The Ranch Hand’s Diary:
All Things Dairy
Some days the cow jumps the fence when Jesse and I go out to milk her. Actually, she pulls out of the head restraint with the milker still attached to her udders and backs up wildly against the unlatched gate and thunders away to freedom. She leaves the milker behind. Thank goodness. The suction cups lay mournfully in the grass, the clear tube hangs pointlessly between the compressor and the milking can, and the generator groans out a song without purpose. Jesse and I exchange a look that spells out Oh No in capital letters. Norma’s calf, calling after her, paces fretfully at the electric fence line wanting to get by it and to his mama. Jesse and I chase Norma around the field in an ever tightening circle until she finally jumps the electric fence to rejoin her baby. I guess the nursery rhyme stating the Cow Jumped Over the Moon wasn’t complete hogwash after all.
Jesse and I stand outside the fence panting. Oh lord, now what? We don't know if we should attempt to milk her out. Start the whole process over. Try again. Norma eyes us with wary apprehension, daring us to do it. I wonder if she’s suffering from mad cow disease or acting out in simple orneriness. Greg says that milk cows like a steady routine. And we’re all mixing it up too much for her liking. There are too many milkers and not enough milk cows.
Jesse goes to the lodge to ask for advice. Karen says to stick with what we have. We pour the milk from the milking can into the carrying container. We’ve gotten about half a gallon of milk in what can only be termed a truly Shakespearean comedy of errors. I’m sure it’ll be funny tomorrow. It’s pretty funny now. In fact, it’s getting funnier all the time.
Jesse stays behind to wash out the milking can and put the tarp over the compressor and generator. I carry the milk in. As I filter it I think, At least it wasn't a Shakespearean tragedy. No one died today.
Every day is different.
Some days, I can be found gazing intently into the face of a cooking thermometer. I watch the dial move up and slowly up sometime to 85 degrees and other times to 186 degrees. The trick is to watch the pot so that it never boils. All sayings must be true. Eventually I turn off the burner and then I stand by and watch the dial slink down until finally the milk’s temperature falls to 112 degrees, cool enough for me to add in cultures for yogurt or kefir or buttermilk or cheese. While I wait, I pasteurize milk, cut cabbage for sauerkraut, mix spices for Kimchi, bottle up Kombucha, or hang up cheese to set. Jesse says that I am the Fermenting Führer or the Dairy Duchess. I am spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I am doing a lot of milk related work. She says, “Soon you’ll be the Milk Maid.” Yeah, that’s if Norma stays put long enough for us to milk her.
Norma doesn’t seem inclined to stay put long enough for us to milk her. In fact, she becomes more and more unwilling to be milked. At least by anyone other than Greg.
She jumps the fence first thing on Monday morning. Greg is there with me that time. Now he can see the trouble we’re all having with her out in the pasture. He chases her inside the fence with a dirt bike and Boss the dog’s help. Michael and I make sure the calf doesn’t get out. We get about a gallon of milk and no more than that.
Tuesday morning as I’m coming in to do laundry I see Jesse standing in the garden. “Norma jumped the fence,” she says. “The baby got out too.” I gaze out across the field and see Greg up on Blue the horse herding Norma and her calf back to the barn. No more pasturing for her. Not for now.
“It’s taking four people to milk her today,” Jesse says when we meet by chance later. “And she’s still not milked. They’re bringing the milking gate back to the barn now.” Norma can’t jump the barn fences.
Eventually, Norma does get milked. And that means I’ll have plenty of milk to use for more yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, cheese, and pasteurization. These summer days, these ranch days, I’ve got my fingers in the pie of all things dairy.