The blaring air-horn of the milk tanker resounded through the dairy, all but drowning out the chugging and hissing milking machine. Seconds later, a sickening thump and a series of piteous yelps sent us racing out to the road, hearts pumping and filled with dread. Couldn't be one of our dogs. Mother and daughter were safely tied up back at the house... weren't they?
Earlier we had approached our first milking with our usual naive enthusiasm, and a large quota of bravado. Added to the mix this day was a determination that none should witness our woeful lack of knowledge and experience. We approached our 'maiden milking' with a ferocious mindset, trying to convince ourselves our shortcomings would be balanced by the degree of caring we brought to the job. After all, these poor creatures had been milked by a sheep farmer for weeks whilst the owner, Mrs. Lowe, searched for a share-farmer. So what's wrong with a sheep farmer milking cows? Well-ll...
For starters, this reluctant milker rounded up the cows twice a day with the help of his trusty working dogs, and his equally trusty old utility. Hard to tell which 'moved' the cows faster—the incessant yapping at their heels, or the combined roar of the vehicle's motor and beeping of its horn as it simultaneously belched out great clouds of stinking smoke. This rowdy, smelly combination ensured great success... for him. Presumably his goal was to get the herd into the dairy in the shortest time known to Man or beast.
As spectators, there to 'learn the ropes', we found ourselves unimpressed by the quantity of milk spread over the paddock by the great swinging udders of the 'sprinters'. Maybe we knew zilch about milking cows (except what this sheep farmer taught us)—but it didn't take an Einstein to figure this was all wrong.
"You know, we were just a couple of city slickers," Kanute says, shaking his head in disbelief. "Where on earth did we learn how to handle these large creatures so successfully for the next 10 years?"
"Hmm-m-m... and another four years at Angas Plains." Must have been our deep love and respect for animals, coupled with a burning desire to take sole charge of our destiny, that provided us with the keys to our success.
On this first day, it was all ahead of us. How graciously we had refused all offers of help with the confident air of two 'old hands' at this milking 'gig'. How ironic in retrospect—Kanute and I are the most honest people—and yet, on this subject, we blatantly lied and deceived everyone around us so none should see our quivering interiors. The trusty sheep farmer had actually done us a massive favour, we told ourselves confidently. Nothing we could do could upset them more than he had... could it?
After bungling our way through our first milking; our first full day; our first week—our 'girls' (the dairy herd) began to respond to our TLC—slowly but surely. They led us far along the steep learning curve of patience and understanding with animals that had begun on the other side of Australia, raising kangaroos, and to this day (40+ years later) is still our instinctive way to handle all our creatures—great and small.
It's really not so hard when you start with a strong foundation of love and understanding. (Did I really say that? Rubbish! Lying again!) It's the hardest job in the world, gaining an animal's trust—especially one who has lost faith in humans due to neglect or shabby treatment. We each wear scars on body and soul, that prove traumatised animals are ready to lash out in self-protection after much thoughtless and careless handling. But would we have missed the journey, or any part of it? No way!
Our dairy was a herring-bone style with cows standing alongside each other in a staggered fashion—six each side of a waist-deep pit where we worked with swing-across sets of milking cups. A strong steel bar across their bottoms and a thick concrete ledge behind their back feet stopped them from joining us down there... mostly. This old dairy had been the first herring-bone style in the area, a breakthrough in its day, but this one already had 'whiskers on it'... as we would discover. A long feed trough with a walk-space in front enabled hand-bucketing in the cows' rations of crushed grain. In the interest of speed and ease of handling, I had carefully lined up the spot where each cow's head would be, and evenly spaced out six bucketfuls in each trough. Sounded good to me, in my innocence.
YOU ARE READING
Old McLarsen Had Some Farms - a memoir: Book Two - The Milky WayNon-Fiction
As the title suggests, my second book of memoirs encompasses tales from our decade of dairying on our own farm, back in our home State of South Australia. A different learning curve from the first farm, but no less steep. This time much experience w...