Friday, February 20, 2015

"Isn't having a cow a lot of work for a hobby?"

That's the question a reader asked yesterday:  The answer, in a word, is no.  This whole business of cow-keeping involves very little day-to-day work for me, personally.  Keep in mind that Cliff does a lot of the hard stuff, like taking the big bales of hay to the cows with the tractor, building temporary fences here and there, fighting a frozen hose to get water to the calves, and much more; most of the actual labor is his.  He would not be bothering with cows at all if it weren't for me.  It's amazing the things a good man will do for his wife.  Now, I could be like a lot of women and say "we" love having the cows and calves, but I don't kid myself:  Cliff likes to see me enjoy the cows.  That is the only reason he is involved.

Here's what I do twice a day:  I bundle up (if it's cold), go to the barn (right in my front yard a few steps away), feed the cats, put a little sweet feed in the calf lot for Gracie-the-cow, let her in a side door and take her through the barn to the back door, which I open to give her access to the calves.  She goes to the feed bunk and eats while the calves nurse.  I go in the house, set the timer for eight minutes and read or surf the Internet.  When the timer sounds, I go out, separate the cow from the calves, and turn her back out.  Chores are done.  I do milk the cow once every four or five days.  This takes me about five minutes because Gracie is an "easy milker", which is to say she has big enough teats for a hand to grab easily and the milk absolutely pours out of them.  She has also gotten to the point where she stands very nicely for me while I milk; I still put the anti-kick device on her, though.  Safety first.  I'm not a spring chicken, I don't move as fast as I used to, and my bones might break more easily than they did when I was young.  

Now, the big question that I hear all the time is this:  "Why do you do it?"  

From 1967 through the early nineties, I milked cows twice a day.  For a lot of that time, I raised bottle calves on the milk they gave me.  We didn't go on vacation, and I didn't mind.  We never could afford many vacations anyhow.  We couldn't spend the night away from home, but we both preferred being at home.  You have to milk cows every twelve hours if they are going to keep producing milk, and people who can milk a cow for you (or will) are scarce as hen's teeth.  

I loved the routine, and I loved the cows as much as many of you love your dogs and cats.  However, when I began working away from home, I decided it was time to give up the cows.  We did take some vacations at this time, and I will admit it was nice to get away once in awhile.  I didn't even miss the cows.  

Then I took early retirement because my knees absolutely couldn't take the constant walking at Kohl's DC.  I began to dream of pretty little Jersey cows.  Thanks to Craigslist I found Bonnie, a registered Jersey cow that was the stuff dreams are made of.  I didn't want to be tied down to twice-a-day milking, so at first I simply took all the milk, once a day, that her bull calf was unable to take.  Once he got big enough to consume all her milk, I was free of the milking chore and only put him in a stall overnight if I wanted to steal some milk.  In the short run, this was a great plan, although since Bonnie was a very heavy milker, it eventually took its toll on her beautiful udder.  That is the reason I have been hesitant to simply turn Gracie loose in the pasture with the three babies she's been feeding.  

My Uncle Carl quit farming and moved to town because that's what Aunt Bernice wanted.  He slept at the house in town, but still spent most of his days at the farm.  When a person has done something he loved doing for so many years, it's just hard to give it up; it's a way of life.  Grandma Stevens milked a cow most of her life, even though she was a widow for many of those years and Uncle Leo, right up the road, would have gladly given her all the milk and cream she needed.  It was one of the things I loved when I spent time at her farm, going to the barn and watching her milk "Old Patsy".   Perhaps that's when the seed was planted in my mind that made me love cows.  Grandma wasn't in the best of health, but she refused to give up milking, and finally Uncle Leo just loaded up the cow and took her away. 

I'm not a real farmer, but for some reason being able to get my own milk from my own cow fulfills me.  I like the teamwork, the way the cow and I work together.  I make no money at it, even though I end up with calves to sell, because the untimely death of one cow pretty much takes care of any profit we may have accidentally made.

I just love cows.  That's all.

6 comments:

Sister--Three said...

When we quit dairy farming, we kept two cows. Fleta had to milk in the morning and me at night. I could not get to the barn and get it down and catch the school bus! I don't have a love for milking cows as you do.

Sister--Three said...

*get it done ...

TARYTERRE said...

I think it's wonderful you have a hobby that you love and is fulfilling. The fact you get milk and meat is an added side bonus too. Do what you love, that's what I always say.

Margaret said...

My "animals" are running and yard work. They keep me active and engaged. (also reading and coffee dates) :)

Lori said...

That was a nice testimony!

Sheila Y said...

We could all do well to find something we loved as much. Great entry! Take care, Sheila