April 10, 2016
Milking is not my place of redemption. I never got to know God when rising at four on a cold winter morning and heading to the barn to milk cows or goats. The lack of connection probably had a lot to do with cold fingers and a love for warm weather!
Because of my lack of love for milking, I managed to never do much of it. My father and Belinda, though, did quite a lot. Belinda was milking sixty or so goats in southern California when I met her. Dad grew up milking cows in the landscape of the Texas panhandle. Belinda has many great stories of milking. Daddy, not so many, but then there is a lot of difference in winter weather between southern California and the Texas panhandle. Winter is winter though, and both talk about the redemption of milking on a cold winter morning is a warm teat.
Milking is milking, but there is as much difference between cow and goat teats as there is in their milk. Cow’s teats are slender and fit a medium sized hand fairly well. They are tough though, and the action of milking, rolling fingers from top to bottom with a bit of pulling action, develops hand strength.
A few days ago a neighbor stopped by the farm and picked up a ton of hay for his cows. He supposes milking has its ups and downs, with more ups than down. An up was during his teenage years. The daily pulling of teats, he figures, gave him such hand and forearm strength that he had an advantage over his high school wrestling opponents. No longer a young man, when I look at his hands and forearms I am good with not having him as an opponent all those years ago.
The goat teat is softer and more funnel shape than the cylindrical teats of a cow. The difference in teats between species is fairly obvious. From cow to goat to hog to cat they are all uniquely suited to their young. After talking to milkers though, I imagine teats are like fingerprints, they are all unique to the individual animal—no two, quad, or dozen are alike. This uniqueness is apparent when talking to milkers. While all milkers I know can sit down and milk another species, they all prefer the teats of their animals. Belinda has no trouble with the funnel shape goat teat as daddy has no trouble with the cylindrical cow teat. And while both can milk the other, they both prefer what they know.
Milk is milk, in its own way. Cow and goat milk taste different from one another and though some folk would never touch the other, most milkers I know appreciate the taste of both. Like wine, no two milks are the same. However, where vintners plant different grape varieties to achieve different wines, the milker needs only to change feed. Dairy folk know the natural change of taste that comes each years as they move their animals from winter alfalfa to springtime pasture. However, “earthy overtones” has a quite different meaning for milk drinkers. Belinda talks about the day the goats got into the eucalyptus. The milk was so pungent for a few days no one could drink it.
Milking is a chore, but daddy and Belinda seldom speak about it in a bad way. I think that is because there is the contemplative in the one on one, human to animal relationship. A quietness settles into the repetitiveness of teat to teat, cow to cow, bucket to bucket. Because no animal lets their milk down unless they are comfortable, by necessity the milker must be fairly laid back—I’ve never know a milking jerk—and easy to get along with. Which is probably why daddy is who he is, Belinda is who she is, and this non-milker has much work to know the contemplative of a warm teat on a cold winter morning.