love to watch my seven cows
In meads of buttercups abrowse,
With guilded knees;
But even more I love to see
Them chew the cud so tranquilly
In twilight ease.
Each is the image of content
From fragrant hours in clover spent,
‘Mid leaf and bud;
As up and down without a pause
Mechanically move their jaws
To chew the cud.
Friend, there’s a hope for me and you:
Let us resolve to chew and chew
With molars strong;
The man who learns to masticate,
With patience may control his fate
His life prolong.
In salivation is salvation:
So if some silly little nation
Should bathe in blood,
Let’s take a lesson from the cow,
And learn in life’s long gloaming how
To chew the cud.
Robert William Service (1874-1958)
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