Appalachian Wednesday–Learning to Milk a Cow

GuernseyIt was a sad day. Jim came home not long ago and let me know that our source for raw cow’s milk had dried up, so to speak.  I tried almond milk, but really, they’re not fooling anyone. So it’s back to the ultra-pasteurized, homogenized stuff that was milk once upon a time. Sigh.

Maybe that’s why I decided to give a family in the novel I’m currently writing a milk cow. I mean, someone should be getting the good stuff. And Emily will have enough milk to make homemade butter, whipped cream, and cheese. Yay!

It’s pretty easy to give a character a cow. You just send her down to the stockyards and buy one. Or she could get one from a neighbor. Or a nearby dairy farm. Easy-peasy. And then, of course, she’ll need to milk said cow. I grew up on a farm. I know how this works. You apply pressure from the top down, fanning your fingers. And you strip the udder dry each time you milk.

Got it. I watched my dad do it for years. I even know how to make butter and how to skim the cream. I watched my mother do it for years.

And I could probably get away with that much detail. But turns out there’s SO much more to it. Details like:

  • What breed is the cow? (Different breeds have different temperaments and give varying amounts of milk with higher or lower butterfat. Guernsey, Jersey, Holstein, Brown Swiss, Milking Shorthorn and so on.)
  • Is she currently pregnant? (Milk cows need to be bred annually–that’s what keeps them giving milk.)
  • How old she is? (Old enough to have had a couple of calves, young enough to still be a good producer.)
  • What about the condition of her udder? (Lumps, bumps, even pinholes can affect milking.)
  • Or the importance of sterilizing your hands and the udder as well as the milking bucket? (Bacteria can ruin a good thing.)
  • And just how long should a cow be dry before giving birth?  (About two months–stop milking her to make her go dry.)

If even one of my readers has kept a milk cow (and I like to think lots of them have), missing those details could spoil the story. So I’ve been researching and learning all the details that I didn’t need to know when my parents handled this stuff. Some of those details will be included in the story, some of them will just give me interesting dinner conversation somewhere down the line.

So, if you’re curious about Emily Phillips’s milk cow, here are the specifics: She’s a three-year-old Guernsey pregnant with her third calf. (Guernseys give less milk and tend to be docile, making them good for a family.) She’s easy to milk, gentle, and has a mottled brown and white hide. Her name is Bertie and I wish she were mine.

 

13 thoughts on “Appalachian Wednesday–Learning to Milk a Cow

  1. Awww. You are SO cool!! You can milk a cow, seriously, I don’t know anyone who can actually milk a cow. And you’re right, missing the little details can spoil the story.

    I may need to interview you on camera for my blog. How about in the Fall?

  2. Aunt Pat

    I remember one day when everyone had to leave in a hurry and I had to quickly milk Bubbles a little early. Well, she wasn’t ready to “let” me and I couldn’t get her to let down the milk. In my frenzy she got very restless and proceeded to step on my sandaled foot. I couldn’t budge her! After some screaming and much pushing, I got her to get off my foot… I milked her later. Lo and behold when I took off my shoe, there was a bruised blue perfect print of the sandal straps on my poor sore foot. Someday I’ll share my first attempt to make cottage cheese…. it looked more like a block of cream cheese without the good flavor… she had been in the wild onion patch!

  3. Wow, I needed a light hearted, yet informative read after my day. 🙂 This was interesting and fun, Sarah. I love the details you shared. As a born and bred city girl, I’ve never been even close to milking a cow. This research is fun to read, and I’m certain it will nuance your story. 🙂

  4. Mom

    While I loved that last paragraph, you wouldn’t wiash she were yours after you were chained to having to milk her twice a day for a long time. I loved the milk, the cream, the butter, the ice cream and the whipped cream…. but hated that she HAD to be milked twice every day. I looked forward to the “dry” spells till you all wouldn’t drink the store bought milk.

      1. Mom

        All you have to do is find someone (not too far away) who has facilities to keep a cow and knows how to take care of it and how to milk. You buy the cow and take half of the milk. Now, how does one advertise that? 😉

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