by Newt Harlan
The other afternoon while I was sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, I struck up a conversation with a nice young lady. Come to find out, her grandfather was one of several dairy farmers around the Spring and Westfield, Texas, area back in the 40s, 50s and 60s when I was growing up. Just about the time we were finishing up our “didja knows” and starting in on our “didja evers,” they called us both in for our appointments, so I didn’t get a chance to ask her if she’d ever juiced a bovine her own self?
Reckon how many of y’all are old bovine juicers? I know there are a few because some of you helped me on occasion back those many years ago when I had to get the danged things juiced so we could get to town on Saturday night to run after the girls, but other than those, I’ll wager it won’t take long to call the roll of experienced bovine juicers.
By now y’all have probably figured out that juicing the bovines is an old country expression referring to milking cows. Back when I was coming up we’d sometimes use the expression around city folks and others we thought weren’t privy to the joke. We’d often excuse ourselves from a gathering by saying something like, “I’ll see y’all a little later; I’ve got to get to the house and juice them bovines before dark.”
It’s been a good long while now since I’ve juiced a bovine or milked a cow, but I’ll wager I can still do it. Milking a cow is like riding a bicycle; once you learn how you never forget. Considering the years I spent sitting on an upturned 5 gallon bucket with my head in a cow’s flank, perfecting my technique, I reckon I’ll remember how it’s done for at least three or four more lifetimes.
For those who are uninitiated, milking a cow really ain’t hard, it’s just time consuming. There just ain’t no way to get the milk out any faster than the old cow wants to let it come out. Here’s the way it’s done:
Then you let her in, along with her calf which has been kept separated from her all day. You let the calf suckle for a few minutes to start the milk flow (we experienced milkers call this “letting her milk down”), and then pull the calf away and tie it off in a corner of the stall. You then take your milk bucket and the other bucket you use as a stool and get into position at the cow’s right flank, facing her udders. I have no idea why it’s the right side, but that’s the way every cow I ever milked was trained.
You then wash the cow’s udders and bag with warm water which you brought from the house, taking care to remove all the calf slobber and whatever other crud and corruption that may have accumulated there, which often is considerable. After the thorough washing, you place your head in the cow’s flank and commence milking. This consists essentially of rhythmically squeezing, pulling and then releasing one teat with each hand, until you milk three of the teats dry. You always leave one teat for the calf..
Then you turn the calf loose and let it nurse its share. You may wonder if one teat is sufficient for the calf, but the cow always saves some “extra” in the teats you milked, for her baby. Actually, with some of the older cows we’d let the calf nurse for a little bit after we’d finish and then pull it off again and take a little more milk. The “old-timers” thought that smart cows always kept back the richest part of the milk for their calves. (I’ve learned over the years that this is probably biologically impossible, but I’ve also learned to never question the wisdom of your elders.)
This milking stuff sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Well it is . . . usually. The only thing I didn’t tell you, as Paul Harvey says, is “the rest of the story.”
THE REST OF THE STORY
The temperature was around 40 degrees with a drizzling rain that had been going on for about four days. I got the milk bucket and filled it about half full of warm water for cleaning the cow’s bag and headed out for the barn, thankful there was just one cow to milk instead of our usual three or four. About halfway to the barn I remembered I hadn’t changed from my “good” boots into rubber boots to negotiate the mud, but decided what-the-hell, they were already covered with mud and manure by now and a little more wouldn’t ruin them any worse.
Wrong! I stepped into a hole and my left boot stuck as I tried to free myself from the mud, forcing me to leave the boot stuck and pull my foot out to catch myself with a bare-stocking foot to keep from falling face first into the quagmire of mud and cow manure. I dug my boot out and, while balancing on one foot, reinserted my left foot with the sock now covered with gunk, then continued to the barn, listening to and feeling the mud and cow mixture squishing inside my left boot.
Old Red was soaking wet and waiting at the barn door for milking time. I opened the door and followed her into the barn.
When I went into the feed room to get feed for the cow, I discovered that someone, probably me, left the lid off the feed barrel and there were four large rats trapped inside. I eventually managed to dispatch the rats with a shovel and hoped that old’ Red was hungry enough that she wouldn’t notice the rat droppings in her feed. I even gave her a little extra to make up for it. And another extra scoop since it was cold.
After putting the feed in her box, I opened the gate to the stall to let Red in, and in her hurry to get to the feed she knocked me flat on my butt and almost trampled me. I got up and brushed myself off, discovering that a large part of what I fell in wasn’t brushable. I let the calf in to get started and scraped the mess off my butt as best I could, then washed my hands and got my bucket and stool to begin milking.
I pulled the calf away from his meal and tied him in his usual corner and turned to gather my buckets and start my milking. The calf decided to show his displeasure at having his dinner interrupted and kicked the *&^#@! out of me as I walked by. Luckily, he didn’t hit anything serious but put a pretty good knot on my thigh. (For those of you who can’t imagine a cute little calf being able to kick hard enough to hurt anyone, try letting a 7 or 8 year old kid hit you on the thigh with a baseball bat. Hurts, doesn’t it?)
I had about a quarter of a bucket when Red decided it was time to swat me upside the head with her wet tail. This really isn’t high on my list of things that feel good, so I swatted her on the rump and hollered, “SAW, Red, SAW!” Now to those of you who’ve never milked a cow, hollering “SAW” to a misbehaving cow won’t mean much, but those of you who are experienced will know that “SAW” is a secret word known only to cows and milkers, and that’s one of the very first things you learn about cow milking. When you say “SAW,” the cow knows that it needs to quit whatever misbehaving it’s doing and act right so y’all (you and the cow) can get on with your business.
Well, Red obviously didn’t get the message when I told her to SAW and slapped me another couple of times with her wet tail. Each time I hollered and swatted, but other than her looking around at me as if to say I was wasting my time and to get on with my milking, I didn’t get much response. (Red was one of the slower learners in our herd and kept forgetting the secret words and stuff all the time.)
Anyway, I kept milking and had just over a half bucket when the warmth in the barn and the good food that Red was eating made her feel all relaxed. What do cows do when they’re all relaxed? Yep, she hiked her tail and let it fly. I know you’ve heard the phrase “cow pissing on a flat rock”; well, you ain’t seen nothing till you’ve seen a relaxed cow all bowed up and cutting loose in her stall. Luckily, I was able to grab up the bucket and get out of harm’s way before the flood, escaping with maybe only a drop or two splashing in the milk (and a few on my pants leg).
After that episode I was able to finish milking without further interruptions and went over to turn the calf loose so he could finish his dinner and, would you believe, when I walked by him the ungrateful little SOB kicked me in my other leg.
Now that y’all know my cow milking credentials, if any of you feel the need for milking lessons just let me know and I’ll be glad to teach you, especially if you fit the category of pretty girl in tight britches, but you’ll have to furnish the cow.
Also, if you own a cow and are looking for a good, experienced milk-hand, you’ll have to find yourself some other stupid SOB. I swore almost 50 years ago that before I’d fool with milking another cow, I’d quit drinking milk and eating butter, cheese and ice cream.
So now you know the rest of the story . . .
Newt tells us about himself:
I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittin’ distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.
Want to read more of Newt’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Ol’ Red and the Armadillo
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
That's Entertainment...'50s Style
Belly Waddin' Lunch
Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.
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