giving thanks to winnie

it occurred to me this morning as i flung myself out of bed at 7:21, nearly 25 minutes late for the  1/4 mile walk down to the barn, that there is a part of my life here on the farm, a rather big part, that i have mentioned only in passing. that part being milkings. the very milkings that have become the leader of our new world. the blessing and curse of milkings. the product of which provides the bulk of nourishment to my little family. the stress of which keeps us in battle with state laws. the necessity of which binds our bodies to the farm. once at morning and once at night.

we went to dinner at the house of dear friends last night to celebrate the end of year 2 of law school for them. by 11 pm we were, as it goes now, yawning too uncontrollably for proper conversation and had to pardon ourselves home. i'm more accustomed to being in bed by 9 these nights and so with the sun hidden behind some very grumpy rain clouds this thursday morning my internal alarm excused herself and thus the late start.

it is hard not to be rather bitter on the subject of milkings on rainy late mornings like this when all we wanted was to sleep off a night drinking whisky with friends. the definitive responsibility of a milk cow hasn't fully set in yet. we still go about our lives pretending this isn't forever. of course we haven't skipped a milking yet and would never do that to winnie. but it doesn't stop us from living our lives as though it is a problem that will find its own solution.

like next wednesday when i have made plans to be in new york and nick has made plans to be in boston. two of us away does not a cow milk. and yet, we can't seem to want to find a compromise.

i let myself carry this bitterness some days for winnie. as though she is the one that has burdened us. i carry it as i drag myself down to the barn at dawn, in a mix of pajamas and yesterday's work clothes. teeth unbrushed. stomach empty. feeling a little resentment for the sleeping nick and rudy. i curse the interminable cold of the milking parlor as i make my way through it and to the animals. i curse the darkness, the dankness that seem inherent qualities of all milk barns. i curse the pile of scrap pipes in the corner that we have deemed worthy of saving and unworthy of using. i curse the heft of the milk pail that we inherited with the barn and curse our lack of money to buy something lighter and easier on my tired arms. i curse the new chicken nest to the left of the barn doors and wonder how many other unsanctioned nests the chickens have hidden.

and then i open the doors. the cursed doors that are missing 2 wooden panels and 6 glass panes. and there she is. her eyes like that of a cartoon deer. she blinks at me. she takes a big smell on the corduroys i  have been wearing for the last 6 days.  she gently pushes by me,  through the open doors and lumbers to her stanchion. without any words. without any curses. without reprimanding me for my tardiness. the simplicity of her duty melts all my resentment away. she is such a large, prehistoric looking creature. such a far cry from the cats and dogs i have had my whole life. she is filled with milk and she is waiting there, patiently, to let me take it.

i don't have any photos of me milking winnie. or nick for that matter. there is something inherently private about the act. i haven't felt comfortable about bringing my camera down with me.  and so, i haven't and you must forgive me the lack of photos and my fumbling for words as i describe the milking.

as she waddles into her stanchion i am immediately filled with guilt for the wait i have given her this grey morning. her udder is swollen with milk and her back legs are awkwardly trying to negotiate the ground below while the udder bounces between them. once she is still i tie her tail to her leg to avoid a wet whip to the face mid milking. i fetch some warm water and begin to towel off the mud and straw and poop from the night before. she isn't as fastidious a cow as our sweet bella. and so i find myself doing this every morning. i suppose when your udder has reached a certain swollen size cleanliness falls from your list of cares.  after her teats are clean in the vulgar way that you would feel comfortable drinking from them (in a sense that is the standard raw milk must meet) i fetch the wretchedly heavy milk pail and assume my post.

i found nick an old wooden milking stool in celebration of our first cow and his 29th birthday. originally i selfishly pitied ourselves and the measly $30 i could afford for his birthday present but on these mornings i have come to cherish the little stool. it sits barely 10 inches off the ground which puts my face right at the crook of her left hind leg and belly and my hands at her udder. she quietly chews her cud and as i begin to work down the first milk in her teats she lets out a big sigh. which relaxes me and we work quietly and steadily to empty her udder. it takes all of 20 minutes. sometimes longer depending on how tired my arms and hands are. but we are finished before i am even fully awake and with that my morning has officially begun. i go on to filter and jar the milk, clean the parlor, and feed the chickens and pigs.  and winnie slowly walks back out to the field to resume her hours with the quickly growing grass.

as far as i can tell there is no better way to start my morning than this simple act of milking. certainly, there are ones like today's where i spend much energy begrudging the choice of a milk cow and the freedom we have lost and the bits of our lives that have become that much harder. but there is no creature better at calming me and helping me welcome the morning than winnie. and for her i am eternally thankful.


  1. First it was chickens and now I want a milk cow. You up for adopting a 25 year old daughter?

    Simply beautiful. If only cows could read.

  2. All I got out of that post was "plans to be in new york" :-D

  3. I don't think I have ever read anything that painted the picture of milking responsability in such a beautiful way. She is a lovely cow. I am so curious about your wholesome milk that doesn't come from the grocer fridge.

