Saturday, March 3, 2018

Got Milk?

It's been awhile, and I haven't been able to write much, so I thought I would take a step back in time and republish one of my favorite memories.

Years ago, living on our small family ranch in California, I was already moving in the direction of becoming more self sufficient, food-wise. I decided a milk cow was in order. I knew I would have a reasonable supply of fresh milk, cream, butter and maybe cheese. The internet, at that time, had not been invented, in fact....we had no computers. So I was on my own to figure all these things out.

On my quest for our bovine beauty, I met a sweet old man with a dairy in Bakersfield, about 45 minutes down the mountain from our town. He told me he had a nice cow who freshened at 10 GALLONS a day, but was currently only giving 2 gallons daily...she had not gotten re-bred and would become a "butcher cow" unless I wanted her. We agreed on a price and I set out to pick her up. It was almost Thanksgiving, and we had heavy snow and ice on the road. I proceeded to hook up our massive 6 horse trailer and head for the big city of Bakersfield. 
About 1/2 mile down our road, I came upon a CalTrans snowplowman, who informed me "You'll never make it down this road with that trailer"...I am NOT a great backer-upper (yes, that is a real word). It took me over 45 minutes to slip and slide down that narrow canyon road and avoid going off the embankment...normally it was a 7 minute drive. A quick and URGENT stop at the first available restroom and off I went to pick up the cow.

My first clue that this may not have been a real good idea, was when it took 8 men to load her, and one got smashed in the gate. They finally got her aboard, and my primary thought am I gonna milk this monster, all by myself?  You see, what I hadn't considered, was, she was a DAIRY otherwords, she had NEVER been handled or hand milked. She would just follow the others in to eat her 'candy' had electric doodaddy's stuck on her plugs and away she'd go. (yes, that IS a technical term).

I had the entire trip home to devise a plan to get her into my barn, and get her milked. 
Skip ahead about 6 to 8 hours...there are rope marks and burns around every oak tree between the driveway and the barn, skid marks in the snow and mud that match my bootprints...there are several body indentations in the snow about my size, with cowtracks that seemly go right through them...but INSIDE the barn is a monstrous, muddy Holstein cow, with each hind leg tied to opposite corners of a stall, head locked between two boards, happily munching on hay, with a victorious young mother filling her bucket with milk, one squirt at a time. Ahhhh! The simple life!!

Years and years after my relationship with my Holstein cow (whom we fondly referred to as "Jugs") we moved to a smaller piece of property, only 2 1/2 acres, and closer to town. The kids grew up, and moved out, my life had modernized as we lived in a real live, less than 100 yr old, contractor built home, unlike the humble abode at the ranch that was built 80 years before at a Chinese labor camp then moved there...but thats a story for another day...

I had been training show horses for years, spending lots of time on the road, but now HandyRandyman and I were about to enter a new season of life, away from the ratrace. It was time to start living the "Simple Life" again.

I began like anyone else would. I bought 3 chickens (Oprah, Ethel, and Schatzey, because everyone knows chickens with names perform better).
One afternoon, while perusing the Motorcycle section of the CameraAds, (a sign of terminal boredom) my eye was drawn to a great big ad for a newly freshened DAIRY GOAT. 
Now, as you well know, a newly freshened goat, at a very reasonable price, in giant letters, in the MOTORCYCLE section of a paper, is clearly a sign from above. So, I did the sensible thing, and hooked up the latest monster trailer and headed for Bakersfield again, this time to pick up our new goat.

As I mentioned...she was very reasonably priced. I was thrilled. The only hitch was, it was necessary to strip her of milk twice daily as she had no kid with her (that's a term for 'baby goat' for those who don't know...Caprine owners seldom throw their children in to sweeten a deal, no matter HOW badly they want to get rid of the goat)

After lugging her home, it occurred to me there might be a reason she was so attractively priced. I discovered it, when I learned she had a quirky little habit of LYING DOWN whenever you tried to milk her. I threatened, I cajoled, but she continued to fold up like a cheap, portable chair, and it was getting dark. My back was aching, and we didn't have a stanchion yet, so, in desperation, I heaved her front end up on a picnic table, and had Randyman hold her back end up in the air so I could get underneath and get my 2 quarts of milk...all the while with him mumbling "dear Lord, I hope the neighbors cant see me...this looks so bad..."

Next morning: I drag myself up at 4:30 cuz Randyman is gonna leave for work and I want to enlist his help again. Due to the visibility from the breaking light, he stubbornly refuses and I am left to my own devices. But I am armed with confidence that I will prevail, as I have vast experience in animal training, and am known to be very resourceful, if not stubbornly single minded.

SUCCESS!!! It wasn't really that hard after all! All that was necessary, was to rob a few cinches and straps out of my tack room, and fashion a sling....wrestle it around a large, reluctant and recalcitrant goat, then hoist her up in an oak tree far enough so her feet couldn't reach the ground and VIOLA!! MILK!

I just love a bargain, don't you?

Around and about 6 years ago, we took a job as ranch hands on one of the largest and oldest working cattle ranches in the state of Oregon, and here we are now, in this idyllic place 110 miles from the nearest town. The simple life has enveloped us, and consequently, we are once again enjoying fresh squeezed milk, because Randy bought me a Jersey cow for Mothers Day. She is very gentle, but somewhat spoiled and ill mannered.

She is however, not without her little quirks. Having no milking stool per se, I used my little rattan footstool (from Pier1) as it was low and light enough to manage.

