TBT – The Land of Milk and Honey

I originally wrote this blogpost in March 2007. Its a gooder though, and today feels like the kind of day we could use a laugh. I still can’t believe that I was crazy enough to bring a Jersey cow home with no idea what I was doing. Thankfully we all survived!!

The stoic Sunflower Gentrice GRJ Buffy and her calf, Clover, my most recent nemesis and object of affection. Or is that “infection”?

I used to imagine a magical land, the proverbial Land O’ Milk and Honey. Oh, what a wonderous place that must be.

I now know better.

For starters, bees are bastards. Sure, sure, they do a little hiney dance to communicate with hivemates as to the locale of delicious nectar. They are eons ahead of the fashion industry with their contrasting yellow and black wardrobes. Their work ethic is commendable. Not many creatures hum while they slave away tirelessly for the good of the community. But lets face it. They are bastards. Just ask my brothers who have been on death’s door several times due to an unpleasant transaction with one of the cranky critters. Recently my midbro, Mo, sported a hand the size of a baseball glove after being stung by a bee. In a hotel. In November. See, they are bastards.

That clears up the misconception that honey could be anything but vile refuse from malicious, vengeful bugs.

Now onto the milk part of the equation.

Cows are not bastards. I will say that first and foremost. They are docile, calm, and reflective. People that own cows, however, should have their heads examined.

Firstly, who was the first genius to look upon the lowly bovine, with her big wet eyes, drooping “sad clown” nether-regions and swollen mammary system and thought “Mmmmmmm, I’d like to have a drink of that?” I’ll admit, dairy is delicious. But whoever was warped enough to consider the possibility of ingesting the excretions of such a humble and dowdy beast?

Secondly, who, in the year 2007, when milk is conveniently available at any corner store at any hour of day, would own their own cow?

Sadly, I must admit that I am guilty.

It began a few months ago. I began dreaming of a simpler lifestyle. I envisioned my Dearly Beloved, Peanut and I sitting around the table at night, enjoying a meal of homegrown veggies, fresh, homebaked bread, tender pork chops, fresh, creamy butter and a dessert of ice cream. Who could imagine a more serene country scene? I want to stay home and mother up lil Peanut. What better way to contribute to the family and flex my BSA muscles than to jump feet first into our own agricultural endevours?

First came the goats. Ahhhh, the goats. Those intelligant, quizzical little nymphs. Joy turned to sorrow and misfortune a week after their arrival when 21 dead deformed goatlets arrived on our doorstep, the victims of a nutritional deficiency.

On to “Big Fat Idea #2″. I began searching for a lucious milk cow. Our very own “Lil Lady” who would gladly produce gallons and gallons of mammary excretions in exchange for meager room and board. Off I trotted to search the countryside for this wee lass. Time after time I came up disapointed and disgusted as we visited one horrendous wreck of a farm after another.

Last Sunday my perseverance finally paid off. After driving 2 hour I stood face to face with my brown eyed beauty. “Sunflower Gentrice GRJ Buffy” was her name. A big name for a diminuitve little cow. She was all eyes and hip bones wrapped up in a rough coat the colour of a mud puddle. She posesses a certain air of mystery with her black bandit mask. She knows things I dare not ask her about.

Sunday evening she settled into our humble little pasture which is basically my front yard. I enjoyed gazing out at her lovingly from time to time, warming up to the idea of cow ownership.

It wasn’t long before the honeymoon was over. A mere 2 days after her arrival she birthed a firecracker of a calf. A little doe-eyed heifer calf, the size and colour of a fawn. She’s been christened Clover…as in “Blow me over in the clover…that @#*&% cow calved already!”

And with her arrival Clover brought the shattering blow of reality. Its time to wake up, Princess. Your career as a milkmaid begins NOW.

So with very little time to reconsider or prepare, I found myself face to face with the biggest set of tits I’ve ever seen.

Day 1 – A little uncomfortable with the thought of manhandling the mammary system of another living thing, I grimace and squat on my haunches near the cow’s hindquarters. How in the devil do you get milk out of these things? The method for procuring nourishment from these teats is not self-explanatory. Years of cartoons have not served me well. Simply squeezing them does nothing. One must sort of pinch off the top of the teat to stop the milk from backflowing, then close your fingers to coerce it to squirt out of a wee hole in the tip. The tough part is that the cow must actually cooperate and allow this to happen. Convincing a cow that this form of violation is in her best interest is an artform in itself.

One of the largest hurdles to overcome was the discrepency in teat size. You could say she is an A-cup in the hind teats, and a Double D in the front. The front teats require a full hand and a firm squeeze whilst the piddly back end requires two fingers in a delicate squishing motion. Neither is particularly difficult when performed on its own, however, when one tries to do a full-hand-firm-squeeze with the left hand whilst convincing the right to feather-light-two-finger-squish it is akin to rubbing your tummy while patting your head. The result was comical at best, and depression inducing at worst. My mammoth man-hands have never been at such a disadvantage. The end result was that I gave up on the two-handed traditional milking I’ve seen time and again on TeleToon. I milked the beast one teat at a time, concentrated fiercely on technique while biting my tongue.

