Monday, July 30, 2007

Yet More Cows ....

If only I had known years ago, when I lived on the farm, that I would one day want photos of all the things that we then thought were mundane and boring, I would have taken lots more. This is the only photo I could find of the cowshed, or part thereof. Maybe my siblings have better ones, but this is the best I could do.
In front of the shed is the cowyard which I mentioned in my last posting. By the look of the mud on the tracks we certainly weren't suffering drought at the time this photo was taken, which would be nearly 40 years ago.

I think I posted this story a year or more ago, but since I can't find it now, and I thought it would follow on quite nicely from my last post, here 'tis ....


I was seven years old when Dad declared that it was time I learnt to milk the cows. “You can start by coming down to the shed in the afternoons and feeding the cows”, he said. As it was wintertime I dressed warmly in old trousers, which my brothers had grown out of, and a pair of rubber boots. These boots had also belonged to my brothers. They were both for the left foot, but that didn’t matter as one boot was two sizes bigger that the other. I felt important now that I had a real job to do, not just a baby job like collecting eggs or gathering twigs for kindling.

We had the usual type of cowshed for that era. The cow walked into a stall, put her head through a wooden bail and a rope was pulled which closed the bail behind the cow’s head preventing her from backing out. She was then leg roped and her tail hung on a nail so that she couldn’t flick it into the farmers’s eyes. Six cows could be milked at once, unlike many sheds these days where 40 or more cows are milked at a time, with the operator staying in one place and the cows moving round on a revolving platform.

A wooden trough or manger ran along the front of the stalls, into which dry feed like bran, oats or chaff was tipped so that the cows could eat whilst they were being milked. The feed was mixed in a big wooden box about 2m x 1m and about 90cm deep. Tipping the dry feed into the manger for each cow was to be my new job. I was sure I could do that quite easily. But I hadn’t reckoned on the size, nor the greed of some of the cows. I remember 3 cows in particular. There was a red and white roan named Renee, an almost black one with brown stripes called Brindle, and an allover red one named Mabel. They were all equally huge and just as impatient for their feed. As soon as they saw me approach with my tin of feed, their heads would come over the top of the manger on their seemingly telescopic necks as they tried to get to the feed with their long tongues before I could tip it into the manger. I was not scared of these cows; I was terrified. It made no difference that Dad said they wouldn’t hurt me. It was all very well for him, he was big and I was little. Crying didn’t help either because I still had to tip the feed in quickly because, until I did, the cow wouldn’t keep still enough for Dad or my brothers to milk her. Eventually I learned to throw a handful of feed from a good distance into the manger, and while the greedy animal had her head down searching for the few grains, I could tip in the rest. Most of the cows were no trouble and stood still as they waited for their feed.

After a few weeks, just when I was getting used to feeding the cows, without fearing that Renee, Brindle and Mabel were going to eat me too, Dad said “Now you can come out here with us and learn to wash the cows’ udders before we put the milking machines on them.” There I made my acquaintance with the other end of Renee, Brindle and Mabel, and the rest of the herd. But that is another story.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Personality of a Cow!

Posted by Picasa
Similar to the cows we owned, but not so much white.

After reading Jellyhead’s delightful posting about her family’s idiosyncratic dog, Millie, I started to think about the ‘personalities of animals I have known’. We’ve never been a family for keeping pets, much to our children’s disgust, so the animals I had most contact with were our herd of dairy cows.

When I say ‘our’ I mean the cows that my father owned, and every member of the family had to do their share of the milking. I possibly milked more cows than my siblings did because I actually spent nine years at home, working on the farm, after leaving school.

It’s nearly 40 years since my late parents gave up dairying, so we didn’t have the most modern of facilities by today's standards, but we did use milking machines and didn’t have to milk the cows by hand, as my mother had done about 80 years ago.

As Jelly pointed out, animals seem to have their own personalities, and these can differ widely, even within the same animal type or breed. Our herd, which never numbered more than about 85, consisted mainly of Holsteins (then called Friesians), with a smattering of Jerseys, Shorthorns and other crossbreeds. Many of the cows were born and reared on the farm.

There is often a well-defined hierarchy in a herd of cows. Usually one cow will lead the rest of the herd, with her ‘subordinates’ following close behind, and so it goes right back to the inevitable stragglers, and the odd rogue who may well decide to leave the herd to see if pastures really are ‘greener on the other side’. The lead cow will be the first into or out of the paddock (field) and lead them all round to the cowshed for milking.

