I recently stumbled upon a lovely website called A Growing Delight and was really interested to learn that Alice had grown up on a dairy farm in Australia. Over the last few weeks Alice has very kindly sent me a photograph of some Australian cows for my farmingfriends ‘foto’ of the month competition and is always leaving farming related comments that are very interesting. I read on her site that she recently found a “hidden treasure” of old photographs of her days on the farm and this has rekindled her memories of farming times gone by. The story you are about to read was written by Alice a couple of years ago but the story actually took place 56 years ago. So if you are sitting comfortably I will let Alice transport you back to the milking parlour of 1951…………….
…….I was seven years old when Dad declared that it was time I learnt to milk the cows. “You can start by coming down to the shed in the afternoons and feeding the cows”, he said. That made me feel very important. Now I had a real job to do, not just a baby job like collecting eggs or gathering twigs for kindling. I looked forward to milking time that afternoon and, as it was wintertime, I dressed warmly in old trousers, which my brothers had grown out of, and a pair of rubber boots. These boots had also belonged to my brothers. They were both for the left foot and one boot was two sizes bigger than the other.
We had the same type of cowshed used on most dairy farms in those days. The cow walked into a stall, put her head through a wooden bail and a rope was pulled which closed the bail behind the cow’s head preventing her from backing out. She was then leg roped and her tail hung on a nail so that she couldn’t flick it into the farmer’s eyes. Six cows could be milked at once, unlike many sheds these days where 40 or more cows are milked at a time, with the farmer staying in one place and the cows moving round on a revolving platform.
A wooden trough or manger ran along the front of the cow bails, into which dry feed like bran, oats or chaff was tipped for the cows to eat whilst they were being milked. The feed room was on the other side of the manger and I loved this big, dark room where bags of dry feed were stored as well as empty sacks and a variety of farm tools. Around the walls hung old pieces of horse harness, while the floor, made of old railway sleepers, had a liberal coating of chaff making it almost soft to walk on. Cobwebs laced their way along the walls into the dark corners and the swallows built neat mud nests on the rafters. There was a cosy, musty smell about the room, which I later realised wasn’t just the dry feed but a good few mice as well. The bags of feed were cut open at the top and emptied into a big wooden box in the middle of the floor.
Tipping the dry feed into the manger for each cow was to be my new job. I was sure I could do that quite easily. But I hadn’t reckoned on the size, nor the greed of some of the cows. I remember 3 cows in particular. There was a red and white roan named Renee, an almost black one with brown stripes called Brindle, and an allover red one named Mabel. They were all equally huge and just as impatient for their feed. As soon as they saw me approach with my tin of feed, their heads would come over the top of the manger on their seemingly telescopic necks, their eyes wild and their tongues slathering as they tried to get the feed before I could tip it into the manger. I was not scared of these cows; I was terrified. It made no difference that Dad said they wouldn’t hurt me. It was all very well for him, he was big and I was little. Crying didn’t help either because I still had to tip the feed in quickly because, until I did, the cow wouldn’t keep still enough for Dad or my brothers to milk her. Eventually I learned to throw a handful of feed from a good distance into the manger, and while the greedy animal had her head down searching for the few grains, I could tip in the rest. Most of the cows were no trouble at all and stood quietly waiting for their feed.
After a few weeks, just when I was getting used to feeding the cows without fearing that Renee, Brindle and Mabel were going to eat me too, Dad said “Now you can come out here with us and learn to wash the cows’ udders with warm soapy water before we put the milking machines on them”. There I made my acquaintance with the other end of Renee, Brindle and Mabel, and the rest of the herd. But that is another story.
FEEDING THE COWS By Alice from A Growing Delight
If you have a farming story that you would like to share then please send me your story and I will happily include it on a guest appearance post.