MILK COW MEMORIES
By Steve Moreland, April 18, 2018
Recently Dave Burgess wrote some of his milk cow memories. His stories have inspired me to recall a few of my own. The first milk cow I remember on my dad’s ranch was a golden colored cow by the name of Genevieve. Dad bought the cow from Bill Gaskins, whose wife was Genevieve. My mother’s name was Genevieve Elaine, but she always went by just “Elaine.” I’m not sure if the cow was named after Bill’s wife, or my mother’s real first name, but that was what the cow was called (much to my mother’s dismay). Dad could drive out with his milk bucket to wherever the cow Genevieve was grazing, give her a little grain, and she would stand quietly while she was milked. The tricky part was getting the milk back to the house without it spilling.
When Genevieve’s career was over, Dad acquired a couple Holstein milk cows. They were basically white with black spots. They were around for several years. One of these cows was gentler than the other, so she was “my cow” when it came milking time. I was quite young and quite slow, so whoever our hired hand was at the time who was milking the other cow, usually had to finish my cow so we could be done to have supper quicker.
Earlier in my childhood, I was spending the night with my cousin Ken Moreland at the JO Ranch where he lived with his parents. Ken and I were probably both about four years old. Uncle Stan was finishing up chores by milking a cow. Ken and I were fooling around down at the barn, and I went up to where Uncle Stan was sitting on a T-shaped wooden stool milking on the right side of the cow. I asked, “Uncle Stan, could I try it?” Sure he said, and he allowed me room enough to grab a teat to see what the results would be. Ken said, “Can I try, too, Dad?” Uncle Stan said, “Sure, go on the other side of the cow.” Well, unfortunately the cow was not used to being milked on her left side, and she kicked poor cousin Ken clear across the barn. Tears ensued, and both of us boys were relegated back to being non-milkers so Uncle Stan could finish his task more quickly.
Although milking a cow seemed “fun” the first time it was tried, it quickly became a drudgery. After acquiring the knack and expertise for milking, it became my nightly responsibility. I milked in the evenings, but Dad did the milking before breakfast each morning. In those days, I only had one pair of boots. Each night after milking, I’d always have to clean up my boots so they were presentable for school the next day. On one occasion I remember that we went to Martin late on a summer Saturday afternoon. Either the city band or the school band was performing a concert on the court house lawn. That evening I didn’t have time to clean my boots too well before we attended the concert. I recall Dad and Andy Rice were visiting after the music production, and Dad said, “Andy, you can tell this boy has been working, because he still has milk on his boots.” I’m not sure if Andy was impressed or not.
Even though we had two milk cows, often Dad would graft an extra calf on the orneriest cow. She would raise her own calf plus one more. Dad would put a strong leather strap around each calf’s neck, with about four feet of chain between them. That way they would both arrive for their meals at the same time. Even though the cow liked her own calf the best, as long as the calves were together she would let both suck. This cow and her calves were kept in the horse pasture, along with cows with late calves, cripples, and other bovine odds and ends. There was a back-rubber in the pasture, which consisted of two big six-inch posts set in the ground with about ten feet of chain between them. The chain was wrapped with burlap sacks, with liquid “fly dope” liberally applied. The cattle would go under the sacks to rub the flies off their backs. It was amazing how many times during each summer these chained together calves would get tangled in these back-rubber posts, and need human assistance to become untangled.
In the spring of 1963 when I was 11 years old, Dad had a young man from Anselmo, Nebraska hired to help calve. One evening Dad had adjourned to the house for supper, leaving Ray Lambert and me to finish milking. One milk cow was still in the stanchion, and Ray said, “I’m going to get on the cow, and then you can turn her loose.” I was up for watching a rodeo, so eagerly agreed. Ray got astride the cow, and I released the head-catch. The cow went wild and took about two jumps before she unloaded and slammed Ray against the side of the barn. He lit in a crumpled position, and I could tell immediately that he was hurt. He painfully requested that I run up to the house to get Dad.
