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.


Val said...

her tail hung on a nail ???!!!

Poor cow! But I think you were very brave to have to deal with such large animals, placid as they may seem to be.

Alice said...

Yes, Val, her tail would be hung on a nail because, unlike many farmers today, we didn't practise the barbaric habit of cutting off the tails and only leaving about 20cm, which is totally useless for what the tail was designed for - brushing away the flies.

The reason they cut them off is so that the cow's udder stays cleaner and the cow can't flick the tail in the farmer's face. Which is why we hung their tails on a nail, which was driven into a post at the end of the bail. It was only the long hairy part of the tail that was attached to the nail - simply put on the nail, then a bit more of hair was looped over on top of first bit. You can imagine doing the same thing with a ponytail.

Kerri said...

I'm happy to see this story again Alice. I can just see you in your brother's old pants and two left-footed boots, throwing handfuls of grain at the cows :)
You were brave to perservere. Those cows must've looked huge to a 7 yr. old.
Being swatted in the face or head with a nasty tail encased in a hard lump of manure is an unpleasant experience at best, and it can really hurt!
Your cow shed is just as Ross pictured it.
Great story Alice. Thank you.

meggie said...

I love this post! It brought back so many memories of cow sheds I have known... & cows! Who all have personalities, & can be so ornery when they choose. I vividly remember the smell of the cowsheds, & you know, I dint mind it a bit!

HORIZON said...

I see you had the same problem with your wellies as we have with socks! :) Can just imagine you helping out as a wee lass and think that sounded like a fun place to grow up.
Nominated you for a Reflection Award Alice.