  4. *sigh* simply lovely. i love these type of posts, little glimpses of your daily farm activities. i want a fresh jar of milk! too bad my 450 square foot studio won't accomodate a milk cow. :)

  5. I haven't been reading your blog very long but this is definitely one of my favorite posts. Why did it make me tear up? I don't know. The sweetness of her photo, maybe, and your description of her. Very, very nice post today. Wish I could be your substitute one day, but you're a bit far. I'm in TN. Take care.

  6. I know an awful lot of folks selling raw milk in VT, and ain't none of them abiding by those ridiculous state regs.

    Keep in clean, know who you're selling to, and don't sweat in.


  7. sorry... keep IT clean.

  8. i teared up as well (god, i hope i'm not pregnant)...you write beautifully and winnie is such a love

    thank you for this

  9. This is one of the best written pieces I have read on a blog for a very long time. The simple need and trust of an animal towards it's owner...and an honest portrayal of farm life and commitment.

  10. This was absolutely beautiful to read. Thank you for sharing such a captivating and honest account. Winnie seems like a real gift.

  11. Very nice. Even though it is such a chore and obligation, in the end it is worth it all. :) Winnie sounds like a lovely cow.

  12. thank you for this. i've been focusing on the burden, rather than the joy or ritual and provisions, of milking our goat. this helped to remind me why we do what we do.

  13. So beautiful. Dare I say you are now ready for a baby! ;-)

  14. you lucidity on this matter is my most favorite part of this post. I love how in touch you are with life. I have met very few who are and it sometimes brings a tear to my eyes.

  15. I just read the comments here, and I am not the only one who teared up! :) THAT makes me SMILE!

  16. "but it doesn't stop us from living our lives as though it is a problem that will find its own solution."

    Oh my, I feel like though we're hours and hours apart, I keep reading posts from farmers (like you and Jaime from Ngo Family Farm) that resonate so incredibly with what I've been thinking.

    Isn't it all such magic? The way that once you actually go down to the barnyard to take care of "business" all of your stresses just melt away...

  17. my goodness... what a beautiful post. so honest and raw. so you.

  18. I like to read your blog! Sometimes I have problem with understanding....I like the idea of having some farm animals. We had only rabbits (when I was a child) and two lambs (one year ago - natural mowing machine) and they did not nead special care. All this thing about milking is fascinating. From your articles it looks so easy and peaceful. But I am afraid it is mainly hard work.
    Good luck!

  19. And best regards from Czech Republic!

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. Dear Kate

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post.

    Your writing is so lucid and luminescent- with or without the wonderful photography- it is a joy to read regardless of whatever issuse of homesteading and farming you are dealing with at the time.

    You never fail to take the reader along with you on a journey of discovery, surprise and revelation.

    May 11, 2012 10:26 AM

  22. I've only recently found your blog and I enjoy your writing and your photos so much. Thank you for sharing with us!

  23. *sigh* I have no words other than I loved this post!

  24. I am going to respond in a bit of a different direction...

    I know not everyone is an eternal optimist (myself included) but I think that when one signs on to be a farmer....one would understand everything that comes along with farming, and wouldn't begrudge the animals...or the commitments.

    There is a certain amount of foresight that I think is crucial to making large decisions in life. Farming, and having a milking cow both require reasonable amounts of this.

    Being farmers...you are the only person responsible for this animals well being. I found this hard to read, as it sounds so selfish to be so bitter about milking.

    I know this might not be what you would want to read as a comment, but that's what I picked up in this post.

  25. @redterrain thanks for your comment. i do very much value other points of view.

    it is selfish. that was kind of the point about the post. recognizing how unfair my attitude was for winnie in the morning.

    i agree that farming takes an immense about of foresight and forethought. but i don't think any farmer out there "understands everything that comes along with being a farmer".

    being a farmer for me is learning new things about myself and about the land and the animals every day. sometimes the things you learn aren't good things, but then you have to also learn how to take these things in stride and work with them.

    i have learned that SOME mornings i don't like waking up at dawn to milk a cow. it is much more different than waking up to let out the chickens or water the garden. so i am working with myself and my routine to make this work.

    i take my responsibility to all of the animals on this farm very seriously. they are my life. and i hope you can see that through other posts if you don't feel like i do through this one.

  26. This was so lovely! I spent a semester at an environmental/wilderness type school on the coast of Maine in high school, and I was so happy to get to milk the cows. Possibly it's not so exciting when you have to do it every day for...forever, but it was so comforting to do the routine of getting the cow to the stanchion, clean her udder, and settle in to milking with my forehead against her flank. I love reading your story and hearing your love for your animals.

  27. I actually have been reading your posts and commenting for a while now. And this one in particular got me...mostly due to the fact that you hadn't had the cow for long.

    I suppose if you don't need the milk for two people, a suggestion would be to introduce a small calf to feed the excess and relieve you of the milking duties for a few days a week. Or until you had enough stock.

    I know you are finding your way through, and as honest and raw as the post may have been, it just didn't really seem to be much other than complaining.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to me.



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