Cows may be cute, slow or stupid bucolic bovines to the uninitiated. To me? A mystery.
|Learning the difference between black and white
“Wash the white cow next,” Dave said loud enough for me to hear over the vacuum pump. I had no idea that milking cows would be so noisy.
“Which one is the white one?” I said.
He waved one hand towards some cows which all had some white on them.
“Which one do you mean?” I asked again. He shook his head. I was feeling pretty stupid by then.
“Over there, between the two black ones.”
We should have been laughing, but we weren’t. Dave was impatient with me because I couldn’t remember one cow from another. They all looked the same to me: the heads were shaped the same, their ears were huge, eyes were deep brown, those nostrils were slightly disgusting, slobber and grain sticking to them, their tails were still beaded up with dried on manure from their days in the sale barn and the truck ride up from Crivitz, Wisconsin as few weeks ago.
He finished taking the milking claw off the cow’s udder, removed the hose from the vacuum line and swung the milk bucket across the gutter. Grabbing two coarse brown paper towels, he then dipped one into a rubber bucket with the disinfectant in it and walked to the white cow. One hand on her backside, he said quietly, “There girl,” rubbed her softly and stepped in between the two cows. Repeating himself, he squatted down and slowly brought his hand to her udder. By this time, the wet towel was cold, so the initial touch shocked her and her skin recoiled a bit. Then, the rhythm of his washing felt familiar and she stood patiently while he dried her. I was watching this whole procedure, trying to commit it to my not so good memory, which seemed unable to even tell the difference between white and black cows.
Done, he stood up, crossed the gutter and went back to the bucket full of milk from the previous cow. He removed the top, and poured the milk into two smaller stainless steel buckets for me. He put everything back together for the white cow. We were milking 2 cows at a time, and while initially that seemed too slow to me, after a few milkings I realized it was actually a fast pace. I took both buckets and carried them to the milk house to pour into the bulk tank. We couldn’t afford to buy a pipeline system, nor even a transfer station, so I carried the milk after each cow was milked.
The bowl with a filter sat in a hole on the lid of the bulk tank and it was so high that Dave had to build a step for me after I spilled milk too many times. I was grateful for that bit of help from him.
And so that rhythm of washing, milking, pouring, walking and pouring was established pretty fast. I got to understand how to step up to a large animal and the soon even the swinging wet and slimy tails were easy to anticipate and dodge. I learned which cows were happy to see me and which ones were afraid. These girls hadn’t all come from the same barn, so the different farmers before us had trained them to their own habits.