My friend Dave Burgess shared this story today. I really liked it, and identified with some of it, and think others will enjoy it, too. Dave grew up in the Hyannis area, and is now a brand inspector at Valentine.
Milk Cows…Nuff Said
By Dave Burgess, April 15, 2018
If you have ever milked cows much you know what I’m talking about. These animals are a fickle bunch, each having their own set of rules you have to adhere to if you want a single drop of that white fluid. The first milk cow that I can remember was one that my Dad had when I was three or four years old, a Brown Swiss named Ruth, funny because my Mom’s name is Ruth too. Turns out a few of Dad’s friends helped to name the cow as a joke that my Mom failed to see the humor in. Dad sold the cow to our neighbors who lived just over the hill from us and the road went by their place so every day that Mom would haul us to school we could see the old Brown Swiss cow in the meadow in front of their house. Being the youngest and eager to shout out all that I knew, which wasn’t that much but I recognized that cow every day and would exclaim “Mom look there is old Ruth, see her?” Mom would sigh and say “Yes, so it is.” I finally tumbled on to the joke. Sure glad I never turned out to be an ornery jokester like that.
The next Milk cow Dad had was Bob. Not sure of her heritage but think probably the devil spawn of a Brown Swiss or Jersey crossed with a Hereford bull. Yellow brindle color with short ears and tail due to her birth in cold weather, hence the name. She didn’t like kids for some reason, especially my brother Gary and me. Dad or older brother Bernie could be in her presence with no problem but if Gary or I showed up she would shake her head at us in a clear sign that that was close enough and if we didn’t respect her signal she would snort and step toward us which always sent us scattering. I got pretty good at diving under the corral fence just like the dogs. We stayed clear of her for most of her stay with us.
My cousins the Dubs family milked cows, where we had one to deal with, they had a herd of them. Not sure what breed they were as my memory is of red brockle faced cows maybe a few of them resembled Brown Swiss. There were six kids in their family, Rose, Nancy, Paul, Sid, Ted and Kathy, and each had their cow or cows to milk. Uncle Rudy milked two or three cows, Rose, Paul and maybe Sid each milked two apiece and the rest had one to handle. I liked to watch them milk and listen to the sound of squirting milk in the pails, and the smell of warm milk mixed with the barn smells was disturbingly pleasant.
Ted who was my age was rather good at squirting milk to the cats that were lined up waiting. They would stand up on hind legs, close their eyes and lap the milk as it hit them in the face. The cats would then take turns licking each other clean of the milk. It was like watching a military drill of sorts, as the barn door was opened each cow knew where her stall was and filed in orderly fashion to their spot. As the cows were done and turned loose another one would take her spot. When done milking it was a processional of kids and buckets of foamy milk marching toward the house to separate the cream. That was always fun to watch too as Paul or Sid would start cranking the separator to get it up to speed before pouring the milk in the top and watching the little stream of cream flowing into a gallon can. Next was the steaming hot water to clean the buckets that were stacked up to dry for the next round.
Our next milk cow was a Gernsey I think, red and white spotted, fine built, big in the middle and little on both ends. She was either just plain dumb or just didn’t want to get along because she would never come to the barn on her own at milking time. She would be as far away as she could get too, and wouldn’t take a step toward the barn until you came to get her. I remember Dad getting so mad at her for that but she never gave in. I believe Dad started leaving her in the corral over night to cure part of that which brings me to the next pleasant memory.
Dad was batching at the Becker ranch, Mom stayed in town while we were in school. Dad was in need of some help and company also so hired Jerry Sterling for the winter. Jerry was single and a good man, very conscientious about his work but had a disability of sorts, not of his own making but caused by an injury from a car accident several years earlier. Actually he was very lucky to have survived it. The people who found the wreck said Jerry’s head was cracked open and there was dirt, gravel and grass stuck to his brain. He had a steel plate in his head to protect that spot. His disability was that his memory would leave him from time to time, get turned around and loose his directions or just generally be lost for a moment.
This morning Dad stayed in the house to cook breakfast and sent Jerry out to milk the cow. Jerry had milked this cow before so what could possibly go wrong, right? Shortly, Jerry came back to the house a little worse for wear and the milk bucket all bent up and the bottom kicked out. He said a little sheepishly that he didn’t know what got into the old cow this morning but would need another bucket because Jerry had a chore to do and by God he was going to see it through if it killed him. Dad thought it strange that the cow would be a problem but handed Jerry another bucket and sent him back to finish the chore. A few moments later Jerry came limping back in with another milk pale bent all to hell, shaking his head that the old cow just wasn’t having it this morning.
