Herald and Journal, Feb. 21, 2000

Spotted ballerinas in the barn


While Tom and I were milking last Sunday morning, I was thinking about the different types of cows we have in our barn.

Though they are all Holsteins, we have several different types of cows in the herd.

The leaners

These are the ones that drive you crazy by constantly leaning against you as you squat beside them, attempting to wipe their udder for milking. Crouched there next to the cow, I find myself in a precarious position. If the cow leans too far my way, I could fall over backwards into the stall behind me.

There, another cow is waiting to do a dance on my face.

The dancers

These cows never really kick at you, but their hind legs are constantly in motion, shifting back and forth as you try to clean their teats for milking.

Number 13 is the prima ballerina of the Fink barn.

One day she was swinging her legs around so much that I grabbed onto the stall divider to steady myself as I bobbed and weaved in a somewhat vain attempt to clean her ever moving teats. Now you see them, now you don't.

Just then Prima's dancing and scrunching forward carried her up against the cow trainer above her back. Unfortunately for me, I was wiping her udder with an alcohol wipe and holding the metal pipe at the same time. I got the same jolt she did.

Mental note to self, don't steady yourself with the stall divider by #13.

The nervous nellies

These cows seem perfectly normal and well-behaved until something happens that they consider to be "scary." Number 32 is a perfect example.

For her, the scary thing could be someone talking near her. Or it could be the cow in the next stall suddenly moving too close to her. Heaven help the person who might be in close proximity to her.

I'm always careful near her. If Tom asks me a question when I am getting her ready, I refuse to answer him until I am once again standing out in the alleyway. I try to avoid provoking 1,400 pound animals. A 275-pound husband is my limit.

One time I was squatting beside Number 32 and she took exception to something. Who knows what. Suddenly she lashed out with the nearest hind leg, missing me on the upswing, and kidney punching me on the back stroke.

Luckily, she didn't have much force behind the blow. Otherwise, Tom would have been picking me up out of the gutter. After he stopped laughing , of course.

Even the most docile cow will react if you startle them. I try to avoid inciting any kind of retaliation. On one occasion I was completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Really! I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Our daughter, Jesy, had gotten the cows ready and was scraping manure behind them while I got the machines off the cart. I was about to put the machine on the third cow when I noticed she had an abrasion on her foot. I figured it was from the new cow mats that had recently been installed.

Foolish me. As I bent down to put the machine on, this usually docile cow kicked me repeatedly until I retreated with my own abrasions and the machine.

It was completely unexpected. Now what would make Number 62 act like that? Being a mother, I usually put two and two together eventually.

"Jesy," I asked, "You didn't have trouble when you were getting this cow ready, did you?"

"No, Mom, but she did kick at me when I touched her leg with the hoe, so I whacked her on the foot to make her move it," she replied.

Well, thanks a lot. Never mind that she kicked me instead.

So, here I am, still studying cow behavior. On the evening of Feb. 28, it will be 22 years since Tom and I milked together for the first time in our brand new barn.

That evening I'll hoist a glass to celebrate the occasion. It will be lovingly filled with a cold, foamy beverage. Got beer?

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