An hour later I finally had approximately 1 litre of life giving fluid. That may sound pretty impressive…until you hear that the cow produces 30 L at her peak lactation. That means there are technically not enough hours in the day for me to milk this damned cow. The other sad thing is that after a full hour her udder was no smaller or softer than at the outset of our journey. The poor beast was still sporting a giant, hard, hot medicine ball between her back legs. Dud Milkmaid – 0, Cow – 1.

Day 2 – Morning Milking – Determined to make more a dent in the poor girl’s bountiful bag I enlist the help of my father. He’s a dear old Dad, but I am coming to see that he is basically an older, male version of myself. This can lead to some interesting times.

7:30 am rolls around and we position ourselves on either side of the cow. We will surround her and tag team her. This mental intimidation will surely coax the milk out. There is nowhere to go but OUT into the bucket. We prayed our strategy would work.

We huddled against the bovine’s thighs, shivering in the -13C weather. Our breath frosted up the hair on her bag as we cussed and tugged at her chilly, shrivelled teats. The metal pail began to ring out with the telltale “ting-ting-ting” as streams of warm milk shot into it, freezing against the sides. It was going better than before. Maybe there was hope.

Suddenly out of left field Clover came barrelling towards me, determined to have her breakfast. I pushed her aside, assuring her that she’d have access to the milk bar as soon as I was finished. The calf was not interested in waiting. She backed up and rammed again, this time her rock hard skull butted me in the face. I reeled in pain, screaming obscenities I didn’t even realize I knew. Not the soothing, relaxing environment conducive to milk letdown, I fear. My Dad chuckled on the other side of the cow. At least someone was enjoying this. He tries to lighten the mood by shooting streams of thick yellow milk at me, a cow-powered-milk-gun. I fail to see the hilarity, and later will curse him when my winter wear reeks of rotten milk.

The ruckus unsettled Sunflower Gentrice GRJ Buffy. Her hips started to sway and she slowly lifted up a hoof in protest. In anticipation of her literally “kicking the bucket” both Dad and I instinctively reached for the metal pail at the same time. The warm milk that had been running down our fingers froze our hands to the metal pail, leading to a harrowing few moments as we realized we were stuck on either side of an angry mama cow with a metal pail holding us in a precarious position underneath her. Luckily we both managed to escape unscathed, aside from a little flesh missing from our paws where we pulled off the bucket in a helluva hurry.

We finished the milking in 1/2 hour procuring 2.5 L between the two of us. Defeated, I returned to the house to price out automatic milking machines (more than the cost of the cow) and toyed with the idea of selling her and cutting my losses.

Day 2 – Evening Milking – It was dark by the time I tied Sunflower Gentrice GRJ Buffy up. With some anxiety I sidled up to her now familiar thigh and took a deep breath. I grasped two teats, cranked my left-and-right-brain on at once and vowed to DO THIS THING. I was amazed when both hands began to harmoniously tug milk out of her udder. I’m amazing! I’m a prodigy! I am unstoppable! But wait! I am tugging both sides siumltaneously in a rammy fashion, similar to an orchestra conductor’s spastic arm movements at the exciting climax of a very emotional piece of music. In embarrassment I apologize to the old girl for my over-exuberant-16-year-old-boy-esque teat tugging and resume, this time with a measure of patience and timing. Soon the milk is “squirt-squirt-squirt-squirting” into the pail rythmically, alternating between the tiny back teat and massive foreteat with such precision you’d never guess I was dealing with anything but the finest matched teats. Confident in my newfound skill I dazzle her with diagonal milking, then just the fore teats, then just the hind teats. I am the Harlem Globetrotters of the milking community.

Pain and numbness start to creep into my hands, arms and back. I feel fatigued, yet the bottom of the pail is barely covered in milk. I begin counting, vowing to get 100 squirts of milk before I take a break. With the manageable goal of 100 squirts I press on, the end in sight. The first 100 are monumental. I start another 100 squirts, driven on by the raw power that is my capable milking manhands.

The cow sighs and relaxes into the new rythmn. I hum to her, I count to her in a singsong voice “-31-32-33″. I sing “She’ll be coming around the mountain,”, I sing her the Pussycat Dolls. I sing her Christmas Carols. She starts humming herself, emitting soft “mmmuh-mmmuh” cow love sounds, the same she’d give her calf. She starts chewing her cud. I am the friggen cow whisperer.

I breathe deep, inhaling the earthy cow smell and take in the dark sky. The only sounds are the reassuring “squirt-squirt” of the milk hitting the pail and the deep, fume-laden rumble of my pickup truck shedding light on this serene scene. Every once in a while my aim is off and there is a “ping” as the stream of milk bounces off of the side of the pail, or nothing at all, as I accidentally squirt milk down her furry hind legs. When I am finished I have a total of 4 L of milk. I’m getting better!! It will only be a couple of weeks before I can master the 30 L.

Yes, I can do this.

I can master the cow.

Now if only I could master my lactose intolerance, we’d be laughing.

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