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Wednesday, May 27, 2009 • Posted May 27, 2009

A Cow But No Cow Shed

I have often bragged and fussed about the 16 years of my youth spent milking our cow(s) and now I find, after talking with some of my senior citizen friends who were experienced cow milkers, that I had it easy all those years. For, while I was milking our cow under the shelter of a cowshed some of these old timers had to do their milking out in the open. Gad, how terrible. Just thinking about it gives me the shivers; having to milk out in all kinds of weather.

It never occured to me that some people did not have a cow shed or room in their barn to do their miking because it was too full of hay. Now I find that those outside milkers likened we insiders to people sitting there on our milk stools inside a cowshed to those fortunate folks that have seats in one of the extravagant suites of a domed coliseum.

Of course, just like those wealthy folks in their domed stadium seats, I too had air conditioning and it was supplied by mother nature during the winter months because the south side of our cowshed was open and uninvited blasts of cold air invaded my shelter seeking the wamth generated by the cow and calf as well as the sometimes half frozen kid doing the milking. In spite of the cold air intrusion from the south side it did not occur to me that I should be happy to be protected from the bitter cold by the store room on the east and the north and west walls of that shed.

My old friend Herbie Huffman once told me that he had no cowshed and he had to get up at 4:30 ever morning to milk their cows.

“Why did you get up so danged early” I asked?

“So we could finish milking and get to the field before daylight”, was his answer.

“My dad and I milked 14 cows twice a day in cold, hot or wet weather” and there again old Bill was lucky because that cowshed shielded him from the rain.

I then asked Herbie how he kept that wet cows tail from knocking him off his milking stool and found out that he used the same technique I had use in my cow milking days: he tucked that old cow’s tail under his bent knee. When asked if they tied the calves to a hitching post while they milked and he said “No, we saved one teat on each cow for their calves but kept them in a pen until we were through milking.”

Herbie also told how happy he was when his dad bought some milking machines and told him that this equipment would milk those cows faster than they could and now they could sleep until daylight.

I then asked how they could save one teat for each calf when that milking maching was attached to all four teats and his answer was quite interesting:

“After buying the milking machines we used a “nurse cow” to feed the calves and I have seen that cow nurse five or six calves at a time by patiently standing there while the calves fought over those four teats.”

Herbie then added “Once I kept count of how many calves that old nurse cow raised in one year and found it to be 26.

That story puts me in mind of one that my once coffee buddie old “whatshisname” told me. He said that one of the happiest days of his youth was when his dad would say “Turn the calves in with the cows tonight boys because we’re going to the Brady Jubilee.

In my “Back to the cowpen” column I told about the problems I had with the calf during milking time. I either had to tie that sucker to a hitching post or fight him off of the three teats reserved for the house with my fist. After reading that column a friend Norman Chew, another cow milker from long ago, told me that his mother taught her family how to train a new calf to the point where it would (patiently?) stand and wait for milking to be completed before it tried to suckle.

After 16 years of fighting that calf I asked in amazement “How on earth did she accomplish that feat?”

It is really quite siimple” said Norman,”you begin when the calf first tries to suckle by tapping his legs with a stout stick to make it back away from his mother’s teats. Every time it tries to suckle you whack it on the shins wth that stick and it soon learns to stand away until the milking is done.”

“Well” says I “you surely didn’t get much milk from that cow if you had to milk with one hand and hold that stick in the other”.

“The milk didn’t matter during the training period which usually lasts eight days after a calf is born during which time the milk is not for human consumption and is all left for the calf”,said Norman.

He did admit however that occasionally the calf would break training and try to steal some of his milk and at that time he had to punch the calf in the nose to keep it away from teats that were not his (and sometimes you cut your knuckles when you happen to hit the calf’s teeth instead of his nose).

Norman’s wife Frieda assured me that as one of a five girl farm family she learned to milk while in her teens and she too was thankful that they had a cowshed. She as well as her sisters had to learn all of the chores that went with farming such as working a combine, stacking hay, shucking corn and (I am adding this on my own)slopping the hogs.

Now I know that one never gets too old to learn but learning how to train a calf some 67 years after I quit milking would do me no good whatsoever but it does reminds me of that old German saying:”We grow too soon old and too late smart.”


The other day while dining at the Senior Citizens Center a lady approached me and said “Bill in your “Back to the Cowlot” article you you failed to include one important part of milking a cow”.

“What was that?” I asked.

“You failed to say anything about “stripping”the cow.

“By golly you are right” said I,“for without that stripping process there would be very little cream in my milk.”

I will not attempt to explain the stripping process because those who have milked cows understand the process while those who have never milked a cow wouldn’t understand even if I did explain it.

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