Unlike today, where many sheds operate on a rotating platform where 40 or so cows can be milked at once, or other sheds where 2 rows of about 10 cows stand rear end to a central pit where the farmer walks up and down attaching the suction cups to the cows' udders, and removing them a few minutes later, our shed could only hold 6 cows at a time. The cow would come in from the yard at the front of the shed and walk into a bail, which was then closed behind her head. After each cow was milked, the bail was opened and she walked forwards and out through a passageway to another yard where she would remain until all of the cows were milked. They were then herded back to their paddock.

The personality of many of the cows was so dominant that to ignore it was to do so at our own peril. For instance, some cows always wanted to be in the first 6 into the shed whilst others took it as an infringement of liberty if they were brought in whilst any other cows remained in the yard; they always wanted to be last. Some cows would only go into a left hand bail, and others only into a right hand one. A few would only go into one particular bail, and others wouldn’t go into a bail against a wall. Most cows stood quietly whilst being milked but an odd one or two fussed and fidgeted. In our shed, as soon as the bail closed behind the cow’s head, she would be leg ‘roped’ using a chain with a rubber-covered hook on one end which was slipped around the cow’s leg, just above the hoof. Most cows didn’t mind having their leg secured in this way, but we had one that objected strongly and would stand on three legs with the fourth thrashing wildly trying to dislodge the hook, which she usually did. We resorted to tying her leg with a rope, after which she would stand quietly, although you had to be careful how you approached her to tie on the rope or else you would feel the full force of a flying kick.

The cows were usually given some dry feed such as oats or chaff to eat whilst being milked. Feeding the cows was often the first job that the children learned to do. (Sometime ago I wrote a story about my experiences with this chore, which I think I posted to the blog, but as I can’t locate it on the blog, I’ll repost it in a day or two.)

All of the cows had names as it wasn’t a large herd. Most farmers now use a numbered ear tag to identify each animal, which is certainly more accurate when you may have a lot of well nigh identical cows, which can only be distinguishable by such minor details as the shape of an ear or a small scar on a leg, etc. We tended to use names starting with the same letter for all the descendants in one family. At one time we had about 18 cows all beginning with the letter ‘N’, all progeny of Nancy, who was 20 years old when we sold her – a venerable age indeed. Sometimes the name also described the animal. One was called Nuisance because she had a habit of either climbing through or jumping over fences. Two cows were named Winter and Spring. We bought them from the saleyards and one calved that same night 31 August – last day of Winter, and the other calved the next day – first day of Spring.

There is probably much more I could write about the cows, which were sometimes the bane of my life as they were there, needing to be milked at both ends of the day, every day of the year. I realise that this lifestyle is unfamiliar to many people, so if you want to ask any questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer them – if I can remember back that far …. lol.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I had such good intentions ...

... to walk around the hill and take photos of the clouds after the rain and thunderstorm. But by the time I finished talking to my neighbour on the east side of the hill, it was too dark to take photos of the clouds on the west side of the hill.
Better luck next time.
View from the side garden.

View from the driveway.

I love the white bark on these eucalypts against the dark clouds.

Clouds with a sunset tinge.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Touch of Frost ......

....... to cool down our sweltering friends in the Northern Hemisphere.
Only a light frost this morning, but our maximum temps are barely reaching double figures (C), and we may even have snow in Canberra by mid-week.
It's been our first real winter for several years, and I for one, am enjoying it.
Of course, being warm does help!

Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 13, 2007

Winter Weather

Ah, winter ....... leafless trees,
fogs and frosts,
clouds and cold,
but .....

.... the jonquils are flowering !!!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Winter Walk

A sunny afternoon and the great outdoors beckoned. A stroll around the hill and a little winter scenery.

There was a cold south-easterly wind blowing, but for goodness sake -


Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Twenty-nine jars of stewed apples (apple sauce), from the buckets pictured below, which should just about keep us going until the next harvest. I kept aside about another 15 large apples for eating. I'll be sorry when they're all gone as they have been so delicious.
...... and, touch wood, ALL of the jars appear to have sealed!
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 01, 2007

No More Doctors ......

The old saying goes "An Apple a Day, Keeps the Doctor Away", so at this rate we shouldn't have to see a doctor for many days. Richard picked the last of the Granny Smith apples off our one tree this week as the birds were finding their way under the nets and pecking at the fruit.
I haven't weighed the apples but by the time I've finished peeling and slicing what is here I'll be wishing the birds had eaten a lot more!
Granny Smiths are usually regarded as a cooking apple but these are so crisp, juicy and sweet that we've been eating them raw for weeks now. They don't need any added sugar when cooked either. Looks like I'll have to go to a charity shop tomorrow and buy some more jars. So, guess what I'll be doing this week - or forever.
Posted by Picasa