Have you ever seen a cow in real life? Apparently not everyone.
The other day I had a conversation with a Bed-Stuy resident and we were talking about farm life. I shared that I was raised on a farm and about the fond memories I had on helping out in the land and milking cows.
I explained how that worked — milking a cow. I was struggling a bit, because when it comes to farming, I do not always know the proper Dutch to English translation for certain animal body parts and farming equipment. But here is what I said:
Farms have special stables for milking cows. The cows enter the stable and stand in a row or circle, waiting to be milked. When it is their turn, the farmer takes the 4 nipples of the cow one by one and attaches them to suction cups that in turn are attached to a milking machine. The machine does the rest until the final drop leaves the cow breast.
I had to look it up and now I know that a cow breast is called an udder. My conversation partner told me that he had never seen a cow, let alone an udder. So we went on the internet and I was able to pull up some pictures of fine specimens. It did not make sense to him at all. Why is the udder located at the rear of the cow? When she urinated or defecated, she will soil her udder! And indeed, I have witnessed that numerous times. Smart comment!
But it makes sense to me that many people have never seen a cow up close. I have been living in New York and Brooklyn for the past 9 years and I have never visited a farm. So why would someone that was not born in the countryside or does not have any relatives living near livestock go out of their way? The city sucks you in and keeps you there, like milking machine suction cups.
As I mentioned, I have fond memories of farming life. I used to go out to the club and when the club closed around 5AM or 6AM, I would hop on my bike back to the good old farmstead and started milking cows around 7AM.
Quite a dangerous activity I must add, because if you do not pay attention (and cows don’t like it when you do not give them all the attention in the world), you will receive a fierce hoof kick or tail slap. It never ended in a knock out, so you just keep milking on. By the way, a cow has two hooves on each foot as opposed to a horse which has one hoof on each foot (interesting information for those who are into Trivial Pursuit and such).
Summers were the best. The cows roamed the fields, and in the evenings, we had to go out and collect them for the milking ritual. With little encouragement they would follow one another in a long line towards the stable and after they were done, they would return to the field for some more grass grazing. Of course there was always the stubborn one that either wanted to remain in the field or in the stable, but being a cow whisperer, that was not a challenge for me.
Also during the summer, we had to prepare for winter. Grass is abundant March through October, but for the winter months, we had to make sure that sufficient supplies of hay were available for feeding the cows. Hay is dried grass. Transforming grass into hay requires 1 afternoon of mowing, 3 days of drying in the field, 1 morning of compressing hay into bales, and 1 afternoon of collecting the bale packages for storage in a hay loft.
I loved those days! Sweltering hot afternoons, where the entire farming community pitched in and helped each other, to make sure that the dry hay made its way to the hay lofts before the rain started to set in. During brief breaks, mom would treat us to cool drinks. And after all the hay was stacked and stored safely, we enjoyed a cool beer reminiscing a hard day’s work.
Perhaps that’s why a got to be such a hard worker with a sense for community? And I’m not bragging about being a hard worker. You can ask anyone who knows me. And I’m not necessarily saying that I’m a smart worker. That is something totally different. Perhaps if I worked a bit smarter, I wouldn’t have to work so hard.
One thing I must say though. Farm life gave me character and made me who I am today and I feel fortunate and proud because of this. Sometimes I long for those days. When I go to a farmer’s market (there is one every Wednesday at Marcy Plaza on Fulton Street), I am envious of the people behind the stands. They get to go back to their farms every day.
I definitely have to visit a farm here soon and relive some of my sentiments. Let me know if you want to join.