I hurried to the house, and as the door banged shut behind me, hollered, “Dad, Ray just got bucked off the milk cow, and he is hurt bad!” Dad reacted, “Oh, for good gosh!” He and I both hurriedly walked to the barn, where Ray was sobbing in misery. Dad’s cows were right in the midst of calving season, and several calves were coming each day. The reason Dad hired Ray was that he needed help feeding hay and watching heavy cows. He hardly had time to take Ray to the doctor, let alone get by without him in the days to come. Ray ended up with a broken leg, and spent a couple nights in the hospital. With his leg in a cast and being unable to work, he ended up going back to Anselmo to recuperate at his folks’ place. He had a Ranchero-style pickup and a one-horse trailer. When he got out of the hospital, I helped him pack his belongings out to his vehicle, and helped load his chestnut mare Sherry onto the horse trailer. He gave me a nice leather rifle scabbard for my assistance, and I still have the scabbard even though my son Will seems to have laid claim to it now. Ray went on to spend most of his life as a cowboy in Arizona, and was 71 when he died at the Effus Ranch near Wickenburg in December of 2014.
As mentioned previously, I milked at night and Dad milked in the morning. The cow had a habit of kicking and swatting her tail into the milk. I’d put grain in the small square feed bunk in front of the stanchion, and drop the block into place after the cow stuck her head into the home-made wooden head-catch. Next on the order of business was to flip a rope around her right hind leg, and then attach a metal quick-release honda to the rope, tying it back to a post so she couldn’t kick. Then the cow’s tail would be tied to the rope. Only then was it safe to prop the wooded T-shaped stool under my butt, wipe the dirt off her teats, clench the metal bucket between my legs, and commence milking. She would stand quietly until the grain was gone, and then she’d throw a fit or two before I’d get her stripped completely out. I’d hang the half-full bucket on a hook, turn the ropes loose, and release her from the stanchion so she could go out into the pasture for the night. Then I’d take the milk to the house. Sometimes we’d use the old hand crank milk separator, and sometime we didn’t. My milking responsibilities would be fulfilled until the next evening.
One morning Dad went out before breakfast to milk the cow. He seemed to be quite late coming in to eat, and Mom was getting worried because it was almost time for her to drive my younger sisters and me the eight miles into Merriman to attend school. Finally Dad arrived, and Mom said, “Where have you been? You are late.” Dad responded, “I couldn’t find the milk cow.” Mom said, “Wasn’t she waiting at the corral gate like she always does?” Dad answered, “Not this time. I drove around a little with the pickup looking for her with no luck. Finally I went to the corral to catch my horse so I could look harder, and there she was—still in the stanchion with her foot tied back. She didn’t give much milk this morning.” My face turned crimson, because I knew the problem was my fault—I’d had my head in La-la land the night before. On the bright side, that was the one and only time I made that mistake.
Our two old white-with-black-spots Holstein milk cows were starting to show their age. Dad was at the Gordon sale one spring day, and two little baby dairy heifer calves came into the ring. They were pretty, being basic black with white spots. Dad purchased these nice little Holstein heifer calves, and brought them home where he grafted them onto Hereford cows for the summer. Within a day or two, both of these calves got sick with scours. Soon they had transmitted their contagious illness to many of Dad’s Hereford calves, and several calves died from the disease. A month or more later, Dad lamented that those two little dairy heifer calves probably cost him $5000, with the loss of the Hereford calves considered into the equation. He figured he could have bought a lot of milk for what the expense turned out to be. These heifers did become milk cows, and were on the ranch roster for several more years.
Dad eventually figured that the labor spent messing with milk cows could be better put to use in other more satisfying pursuits. He had always enjoyed raising and selling Hereford bulls, and made good money doing it. He decided to raise more numbers of bulls and eliminate having any milk cows. There was certainly no argument coming from me.