Milking poor Bessie

     Few folks know that a cow is not just a cow.  A cow is really the female of the bovine species, and so, in several respects, she is quite different from the bull of that same species.  There are cows and there are bulls.  The bull does the work, and the cow has the babies.  I learned all this as a city boy, ‘cause I lived close to the country, and farms, and farmers, and farmer’s daughters.  This was in the spring of 1953.

As a young fellow, I actually felt quite comfortable around cows, as I spent many hours watching my friend Toby Boss help his family run their dairy farm several miles east of Bennington.  They milked a lot of cows, which is where the milk comes from.  They milked so many cows they had milking machines to do the hard work, and the heavy lifting.  These machines are quite an interesting process, and can do the work of dozens of skillful farmer’s daughters simultaneously.

I mention farmer’s daughters primarily because this is how I got into the picture.  Some farmer’s daughters are experts at milking from hours of practice, and can strip a cow down to the last drop as well or better than any milking machine.  This little bit of pride in accomplishment eventually rubs off onto every expert milking person, who develops a grip in both hands and forearms that would put Popeye, and any city boy to shame.

To my chagrin, I tried my hand, in fact both hands at milking.  I came off second best, while an expert farmer’s daughter was watching intently nearby.  One complicating factor is that I have only two hands, while cows have four spigots, requiring me to make at least one of several choices before anything at all happens.  You don’t just sit down and milk, although that’s the way Bessie likes it.

Now these spigots are not conveniently placed on Bessie right out front for easy access.  Like General Motors, everything that works or can break is under the hood.  In Bessie’s case, the spigots are located between her hind legs, a place you would not choose to go even in an emergency.  As a city boy, I knew milk was important, but in my mind it never raised to the level of an emergency.  Naturally, my approach to Bessie’s spigots was halting, if not totally lacking in confidence, and Bessie undoubtedly suspected that she was dealing with an incompetent.

After overcoming this issue, and as soon as I was within easy reach of Bessie, I noted that the four spigots were arranged around a horizontal square about a foot off the ground.  From the perspective of Bessie’s right, rear side, immediately in front of her hind leg, there are then two far spigots, and two near spigots, one right and one left.  When attached to the far spigots, it is necessary to reach somewhat more than with the near spigots.  This reaching places your head, while sitting, about half-way up Bessie’s side, and makes it difficult, if not impossible to actually see what you are doing.


            To summarize then, this city boy found himself seated near Bessie’s hind legs, reaching blindly for her spigots in order to produce milk.  I was balanced on a milk stool that had only one leg.  From this perilous perch, I discover three additional issues which compounded my immediate difficulties.  The milk, if any, is supposed to be aimed into a bucket somewhere near the spigots.  There are no on or off levers on any of the spigots, requiring expertise and great effort to squeeze out any success at all.  Finally, I am supposed to milk all four spigots with only two hands. Throughout this scene, the farmer’s daughter is watching, and waiting for the perfect moment to snap the shutter.

With the profound uncertainty of this circumstance, I noted that Bessie was starting to fidget, as she knew instinctively that a novice was messing with her privates.  As I was perilously close to Bessie’s powerful hind legs, I chose, in my wisdom, to turn the one-legged stool over to the farmer’s daughter, who knew precisely what to do with it.   Milk she did, to Bessie’s great relief.

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