Dad had to see what in the world was going on so walked back to the barn with Jerry where he found the barn door lying in the middle of the corral and one of the Beefmaster range cows standing a little wild eyed in the corral. Beefmaster cows that Dad had then could be confused with milk cows somewhat as most were red or tan colored, some with white faces. They were a three way cross, half Brahman, quarter Hereford, quarter Short Horn. It didn’t take Dad too long to figure out what happened. They had weaned some calves a few days before and this range cow had come back to the corral during the night, red white faced cow with a tight bag, sure fit the description of a milk cow, and when Jerry opened the barn door this old cow came right in and found the cake and grain in the box and stood there eating just fine until Jerry sat down and grabbed ahold of her. The real milk cow was lying in the next corral over chewing her cud and no doubt snickering to herself at such goings on. Dad loved to tell stories and boy oh boy did he get a lot of mileage out of that one.
The next experience came while working at the JHL ranch, Butch White had a Holstein milk cow, nice cow but not easy to milk as she had short fat black tits about two inches long. You could get two fingers around them but that was it and always had milk dripping off your little fingers. A week of milking her and your hands would be in shape. We traded off milking her every day, whoever did the milking would get the milk or cream for that day. Lee Ferguson, Butch’s brother in law started working there and he had a Holstein milk cow too but she was easier to milk, white utter and long tits that fit in your hands. I could get in this rhythm where I would have two streams of milk going in the bucket most of the time putting a big head of foam on that bucket of milk. She was real gentle and kind, never offered to kick. One morning I was sawing away and she slowly picked up her right hind foot real high and placed it in the half full bucket causing it to spill also depositing a nice glob of manure in the bucket. Nothing would p*** me off faster than to have my work go for not but also knew that I couldn’t do anything harsh to retaliate. Finished milking into my dirty bucket turned her loose and as she walked by I poured the rest of the milk down the length of her back saying I hope the flies eat you up all day. The next milking she came in slick and shiny, she must have spent the day licking herself.
When I went back home from the JHL to help my Dad, he had a black milk cow that was Holstein and Angus cross, she would pass for an Angus cow except for her long head that gave you the impression of the Holstein blood. She would give you two gallons of milk but you worked for it, hard milking black udder, as long as she had cake and grain she would give up milk but as soon as she ran out she would shut off the milk and wouldn’t give another drop until you gave her more to eat. I never milked another cow that was stingy enough to do that. I couldn’t milk her fast enough to get by on one feeding so had to give her more cake and enough grain to keep her mind occupied chasing it around in the box to get finished.
We moved back down south of Ashby and I thought another milk cow was in order as I had three kids now. Larry Henderson who lives north of Hyannis was having a sale with quite a few Brown Swiss milk cow or nurse cow prospects so I went there to buy my first milk cow. I didn’t have a lot to go on other than my own eye and past experiences with these beasts. The bidding started and when it stopped the winner got to pick the cow they wanted. I picked out three head that I liked, thought would be good cows and would try to buy if they didn’t bring too much. The first was a mature cow about five years old with a nice udder and already broke to milk but others liked her too as she was the first one taken.
The second was a cow similar to the first and also was picked early. The third was a first calf heifer, correct in her conformation and just a good looking young cow, I started bidding and when I got the winning bid I picked her for $700. I named her Molly. The day that she calved, we came back from feeding to find her walking around with one hind foot sticking out. I walked her to the barn reached in to find the other foot right there too but cocked back just a little, pulled a big long black heifer calf out of her that was deader than a mackerel and had been that way for a while. I was sick about it but now I had a cow to milk for the year and she was easy to break. Started out tying a foot back just enough to keep her from getting a good whack at me if she did try to kick. Then switched to kickers for a bit, moved the milking to the little milk barn that I built with a stanchion and wood floor. It usually took her about thirty to forty five seconds to let her milk down at the start so you had to ease her along till then. I had quit using the kickers on her because she never offered to kick, I must have been hurrying her just a bit this day because she kicked me hard, rolled me like a nickel cigar, what little milk I had was dripping off the rafters. I eased back into position, under my breath reciting my long list of new names for her, continued milking again and all seemed to be well again, I was glad too because she nailed me good. That year I bred her to a Charolais bull I purchased from Mose Hebbert and she had a nice big bull calf the next spring. I sold Molly to my brother Gary who milked her some, used her for a nurse cow some too. That was the last of my milking experiences and never really missed it yet. It was however an experience worth having for the most part.