Monday, August 5, 2013

Family Cow Chronicles Volume IV: Diary of a Milk Maid

I'm not sure if one actually aspires in life to become a milk maid.  I certainly did not plan to land in these shoes.  But here I am, day in, day out, surrounded by udders, iodine wash, and a lot of stainless steel. I think when I look back on this time of my life -when I am older- it will be all the milk I will remember.  That and the sensation of my head pressed against soft fur, the smell of cow and of course the hard labor of farming.  I still feel like an impostor when I say that word "farming". That is what we are doing though, right?  No matter how small the scale.  I don't think it can be called anything else. 

But back to the milking...a few weeks ago Ginger decided I was no longer the Alpha cow.  I'm not sure what happened because our initial bond was so strong, she was my girl.  For whatever reason she has become infatuated with my other half, perhaps it is his maleness and she is longing for a bull.  Whatever the reason, she had been testing me at each milking, driving me crazy with her kicking and her stubbornness.  I managed to milk her but she made me work for it. Clearly this was not working, something had to change so I decided it was time for me to break her.  I do love her and I want to be her friend.  I believe in kindness and treating my animals with the utmost care.  But there can only be one boss in the milking parlor and that would have to be me.  I stayed up late two nights in a row reading all the family cow pro boards, going over each post where the people were having the same problems.  Time and again the advice was to break her in with either a wooden spoon to the leg each time she kicks or with a loud, low "NO!".  Well, it is pretty out of character for a gentle, soft spoken gal like me to use force, but I decided to try both...When I woke last Tuesday morning, I was determined to let her know I was in charge.  

All this must sound so foreign to those who don't have large livestock. It probably even sounds cruel.  But if you have ever had a 1600 lb. animal kick at you with full force you quickly understand that you have to nip it in the bud.  The bottom line is it's dangerous! Breaking in a milker is not for sissies.  And just for perspective, I did try the kick stop, and tying her leg, and bringing the calf up with each milking. My drastic measures came after several injuries from her and I really just felt like enough is enough.  If we are going to do this twice a day she needs to mind me and if it takes a fight- then so be it.

So that morning's milking was unpleasant for both of us.  But you know what, half way through she got the picture that kicking is unacceptable and shockingly, every milking since has gone smoothly.  Ginger is smart and a quick learner. I also made sure to stock my pockets full of oranges for her.  I am finding that consistency, firmness, and yummy treats are the key to successful animal husbandry, not forgetting patience and a generous dose of loving too.

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