Diane Prather: Bringing in the milk cow

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Diane Prather

When my sisters, brother and I were growing up on the ranch, we didn’t get much in the way of “store-bought” groceries.

The family raised most everything.

Vegetables and some fruits were grown, harvested and canned.

We had our own meat and eggs.

Milk came from one or two cows that “freshened” at different times so that we always had milk.

The cow had to be milked twice a day. In the winter it was Dad’s job.

He put the cow in the barn and fed her grain and hay as he milked.

He shared some of the milk with the barn cats and took the rest to the house to be separated.

This was done by using a milk separator (a story in itself) to collect cream from the milk.

The cream was used to make butter and all kinds of other foods.

The skim milk was given to the bucket calf.

(In those days, a calf usually drank from a bucket instead of a bottle that is used now.)

Any leftover milk was fed to the pigs or chickens.

(Sometimes the calf may have been fed whole milk. I can’t remember for sure.)

During the summer, the milk cow was put out into the bull pasture, a grazing area near the house, during the day.

Dad and Mom were careful not to put the cow onto early spring pasture where wild onions were coming up. The onions are a delicacy to cows, but milk from a cow that has eaten them is not.

It tastes terrible and cannot be used.

Mom was in charge of milking during summer months, leaving Dad free to put up hay and ride with the range cows.

So each evening the cow had to be brought into the corral where she’d be milked, spend the night and then be milked again in the morning.

When we kids were little, Mom took us with her to bring in the cow.

When we were older, it was our job.

The bull pasture area bordered other grazing areas.

One was the stump patch, now a hay meadow but once overgrown with chokecherry, serviceberry and oak bushes.

My brother Duane remembers our mother talking about how hard it was to get cows out of the brush if they were hiding there.

The other adjoining pasture was The Forty, and that’s the one I remember the most because when it was time to be brought into the corral, that’s usually where the cow decided to go.

There are lots of jokes about cow mentality, most of which focus on their lack of intelligence.

However cows can be clever, too, like deciding to take off when it’s about time to be brought into the corral.

How the cow knows that it’s milking time is a mystery.

Maybe it’s the position of the sun in the sky or maybe her bag is uncomfortably full.

Whatever it is, our old cow might be grazing away in the bull pasture and the next minute she was off into The Forty.

We’d even notice from the house sometimes.

Somebody would shout, “We’d better get the cow. She’s heading to The Forty.”

Memories of going after the cow go back to when I was about 9 years old.

It might have been after school in early fall.

My sisters and I would change our clothes, cut slices of homemade bread (which might have been fresh from the oven) and spread the bread with butter or homemade jam.

And then it was off to find the cow.

We welcomed the hike after sitting behind desks all day.

We hiked across the bull pasture and into The Forty.

We crossed the creek and followed a cow trail up a hill, because of course the cow would be at the very end of the pasture.

Sure enough, she’d usually be standing there next to the division fence, nibbling on a piece of grass.

That old cow always looked at us as if to say,”Oh, it’s time already? "

Some cows liked to play hide and seek, though, and caused us to hunt through the thick brush to find them.

We decided we’d fool them.

We put bells around their necks.

In the end, we were the ones to be fooled.

The cows learned to stand perfectly still, and we still hunted for them.

Duane remembers one orange and white milk cow named River Annie.

He taught her to come running when he whistled, at least most of the time.

We wonder how he did it.

There were lots of rewards for us when bringing in the cow.

There was the fun of the walk, for one thing.

And then there were all the things we experienced along the way.

There was the creek to cross. Sometimes we scared out rabbits and other small animals.

There were beautiful fall leaves to collect and chokecherries ripe for picking.

And way up at the end of the pasture, where we usually found the cow, we could look down on the beauty of the ranch below.

There’s nothing like bringing in the milk cow.

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