Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bringing Home the Cows

I have heard the saying, “. . . this and that till the cows come home.” The cows will come home on their own if their herder shows up very tardy.

I do have pleasant memories of going after the seven or eight cows we used to have when I was a young girl living with my parents and Sister Katie. Katie was three years older than I.

Our farm had a day pasture and a night pasture. The first part of the pasture lane would get very muddy in the spring because of a rainy season. To keep shoes or bare feet clean, I would inch up real close to the fence, while the cows’ udders would get real messy at such times and would have to be cleaned up before milking.

When the days became cooler and the mornings a bit crisp, I would run to the spot where the first cow got up to warm my bare feet while the other cows got started. Sometimes, too, there was a newborn calf by its mother’s side; it was a thrill to be the first one to find the calf and share the news.

In the night pasture there was one lone tree along the lane, and in the pasture thistles, milkweed, goldenrods and a half-dozen small green mounds which I could not figure out how they got there. This lane came off the big lane and at this junction there was a nice gate, while across the way a makeshift gate was made by stretching two barbed wires across two poles guarding the larger day pasture. Further up along the lane stood an old neglected tree which had never been trimmed or pruned, yet produced its share of good eating apples, gnarled and yellow. Most apples had several good bites in them and the cows tasted them too. Farther along the south fence stood a big bush of green and reddish gooseberries, ripe in late summer. Any time when I came for the cows I would detour over to that bush and enjoy its fruit, while I called for the cows, still hidden below the rise which led to a low spot. One by one, they would show up.

Soon all were home in the barnyard. Now I would pump by hand this good cold well water till the wooden trough was full and every cow’s thirst was satisfied.

Then they willingly went to their stanchions to devour their gallon tin of chips. Either Katie or I would hand spray each cow with fly spray to relieve them of the pesky flies and to reduce the switching of their tails while milking. Now we took our pails and the one- or three-legged stools and sat down to milk. Sometimes singing or whistling, we enjoyed milking fast so the milk would rise fast and foam into our two-and-a-half gallon pails. The three or four cats in the rear would need to have their dishes filled a time or two.

The milk was carried to the milk house, back of the pump house, and poured into the big hopper, which then flowed into the strainer through the neck of the ten-gallon milk can. When the milking was finished, we tried to hurry the cows out of the barn as fast as possible to avoid having the concrete floor all splattered [with their droppings], back again to the lane leading to the night pasture.

Another landmark was the wild cherry tree along the line fence in the big hill field. From the top of this hill, you could see over two fields out to the road and far beyond for miles around. It was delightful to be there. The tree was a haven for the blackbirds and many other birds to feast on, and to nest in.

Along the far edge of this field, my father decided one year to plant our potato patch. Dad had his color-matched team, Maude and Bell, hitched to a neighbor’s borrowed potato planter. The seed potatoes were in the hopper on the back, and I was to sit in the back to see to it that each piece of potato would find its right niche in the rotating blade. I took my chore gloves along to wear, because I did not like the feel of those dry potatoes. On the next-to-the-last round, my glove got caught in the wheel and took my finger where it was not supposed to be and cut it badly, making it bleed profusely. I did not say anything till we got to the end of the row. When Dad saw it, he said, “You go home and let Mother fix it. I can finish this up.” It healed well, only a little crooked, but I can still wear a thimble on that finger. That was a good memory of working with my Dad on a nice summer day. At that young age, had I been asked to do an errand after dark, the screech owl’s mournful voice would have given me the creeps, but the friendly whippoorwill was music to the ears.

by Clara Miller

This collection of writings by and about Clara Yoder Miller has been gathered by her children and grandchildren, in honor of her ninety-ninth birthday. Buy the book at Amazon.com:


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