As I happily pumped away, morning after morning, Dolly (aforementioned Jersey cow) would munch happily on her hay and grain, occasionally smacking me in the face with her tail, often relieving herself with an unappetizing “plop”, perpetually swinging her hips (from TipMeOnMyButtClose to DangNearOutOfReach) and, of course, always trying to dip her foot in the bucket.

She became more and more skilled at the placement of her hind foot until she finally managed to sink it right to the bottom of a gallon of milk.

Tossing the tainted milk aside, blood pressure peaking, I grabbed a set of hobbles and proceeded to tie her hind feet together, preventing any more attempts to stick ‘em in my business.

With her heels glued together, and her head locked securely in the head gate, I went about filling a new bucket, when without warning, Dolly got mad.  She apparently was not impressed with the hobbles and began to kick wildly in an effort to remove them. It’s a scientific fact that when two entities are tied tightly together, and one swings thru the air, the other tends to follow…

Before I could say “I’ll just buy milk” she came tumbling my way, crushing my stool, and pinning my lower half under her belly…with my arms free, I managed to release the bar on the stanchion holding her head captive, as I was afraid she was going to break her neck. This had the effect of releasing the last several hundred pounds of big, mad, rubbery cow and she melted all over me. Realizing help would not arrive until evening, I managed to wriggle out from underneath that mess of a cow and assume a semi- upright position.

After getting my cow on her feet, I gathered up my now skinny, oblong milk bucket, the 2 sticks remaining of my stool, and my hobbles, and left my cow, my milk and my pride in the corral, and had a cup of very black coffee and some dry cereal.

Having experienced a self inflicted cow tipping of sorts, as a result of tying my cow's hind feet together and incurring her wrath, I found myself without a milking stool.

Milking requires a great deal of squatting, if you have no stool, it can be hard on the back, legs, and disposition. So, I jumped on the nearest internet and began searching.

My quest was successful! A cool catalogue (Lehmans) which carries all manner of nifty, old timey, useful stuff, had a One Legged Milking Stool. Now this is a brilliant concept, because MY cow likes to Mambo and Cha Cha, and its a little hard to keep up with her , so a one legged stool would allow me to tip, pivot and follow as necessary, to keep her plugs within reach...and as if this incredible mobility feature isn't enough, it comes with a belt, which straps around your hips! So, with it firmly attached to your hindquarters, you just have to squat down and scoot yourself into place! I couldn't WAIT for it to arrive!!!

The UPS man finally showed up, and I proudly held my stool out to Randyman, who just shook his head. Clearly he had no idea how wonderful this was going to be.
Next morning, I realized it was a bit heavy, as it is made of solid hardwood (quality stuff!), so I had to hoist it up onto the kitchen table and back up to it in order to get it on.

Stool firmly attached, I loaded myself up with 2 small milk pails (the large one had been totalled in the wreck), another small bucket with warm soapy water to wash the udder, a bucket of soaked beet pulp to keep her happy, and a dry towel in my mouth...I proceeded out the kitchen door. It didn't take but a second to realize the leg protruding from my backside wasn't going to allow me to turn and shut the door on our narrow I
1. walked to the step
2. unloaded buckets and rags
3.turned back
4. pulled door shut
5. backed up to step again to avoid putting chair leg thru     glass on door
6. reloaded
After reloading, I repeated steps 1-6 at the yard gate, and again at the corral. The stool clearly had a design flaw, and was getting nicked up rather badly every time I swung around.
Believing the worst was behind me, (and, indeed, it was) I put down my stuff, sidled up next to Dolly and proceeded to sit down and take my nifty new stool for a test drive...
...No one, apparently has ever measured the legs on these stools!!! The one on mine is rather SHORT, and after squatting to the level at which I should have made contact, my quad muscles could no longer hold me, and my hips soon reached terminal velocity, as they sped toward the solid  ground of the corral.

With a tooth shattering jolt, which nearly shot my now bugging eyes clean out of my head, that one legged milking stool reached earth and turned itself into a well planted fence post. This had the effect of tightening the belt around my hips and the stool had seemingly become a permanent part of my anatomy.

With a bit of rocking, I was able to finally topple myself over, the @#!!*&$ stool still attached to my backside, and I proceeded to kick my tools out under the fence and head for the house. I do not know for the life of my WHY I thought i would get a different result from squatting in the garden!! Several eggplants and a tomato later, I managed to extricate myself from ground level of very soft soil, and crawl to the rock wall and pull myself up. I found my knife, cut the strap on the stool and shoved it up on top of the garden shed, where it remains to this day.

I located a plastic crate that once held 5 gallon water bottles which seemed to hold my weight. I headed back to the corral with it, convinced my curious cow that NO, she  had NOT seen a unicorn, and I proceeded to finish the job.

I think I can tell you, with some authority, that the cheese isn't the only Laughing Cow!!


  1. Thank you so much for those stories! I love a good laugh. Milking sure does create hilarious stories :)

    1. It was a fun part of my life, that's for sure!

  2. Oh Kim.... I have said this before. You need to write a book. You have such a way with words and story telling.

    1. Thanks. I thought about it, but I think it's too stressful. I can barely keep up with the blog these days, but you are so kind to say so!

  3. I was thinking about you the other day and here you are! I agree with Carol Dee, a book is a wonderful idea.

  4. Or how about this-take all your posts from the beginning and turn those into a book. I used to love signing on to AllRecipes and finding a post by you. Over at GroupRecipes we still talk about you. And the pictures! Priceless.

    1. aww, that is so nice to hear~! If I knew how, I might consider doing that...