Oh, C-Caty the Cow!
by Tammy Unger of Alto, TX
Roughly eight feet long, tawny-brown, shining black bovine eyes that are almost taunting; four cloven hooves on which she fled – Oh, where has that cow gone again?
“Caaaty, come get your feeed. Caty! Caaty!” I rattle the milk pail. At last I spy her on the far side of the field with a sigh of relief. At least she is still in the field this time. With only three strands of barb-less wire to keep her in, she doesn’t hesitate to take off on a jaunt through the woods when the electricity is not pulsating through it.
“Caaaty! Caty-Caty-Caty! Come and get your feed!” She turns her head to look at me, almost as if the effort is wearisome. I rattle the metal milk pail again. She stares from some two-hundred-fifty feet away and chews her cud, bored. She looks away. I’m optimistic, she actually came up to the barn herself half a dozen times at milking time. I hurry back for the white bucket of feed and her metal feed pan. When I return I see my eleven year old brother thoughtfully heading across the field with Tex, a black mouth cur dog, at his heels to bring Caty in.
“It’s alright, you don’t have to get her,” I call after him confidently. “I think she’ll eventually come. She did the other day.” So he retraced his steps and continued loading something into the wagon. Tex sits down to watch and see what happens. Caty stands stock still. Her ears had lifted almost anxiously when she saw the dog coming, but now she again looks very, very bored.
I bang the metal feed pan on a board, position myself where I think I’m in her view of sight, and holding the bucket of feed high, slowly pour what I hope to be an enticing stream of mixed grains into the pan. No result. I pour the contents back into the bucket and repeat it again. She stares. I do it again. She looks away and then ambles a few more steps towards the far side, six feet further from me.
I sigh, this time disappointedly, and evaluate myself. No, I’m not angry, just annoyed; she’s only a cow remember. Cows are dim creatures. Cows are stubborn. I know and expect that. Cows are stubborn. I know and expect that cows are –
“Will you go ahead and herd her up this time?” I reluctantly call to my brother, who is agreeable and again heads across the field with the dog, Tex. Caty heads away from him but they get behind her and head her towards the barn. Tex urges Caty on with several barks meaning ‘Get moving, Cow!’ and Caty moseys across the field. I grab a stick, climb the fence, and direct her up towards the barn the rest of the way and let her into the milking pen. This time when I pour her a third of the feed, figuring she is already caught, she trots in and falls to devouring it. I tie the lead rope to her halter so she can’t walk off while I’m milking, grab the pail, towel, and strip-cup, scoot an overturned 3 gallon bucket into place next to her and sit down. I wipe her bag clean, spray the first streams through the screen on the strip-cup to check for any mastitis shown by tiny clumps on the screen were she to have some. Thanks to regular milking she’s clear of it. I start milking her full bag.
“Sp, sp, sp, sp.” The short sprays spatter the pail. Caty’s determined to have the last say.
“Come on, Caty,” I pretend she understands me, “Let your milk down. Now stop being so stubborn. Let your milk down.” I coax, trying to squeeze out long sprays of warm milk. Finally, Caty releases and the milk foams as it hits the pail and the metal bottom disappears beneath the whiteness. Swish, swish, swish, swish, left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand in rhythm. I relax. Caty relaxes. I conquered her again. Soon the milking is complete and I entice her to the field with the remaining feed after which I head for the house triumphantly with my bucket of white liquid trophy. Evening milking complete.
For a few days she appears to be learning to behave like a good Jersey cow. Coming up at milking time. Patiently standing still and following me back to the field while I carry a bucket of feed. Then it happens.
Time for her morning milking to begin again. She waits patiently while I measure her feed and slide the gate boards back. With eager steps she hooves it after me and falls to gobbling up the first third of her feed I pour, I’ll tell you about that third of her feed later on. We go through the same starting procedure. Then the dogs run by. Then a loose horse and a black calf. Then children’s voices as my youngest siblings enter the barn. Caty’s head has been bobbing up and down from her feed pan between bites watching what is going on around her. I half notice her look back at me, cleverly she side steps the pail and a woosh is followed by a plop, plop, plop, she did it again. At least she missed the pail this time, as I quickly jerk it back. Things settle down and I must use a pitchfork before finishing milking.
Now, you may be wondering about that “third” of Caty’s feed I start her on, so I’ll explain it.
My brother (the one who with empathy herded Caty up to the barn as I mentioned earlier) and my brown haired sister had the job of milking, so that meant milk Caty. I tired of having their indignant exclamations about Caty’s upsetting bovine habits and offered to help out. Now I have the job completely and fully to myself. The first thing I discovered about Caty’s misconduct was her gobbling down her feed and being ready to head off into the wild blue yonder while I was still milking, rhythmically squeezing from the top down. That’s when I tried giving Caty a third of her full feeding, then the second third halfway through. The last third was to keep her mind busy while I put her back in the field so she wouldn’t dodge past the gate for one of her infamous jaunts to the bottom of the woods etc…
Knowing how to milk is not all there is to milking a cow. My family has discovered each cow has its own bovine habits and nature. I have milked several years (with breaks in between of course), but not milked Caty. I have been milking Caty for about four weeks. Here are some things I discovered about her. #1 If she thinks she’ll get an “extra” feed for standing still while I milk, she stands. #2 She doesn’t like a commotion going on around her and does like singing. #3 Always tie her when milking and don’t expect her to stand still by her own choice. #4 She will not return at milking time just because you don’t chase her when she gets out. #5 Always leave the electric fence on. #6 Don’t expect feed to entice her every time and don’t get angry, she always seem to know when you are and becomes antagonistic. #7 Don’t brag about how routinely behaved she is getting to be, next you’ll be asking someone to chase across hundreds of acres to bring her back.
I think Caty and I have almost figured each other out. She’s one of those chores you often stretch your patience with but really feel like you accomplished something when you finish. You know no one can rightfully argue that there is no challenge in your job or that you are lazy.
Caty is actually settling down, some, I must add on her behalf. Besides, what is life without a challenge?
Oh, C-C-Caty b-b-bovine Caty
Milking you is q-q-quite a chore.
When the m-m-moon shines,
Over the c-c-cow shed,
Will I be h-h-hunting you up once more?