Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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What's the etiquette on milking another man's cow?

Okay, so I grew up in the city and did not learn all the ways of farm life.  Like farm jargon, every job or career has jargon.  I was listening to my nephews who are Marines at Easter.  One is deploying while the other has already served a tour.  I stopped asking what they were saying after about five minutes.  Nothing had a name they spoke acronyms interspersed with articles and prepositions. 

Being no exception farming has its share of jargon.  So steers, bull, calf, heifer, weaning, culled, dressed etc., was jargon I’m still getting use to.  I learned farm etiquette mostly from Joel Salatin but he didn’t say anything about asking to milk a farmer’s cow.

Let me save you time, embarrassment and maybe a little anger directed towards you.  If you are on a dairy farm and the farmer asks you if you’d like to milk a cow, by all means.  Milk the cow.  If you are on a dairy farm and you ask to milk a cow you might get the treat of being able to do it.  However, with health code related reasons you might not get that chance.

Now if you are on a beef farm and the farmer has a milking cow and that cow happens to be from a prized blood line of Guernsey’s think twice.  Think, how much do you truly know this farmer?  Ask yourself, how much does he or she truly know me?  Have you been dealing with each other for awhile or is this a new relationship?  How often do you visit the farm and once there how long do you stay?  These are all questions you want to ask yourself before even remotely thinking of uttering the question.

There is a bond between a farmer and his dairy cow particularly if it is his only one and she happens to be pregnant.  There is a ritual that takes place at least once a day if not twice and that is milking her.  Guernsey’s are known for their golden, nutrient rich milk.  Some will say there is no better tasting milk then a Guernsey.  I can’t judge I do know it makes great ice-cream because I’ve made it.

I’d have to say Dan is one of most genial, pleasant, honest,  willing to help others and accommodating as much as possible.  But I learned that there are some things that push his buttons.  I’m comfortable with my ignorance around Dan.  He knows I am from the city so he takes his jabs now and then but he is helpful. We were out in his field and he was showing me the new baby cow his Guernsey Lexus had.  There is some jargon word for baby cow, I’ll have to look it up.

We are standing out in the field it’s a hot summer day and I hear water running.  Dan's talking and this flowing water is distracting me.  He's talking about the baby and finally I said “Dan, it sounds like you have water just gushing out from the feeder”.  He looks at me instead of where the sound was coming from.  He just grinned and said, “You ain’t seen a cow pee before have ya?”

Well, no I had not seen a cow pee before but, I didn’t really have to answer him.  The answer was in the last statement I had just made.  I shrugged my shoulders, put my arms up and said “well what can I say.”  I mean if you haven’t seen one when you do you don’t believe that; a. that much water is coming out and b. the duration is as long as it is.  I swear learning is great.

Well I got pretty comfortable with Dan and I can ask him any question and he being a farmer his whole life he gives me a straight answer.  He puts up a lot with my questions so I try not to impinge on his time and whenever he calls for help I answer.  Course him being an old farmer he doesn't call.

So last year I got it in my head that I’d like to try and milk a cow.  I’d never done it before and figured it would be part of my learning experience.  I have to admit, I didn’t take into account the man’s bond with his prized Guernsey.  We were on the phone making arrangements, I was coming over for chicken feed and I had asked how the cow and her 3 month old calf were, and if he had milked the mother.  “No,” he said. So I just threw the question out there and asked if I could milk the cow.  Dead silence on the phone.  “Oh, okay” he said followed by “I gotta go. I'll let you know”  I didn’t see Dan for about three weeks after we hung up.

When we went to pick up the layer mash, Harvey, the farm hand, was there to collect the check.  The next time I did see Dan not a word was spoken about Lexus or her milk, or her calf.   I figured I crossed the line and left it at that.  There was awkwardness between us for quite awhile.  I guess he is still afraid I might ask him if I can milk her again.  I’m not, I understand now, the non-verbal queue was not that hard to pick up. 

So before you ask a farmer if you can milk his or her cow, make sure you know how they feel about other people touching their prized possession. 

Buy Local – From some one who is treating the earth kindly while growing 

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