When I begin doing something and my unwieldy inexperience leaves me frustrated, I always imagine how it will be when I have someday mastered that thing.
It’s how I felt when I first began taking piano lessons at age 7.
It’s how I felt the first time I butchered a chicken.
And it’s how I felt when I first reached, nervously, underneath my cow to yank on her udder.
The wounds of novicehood were tangible then. Kicks and bruises, grunts of sweaty frustration, and meager milk quantities overshadowed any potential poetic, idyllic, agrarian beauty that might be had.
Well, I’m getting better. And Gerty’s getting better, too.
As the weather cools and the horseflies sleep in, our milking sessions are proving more pleasant. Since I’ve narrowed her stall and built myself a stool, I’m exponentially more comfortable. And my comfort translates to Gerty’s comfort.
Oh, we still have our mishaps. Like the other morning. The chickens were running about, scratching through last night’s manure. I was working through the last quarter, approaching the end, when the inevitable happened. A goofy rooster wandered underneath the cow, stumbled, thrust a wing into the milk pail, spooked Gerty, and WHAM! The hoof was in the milk pail and the milk was soaking into the dirt.
Another day, she hadn’t given as much milk as I would like. I was out of alfalfa and she was out of patience. She was scooting back as far as she could in the stall, but I was determined to get another cupful or two of milk. As she tried to move away, I stubbornly held on to a teat and kept milking. So she very precisely kicked the half-full cup of milk out of my hand, and just stood there as if to say, “Now are you going to let me out?” It wasn’t worth fighting anymore that morning, so I granted her wish, resolving to go buy some more alfalfa soon.
And today, as I prepared to let Gerty into the milking stall, she impatiently began hooking her horns onto the gate and pulling on it. I grabbed her horn and pushed her away. But she pushed back, and smashed my finger between her horn and a stretch of galvanized fencing. The pain was incredible, and she wouldn’t let off. Finally she moved back, and I hunched over, inspecting the damage. Not as bad as it could have been. But hurt like fire.
Yet amidst the mishaps, milking is actually pretty pleasant in the mornings.
Gerty chews contentedly on her morning feed ration, and it usually takes me about as long to milk as it takes her to eat, so she generally stands nice and still for me, save for the occasional swat of the tail or movement of a back leg. But no kicking. Well almost none.
I’m getting better at the two-handed milking, though I am daily reminded of how utterly useless (pun intended!) my left hand is. That thing simply will not obey instructions like the right hand! It’s weak and needs harsh discipline. So the morning milkings are still a sharp learning curve for the left hand. But we’re getting there.
Interestingly, Gerty’s rear teats are significantly smaller than the front ones. This might be partly because the rear quarters produce more milk than the front two (I learned that recently). But it might also just be the unlucky case for this cow. And even more interestingly, those teats are pointed slightly inward. So if there were a milk bucket directly beneath the cow, they’d squirt perfectly into it.
And that’s nice, but I have fairly large hands. So if I’m not especially careful, the milk runs down my hand and along my arm, rather than into the bucket. And—this might be hard to explain—if I try to milk the rear udder on the far side (the opposite of the side where I sit, which happens to be the left side) with my near hand… okay, this is hard to explain. I’m facing the cow’s flank, on her left side. And if I grab her back left teat with my right hand, and her back right teat with my left hand, then the milking goes fairly well. Because the palm of each hand faces in the direction that the milk wants to come out, so the milk finds nothing in between it and the bucket. But as I pointed out, my left hand is pitiful. So sometimes I have to grab her back right teat with my right hand because the left hand is tuckered out. So then the stream of milk is pointing directly at my forearm, and far too often runs down my hand and toward my armpit. Anyways, it’s a delicate process.
So I’m tasting the subtle nuances of milking my cow. And I must say, amid the crushed finger and spilt milk, I’m absolutely loving it. Come on over to the house; we’ll sit ya down to a tall glass of fresh, cold milk and talk about whatever the fall breeze brings.