Archive for Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cows don’t have a Labor Day

September 4, 2008

When I was a youngster, I always wondered why we didn't get mail on Labor Day. Of course, as people who lived on a farm, there was always work to be done regardless of holidays or anything else - animals to be fed, cows to be milked, eggs to be gathered and always the fields beckoned the harvester, the plow, the cultivator, the planter. If my parents went on holiday, they first had to find someone to maintain the life at their farm. The milking was the toughest, because it had to be done twice a day, no matter what. The person who filled in had to be available and knowledgeable about farm tasks.

I can assure you that milking a cow properly is no mean feat. We weren't a commercial dairy with automatic machinery. We always kept a few milk cows for supplying our own table and, at one point, to sell cream shipped out at the Rolla depot. There was no sleeping in for the person responsible for those milk cows. If they weren't taken care of on a regular basis, they were in pain and at risk for drying up and infections. So, first thing in the morning, one of us had to go to the barn and persuade the cows waiting around to come into the milking stall. Most of them were glad to oblige for a tasty meal of ground maize and/or corn or other concentrated feed in the stall trough. Once they stuck their heads into the feed bin in the stall, we locked them in with a moveable wood beam, put kickers on their back feet and sat down on the stool, milk bucket in hand. A quick wash up of the udder and whoever was the milkman or milkmaid of the day began pulling.

Milking wasn't a regular chore that was assigned to the children of the family. It wasn't an easy job, but we helped out sometimes. I always hated to take care of the cow named Bess. She was a Jersey cow, a breed with rich creamy milk, but not a producer of great quantities. Bess was beautiful-or as beautiful as a cow could be. She was soft tan with dark markings on her face and legs. Her eyes were lovely by anybody's standard. They were large and doe like, in a delicately boned face crowned by two tiny horns. She could seem, at first observation, the most gentle and placid of creatures. I remember how difficult she was to corner and persuade to enter the stall. But, the worst trait she exhibited was her ability to kick over the bucket of milk just as it reached being full. Bess always seemed satisfied if she succeeded in doing this, and the barnyard cats cheered her on as they got a bonus. Bess would slowly blink her beautiful long-lashed eyes and her long tongue would emerge to rescue the crumbs of the ground meal that clung to her muzzle. She seemed to be innocently saying "What's the matter, my dear?' while completely aware of what she had just done.

Even on today's automated dairy farms, I can assure you that there is no closing down for a Labor Day or any other holiday. For some people, everyday is Labor Day-a day for work just as any other time.


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