When I first started letting my heart venture towards the dream of farming, I did what any respectable millenial would do - I googled.
Catholic + farming + house + church
You know the routine. I finally found one farmer with a pretty serious blog and what looked like "the real deal." So I emailed him. (There's an interesting "step" when you're doing this, when you stop googling and start emailing... that's how you know your getting closer to the jump - OR you're searching for a reason why you can't go. You can.) He emailed me back a very long, somewhat odd response. But I remember one of the main things he insinuated is just because you think this sounds nice, doesn't mean you can do it, and then he asked, "Can you milk a cow at night that's trying to kick you?"
I remember thinking, "Maybe. I'm not sure. But I for damn sure not letting not knowing be the reason for not going."
Over a year later I find myself on a farm. I don't own the house, or the land, or the farm. (We actually did officially start our farm, but that's another story). But I do own the cows. I bought them when I was almost out of money, and the pay from my other job a bit sporadic. I could only do that because of the generosity of some dear friends. I spent my last dollars on cows because I wanted the kind of security that is the most real. I wanted my money to be invested in something that didn't mature with an interest rate, but with proper care and husbandry. Dollars work because we all believe they do. Cows work because they actually work. They turn grass into meat, milk and more cows. They also fertilize the garden, keep the grass trimmed, and give you a new cow every year. They're fun too. The excess whey and skimmed milk can even sustain some pigs (because no one in their right mind would drink pig food - skimmed milk). Cows used to be the basis of every homestead, sometimes even before chickens (read the Little House books).
I've been getting ready for these cows to give birth since December when I bought them. I've been nagging cowboys and dairymen all over the county to try and learn what to do. There's no one else around that I know of that just has family cows, but many old farmers remember when everyone had a cow, so I pick their brains. When it comes to the question, "How do you milk?" the most common answer is, "You'll figure it out."
Today, as we got closer to milking time (the second milking after a very tiny bit the first day), my wife and I grew anxious. We knew what was coming was going to be hard. You see, Abigail is a Heifer. A Heifer is a first-time mom. She's never been milked. We've never milked. She's bigger and stronger than both of us a couple times over. We were nervous. I even went out at the last minute to a dairy farm to pick up some utter balm that would assist with the let down. I think I just wanted something else to be on my side.
We got her in the stanchion. (A stanchion keeps their heads locked in one place, but not the whole body.) We put her feed in. Then I began to apply the utter balm. She started kicking. I had been kicked before, during the first milking. When a cow starts kicking, you're on your toes. If you're not on your toes she will be.
My wife grabbed her tail and lifted it high. When you turn a cows tail up straight, they can't kick, but they can still move. And she moved. She tossed her weight to the side, closing me in between a big hay bail and the fence, with my wife following as best as she could while holding that tail high (remember where my wife is standing for this...). The protest continued complete with anger poops ("Oh, you want something from my backside huh?") and body thrusting back and forth. Sometimes she got away from the wife and the kicking started again. She even got down on all fours in protest. It was intense. We were panting before a drop of milk saw daylight.
Then mama cow began to realize she could not see her calf. So I went and picked the baby up and brought her close. I think this brought some comfort. But it didn't calm her. I kept pushing her back, grunting and sweating. She did the same back to me. But she's bigger. I looked at my wife and that's when I thought...
"I can't do this. He was right. I can't milk a cow that's trying to kick me. I'm about to be defeated..."
I began thinking of what other men I can call to help wrestler her into submission. I thought of the machines that people promise make the world easier. I thought of all the things I needed besides just me and my wife.
Then Katie looked at me and said, "If this were a toddler, we would not let her do whatever she wanted. We would make her stay where we told her to stay." My mined quickly scanned through Aquinas, passions, animals, intellect, lower appetites, will, virtue, perseverance, etc. (my other job keeps these things in the mind). She was right.
I inwardly decided that we would just keep going. We finally pushed her back into position, put the calf close to where she could see. I reached under and started squeazing. She let me. Or she had given up. Either way, we began.
And this is hard to describe, the milking that is. It's not just squeezing or pulling, its a very fine wave of the fingers with a slight downward motion (not a pull) that compells the milk forth. When you're learning, you'll get one goot squirt and it really feels good, but he next one your rythm is off and you get nothing. But, as I was figuring that I out a realized that we were milking a cow. I say "we" because Katie was there holding that tail high.
It took almost an hour to get all the milk, and it was only a half gallon. But it is a beautiful sight in the fridge. I could milk a cow. I did milk a cow. I do have what it takes.
As we kept milking, I had my head leaning on the cow, and every so often I would look up at my wife. She was sweating profusely with drops running down her face. I forgot to mention that she had a baby strapped on her back this whole time. She's amazing. Then I would look down at the milk. This was so much work to get to, and there it was in that shiny new bucket. This is what we're doing here. Without her, I would have been defeated. We men are torn away from our homes and wives by the modern ordering of things. We think they need our strength more - I think we need theirs.
So yeah, we milked a cow. I can't wait for my coffee tomorrow...