Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Open Milk Machine

I don't know what is prompting me to post this. Actually... I do. Wink I was talking with a friend, and she is looking for reasons to NOT get a milk cow. A couple years ago, I had written a lovely little piece that I lovingly call "The Open Milk Machine" parodying Stephen Crane's "Open Boat." Having some experience in the area of milking bovine, and having recently jumped into the whole milking thing (at the time) - many of these blunders were rather fresh in my mind. Yes, they have all happened - just not in one milking session - they have been super condensed for entertainment purposes.

So without further ado, I give you, "The Open Milk Machine"

:cue melodramatic music:

It was a bleak morning, yet the milk maid was up hours before the sun and bundled in layers of coats. She had no hope of seeing the sunrise this morning; it was the dead of December. As she tramped out to the milking parlor, she had to make another trail through the snow, for during the silent night, the clouds brought several feet of new snow- erasing all traces of previous paths. When she finally got to the milking parlor, she realized that the power had gone out yet again, while she was tramping through the snow. So she hooked up the generator and prayed that there would be enough gas, since it was almost empty from the previous night.

She went out to fetch the cows. To her horror, the calf got out of his enclosure, found his mom, and nursed her until she was almost completely dry.
“My goodness, cow! My goodness, cow! My goodness, cow! That is the last time I trust my brother to take care of the calf!” the milk maid cried. The heifer looked back with an unfeeling glance and continued chewing her cud; she knew that her baby was meant to stay with her even if the humans believed otherwise. The milk maid finally shooed the calf back into his stall, and she resumed to the next step of her routine: getting the two heifers into the milking parlor. The girls refused to exit the pasture until the milk maid enticed them with some grain, then they slipped on some frozen mud but saved themselves. Cows have a natural sense of balance that enables them to do such things.

With the cows finally in their stanchions, the milk maid continued her chore. She washed down the cows’ udders with a rag, applied a cleaner, and cleaned it off with a special wipe. Next the mastitis test. The big cow tested negative, but the mother cow came positive.

“What am I to do? What am I to do? What am I to do? We cannot drink this milk, but I hate wasting it! I will just have to milk her completely dry and look up remedies in the books. . . A vet would not even be able to come out because we are snowed in! Oh, what am I to do about this?”

The first cow to be milked was the mother cow who was almost dry anyway. With the air so cold, the milk machine refused to behave or work properly. There was no suction on the lid to keep it from falling to the depths of the concrete parlor floor; the attachment for the pulsating motion barely worked. When the milking of the first cow was almost complete – ten minutes longer than normal because of the malfunctioning machine – the cow started kicking and snagged the vacuum tube between her hooves and pulled the hose apart from the machine. Scrambling to save the precious milk from the ravages of the foot, the milk maid finally yanked the tube from the hooves, but it was covered in poop, mud and soggy straw.

Once she had the pipe back on the machine and was finishing the first cow, the machine stopped working all together. No amount of bumping, tweaking, or manipulating could help the engine – it was simply too cold. She just heaved a heavy sigh, continued her work, and began pouring the milk from the machine into the milk jars. As she was tipping the canister over to put the milk into its final resting place, her cold fingers slipped and dumped half of the white gold all over the work table and floor. The cow only gave two pints. To the point of tears, she bit her lip and trudged on, just as the generator gasped for fuel.

The next cow would have to be hand milked, so the milk maid found an empty pail and began. Slowly, slowly, slowly the bucket began to fill up – even though the cow thought that it would be entertaining to swish her tail into the milk maid’s face after every five to eight squirts. After the bucket had about three cups in it, the cow lifted her tail and deposited a meadow muffin* right next to the milk maid’s head. The poop splattered everywhere, and the milk maid was covered in it. She pulled the bucket out from underneath the cow, cleaned it and herself off as best she could, scooped up the mess with a shovel, and poured what milk she did get through a strainer into the jars.

As she continued milking, the heifer was constantly kicking and jerking – nearly kicking the bucket over – but one of the kicks, the milk maid missed, and the foot landed right in the bucket. Just as the milk maid was about to faint in utter shock and disdain, one of her brothers came and was going to ask if she needed any help, but, upon seeing the state that she was in, skulked away to give her some space seeing that she needed to let off some of the vexation that had built up all morning.

“A whole bucket ruined! My father was right when he said that I would have to survive through January before I could call myself a real milk maid!” When she finally did finish milking, she only had about a gallon to show for her work - when the cows normally gave about three gallons – because of all of the accidents this particular morning.

Her brother came back and offered to put the cows into the pasture again, and she was grateful, never wanting to see those two again for the rest of the day. As she was sterilizing the machine with scalding hot water (she now had electricity again because her father found some more gasoline for the generator), she overshot the spout and hit her hand with the blistering water. Writhing in pain and agony she gasped to continue her work which seemed futile and pathetic at this point. With the machine put back together and the cows in the pasture, she dragged herself back to the house where her cold breakfast was waiting for her. She would have to come back out that evening to repeat the whole process again.

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