"Auntie Chris! Auntie Chris! HELP... I'm stuck!"
She was not only stuck. The small white-socked foot of moments ago had pulled out of the protection of her rubber boot as she tried in vain to free herself from that relentless suction. As I started towards her to rescue her, she overbalanced and her hands and arms went in too, with her face avoiding disaster by inches. The ends of her long blonde hair were not so lucky - creating an effect that could well have been the inspiration for expensive hairdressing 'tips treatment'.
Through gritted teeth I said, "I'm picking you up, but don't dare touch me with your hands or feet. Just hang there! And this time – LISTEN – or I'll drop you right back in it again. I promise!" And I hooked my arm under her middle, lifted her 'clean' out of her other boot and carried her to the closest grassy area to wait while I went back to rescue her disgustingly deluged footwear. Sounds unfeeling, cruel even, as I write it today. Guess you had to have been there when I carefully spelled out the rules to our two small guests - five and seven years old.
Our best friends' children were holidaying with us for part of their school holidays - two beautiful little cherubs who had adored helping me bring the cows in. I had warned them most seriously against following the herd through the last dirt yard before the dairy, explaining that what appeared to simply be churned up mud was actually also a mix of 'unmentionables'. Most importantly, this slurry was deeper than their kiddy boots. But... the littlest lady didn't listen, did she? Suddenly from behind me had come that terrified wail. This close encounter and its ensuing clean up of herself, clothing and boots, produced a little person who always listened and obeyed our instructions from that moment onwards. Funny how farmers know best about their own patch of dirt. A mother of four children herself now, she's never forgotten... or stopped ruefully shaking her beautiful blonde head at the thought.
Every dairy farmer has his favourite dairy disaster story; manure-related experiences abound - becoming commonplace as you wade your way through them. Your attitude stoically and unquestioningly accepts the inevitable... mostly. Despite the monotony of the twice daily moving of, washing down of, and wiping off of ****, there are moments that stand out from the crowd.
A disastrously recurring moment happens when a cow has a nasty case of diarrhoea... and coughs or sneezes. Our Herring-bone dairy had a row of six cows each side of our milking area... five steps lower than the cows' level and in line with their rear ends. I saw one event about to happen but there was no escape. The split second of knowing what was coming only gave me time to fling up my arm to shield at least my face and hair. Successful there, but my entire hand, arm and body appeared to have become the victim of a killer attack of brown measles. It's putrid enough to be surrounded by the stuff - as in the dirt yard outside. And then there's that mountain of stuff (or so it seems when you start) out on the concrete yard, waiting patiently to be squirted down after milking. But wearing it... especially on your hair? Little compares to this 'experience'.
"And then there was Jim." I don't even have to look - the grin is in his voice.
"Jiminy Cricket?" Hmm... who could ever forget our local cricket champ's favourite story? Or was that more truly our favourite story about him? Late home from a match played in a distant town one night, he reckoned his heavy-duty white rubber dairy apron would protect his cricket creams. Just this once, surely? Sounded good in theory.
All went well getting them in for milking. And the first three 'runs' of cows were without incident. But inevitably, disaster had to strike. Jim's dairy was a herring-bone style (like ours) with the cows each site of the pit where the dairyman worked.
"He was simply putting cups on one cow..."
Kanute interrupts, "... when the next one coughed."
"Hmm-m... " I wrinkle my nose in disgusted memory and continue, "and of course, it had to be a cow who had grazed greedily on green pastures, didn't it?"
Did it have to be at the exact moment he bent forward to put the milking cups on the cow behind her? Of course, he never saw the 'funnel' down the front of his apron he had created as he leaned in. Right down the front of him to his waist where the tie went around - a great yawning gap. You know how 'they' say Nature hates a vacuum? 'They' were right this time. The hit-cow's aim was perfect as she obeyed Nature's command... with gusto.
I've saved the best and most unforgettable of these messy moments to last. It happened on one of my widowed Mum's holidays with us. As usual through the bleak winter months, our calves were being raised in the old shearing shed at the other end of our property. We'd found the easiest way to transport new additions to their cosy home was on the back of our rusty old utility at the same time as I took them a can of milk each morning.
Because of Mum's presence and only one small Jersey calf needing transport, the plan was hatched for Mum to hold the calf in front of her knees in the cabin of the ute. For such a short distance, it would save the hassles of loading and tying up, etc. All went to plan, until I started up 'old faithful', a rowdy creature with a tendency to backfire - explosively and often.
The calf rolled back its beautiful eyes, scrambled wildly all over my Mum, turned itself around so its tail was my side and distributed its most nervous and messiest worst. A calf's poo is bright yellow and extremely pungent for the first few days after birth. Elsewhere, I've told the story about the mother's first milk, colostrum, and its miraculous properties that provide a complete clean-out of the calf's digestive system, whilst protecting the babe against disease thanks to its numerous antibodies. Clever bovine mother... and Mother Nature also.
Meanwhile back in the ute, the smell was not the worst disaster we endured. Yellow poo thickly coated my steering wheel, the column gearstick and the choke plunger. A whole section of the dashboard was seriously submerged in it. As it was not only the calf that was in motion, I had no choice but to plunge my hand into the whole mess and continue driving. I was on the road - a quiet one admittedly, except for stock trucks and milk tankers.
You have never heard so much squealing and groaning (from me), hysterical laughter (from Mum), and outraged bellowing (from the calf) as we careered down the mercifully empty dirt road. And still ahead of me was the cleanup of self and clean down of the inside of the vehicle. Kanute is laughing helplessly and loudly again. So did my Mum - and so did I afterwards, when telling and retelling the tale.
When George Bernard Shaw said,
'Life wasn't meant to be easy, my child, but take courage: it can be delightful '
I swear he had no idea of how totally un-delightful Life can be in some corners of our world.
Hilarious in retrospect.... but definitely NOT 'delightful'.
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...