Myrtle:


| March 2003



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Myrtle, with a set of twin calves.

Myrtle, like all of our registered Holsteins back in the 1950s, had a three- or four-word official name. I don't recall what it was. Each one of our animals had a certificate that told their names - as fancy as any human's - with a green, scrolled border and an embossed stamp of authenticity.

She was born in Canada, and Dad purchased her at a monthly auction up at Williamston, Mich., like many cows in our herd. We milked between 25 and 30 cows at the time, using two Hinman milking machines. The machines sat on the bedding beside the cow, and the long, black hose from each device plugged into a vacuum line that ran down the top of the stanchions. With a turn of the petcock, the milker would start its alternating, pulsating action. The bucket held 60 pounds of milk, and some of the cows would nearly fill it.

The metal stanchions were in the basement of the tall barns, which had stone walls around all four sides. Cement floors and large wooden beams supported the floor above. The beams were flattened on one side only, so the part we viewed as we did chores and milked was rounded to the trees' exact shape when they were felled. A white-wash was sprayed over the entire basement - walls and all - to accommodate the state milk inspectors who visited once a year.

Like all kids who grow up around animals, I quickly learned they had individual traits and personalities. We started milking as the cows began eating their grain and corn silage. Those cows that leaked milk as they stood waiting were first in line. Some wet the floor beneath their hind legs as milk dripped or ran from all four teats. Yet, some did not leak a single drop. Some even liked to be milked. They stepped and swayed gently as the four-teat cups were put into place, and the milk gushed down the clean plastic tube into the metal bucket. On the other hand, some cows only tolerated the milking.

Dad was raised before the milking machine was invented. He could sit down on a stool and milk a cow almost as fast as a machine. He still milked cows occasionally by hand, usually the first week after they gave birth when their udders were sore and swollen. Because a newborn calf usually nursed only one teat, Dad would set his stool down beside the new mother and milk the remaining quarters by hand. Some liked the hand-milking, and some did not, but Dad had a no-nonsense policy: It wasn't a matter of what the cow liked but what had to be done.

Cows reached their milk production peak a few weeks after giving birth. For the next four or five months, the milk flowed in great quantities. Then it tapered off as the cows were impregnated to calf again 12 to 14 months later. Each cow was allowed a no-milk 'dry period' as she prepared to give birth again. It was a brief rest period in a lifetime of milk production that usually totaled more than 100,000 pounds.