Dairy Cows in Appalachian Country

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
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This story is from Mark Oldham, submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.

The dairy cows stayed in a large common area that had a large sliding door that gave them access to the barnyard. Each morning and evening the cows needing milking were separated from the other cows and filed into the calf stall. I called out their names and they filed by me into the stall. Yes, one of them was called Daisy. The oldest and leader always went in first. She had the first trough and got to her chop first. The others followed in pecking order to their troughs. After putting a trough chain loop around each of the cow’s necks, I let the calves out from the adjoining stall so they could have their breakfast. There was always at least one cow that did not have a calf so that was the one that got milked and that milk was taken to the house. About that time the barn cats crawled through an open window and sat on the window shelving that ran along the side of the stall. Some of the braver cats jumped down on the ground and sat behind the cow I was milking. I would direct the stream of milk into the cats open mouths instead of into the bucket. The cats got wet but they did not seem to mind and licked the milk off. After milking was done I put the calves back into their stall and let the cows back into the common area.

The milk cows joined the other cows in the barnyard where they lined up behind the gate. I called the two dogs (a shepherd and a collie) to help herd the cows out to pasture. The pastures were about a quarter of a mile away and the cows had to be herded on the dirt road. At that time there were not many automobiles. If a car did come driving down the road they would pull over until the cows passed. The people smiled and waved because they knew the routine and me. I usually walked behind with a stick that I used to prod the ones who stop to munch along the way. The gate had been left open from the night before and they turned off the road into the pasture. In the evening I walked out to the pasture and called the cows in to the gate with a cattle call. Wherever the cows were in the pasture they came up to the gate. Back at the barn the gate was open and they turned into the barnyard. I closed the gate and started evening chores.

In the spring we had a trail drive to the bottom pasture were a stream flowed under a covered bridge. These were all beef cows. This was an adventure because the cows had been penned up all winter and they were glad to be let out. It took at least four people to make sure they did not run off in different directions. The road turned off to the right and down through the woods at my grandfather’s house. Once fenced in they were left there all summer. They had salt blocks and water from the stream. Their grazing turned about five acres into a park-like setting and made maple sugaring that much easier. But that is another story.

Photo Credit: Fotolia/James Murphy

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