Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cows and Why I Love 'Em!

These are not cows.  These are sandhill cranes, not usually found in a city.  Definitely a rural experience.

I just came up for air this week as I completed work on a draft of my book which will be the second in my Big Lake murder mystery series.  It’s entitled Grilled, Chilled and Killed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about cows lately.  I love cows.  I grew up with them on a farm in northern Illinois.  Until I was sixteen, we milked a small herd of Holsteins, then Dad sold the milkers, and we fattened cattle and hogs.  The latter was much less demanding of my father’s time.  He no longer had to get up early to milk nor was he tied to milking twice each day.  There was only once in all those years that my dad was too sick to milk.  He was ill on other occasions, but he got out of bed to milk anyway.

I spent a lot of my childhood years out in the barn with him.  He played the old radio tuned to either opera or country music while he milked.  He claimed the cows liked it.  They never complained at his choice of music and they gave a lot of milk, so I guess they did like it.  I never helped him with the cows, but I followed him around while he cleaned utters, placed the suction cups on teats, poured the warm milk into a pail and hauled it back to the cooler.  My job came after he finished.  I washed the utensils, the big milkers and pails, hoses and teat cups by hand in big stainless sinks in our basement.

Our cows were a part of my daily life.  Only when I became a teen when school activities took me away from the barn did I miss a day smelling the manure, sweat, and hot, creamy milk in our dairy barn.

There are few pictures of me as a young child because my parents couldn’t afford a camera, but the one I treasure is of me with a Guernsey calf.  I was told she was my calf thought I don’t know if that is really so as I have few memories of her specifically but I know I named her “Essie” after myself (I couldn’t pronounce the Ls in my name).  As an adult cow, she was the only of her kind in our Holstein herd.  Dad said it was so we could have a little cream with our milk.

The calf I followed through her calf childhood into adulthood was a Holstein, and I didn’t keep an eye on her because I was fond of her.  My grandmother had given me a pair of red knitted gloves for Christmas when I was about eight.  I loved those gloves.  In the winter, the calves came into the barn for the night and were held in a small pen near the milking stanchions.  I often fed them hay through the bars of the pen.  One of the calves took the hay and the mitten off my hand, chomped down on both and swallowed.  I remember her distinctively and until she grew to give milk as an adult.  She had one eye with black eyelashes, the other with white.  She was forever the cow I despised.
Ah, autumn in the country

I got pink eye (conjunctivitis) from the cows one fall and was out of school that year (fourth or fifth grade) for weeks.  I kept reinfecting myself and, because it is so contagious, each infection meant I had to stay home for several days.  Mom and Dad could do little to keep me away from those cows, so it was months before it cleared up.

Holsteins are big, really big, very big when you’re a five year old told to round up Mary, one of our most cantankerous cows.  She wandered away from the others and never wanted to come in from the field.  I reluctantly pursued her toward the stand of oaks and she turned and rushed me.  Dad told me to turn and face her.  To me that was like facing a freight train bearing down on me.  I ran.

Dad didn’t always do so well with these huge beasts either.  Until we went to artificial insemination, we kept a Holstein bull.  They are always in a vile mood.  The bull was housed in a pen with a fence that was over eight feet tall and made of study rails.  Yet he never failed to get out somehow.  When he chased my grandfather up the windmill, Dad laughed.  But he did the same thing several months later to my dad and somehow he didn’t find that as funny.

Farm life and the cows we raised and milked there are a part of my childhood.  In some ways they are my childhood, as much a part of who I am now as my DNA.  I carry that life around in my soul and I write all my stories from it as I believe do many other writers of cozies.  No wonder I fell so comfortable positioning my protagonists in the country.  It’s not in detailed descriptions of rural Florida or of the Butternut Valley in upstate New York that I fashion the atmosphere and setting of the book.  My country roots write the people and their relationship to their land.  Storms, drought, floods, wild animals, herds of cattle, cowboys and horses, snakes and gators are the stuff of their lives and their adventures.  It’s country.  They are my adventures.  After all, I’m a country gal, and I write country.


  1. I enjoyed your stories about cows! I pet one once in a state fair, but that's about all my experience with them. I'm always in awe of how big they are when I see them up close.

  2. People laugh at me when I say I love the smell of manure. But, I live in Kings County, CA, and dairy is the primary business. Not that I was a farm kid; we came with the Navy base. The Portuguese who settled here started the dairies.

    Oh, and Lemoore is the proud owner of the largest mozzarella factory in the world!

  3. Very nice, Lesley. Cattle, especially dairy cattle, display an appealing serenity as they go about their business of munching and plopping.

  4. Unlike Sunny, I do not "love" the smell of manure. Wet manure...fresh manure...oops-I-stepped-in-it-manure. Arrgh! But I do "respect" it. My grandparents owned a farm and had Herefords. I served churches in Cheeselandia (Wisconsin) and pastored to dairy farmers (and dodged manure). Enjoyed your cow tales, Lesley. They give me an insight into you and inspire my memories. I always thought my grandfather was magic when he called the cows home...he'd yell, "Hey Boss" and there they'd come. Later, I discovered he only did it at feeding time. Cows, like humans, love to eat!

  5. Lesley,
    I enjoyed your post and, especially, getting to know a little bit more about you. Our childhoods are so important because we carry those memories with us for the rest of our lives. You have some good ones!

  6. Both my grandfathers (one Irish, one American) had cows, but I never knew either of them. But my next book involves a dairy farmer and her herd, including a couple of Guernseys (apparently my American grandfather loved Guernseys for the high butterfat content of the milk--but he died at 44 of a heart attack).

  7. I grew up with cows too. My job was cooling the milk and bottling some for our own use. My dad would pour each bucket of milk into the top of the cooler, then it would flow down a wash-boardy looking thing that had cold water running through the metal pipes, then into the big several-gallon cans to be picked up every day by the dairy. Our milk was made into cheese - Dairygold cheese in Washington state. Don't know if they still have that, but I loved the cheese. And the milk.

    The cows might have gotten out a time or two, but never the bull. Now the turkeys were something else again. We only had them for one year.

  8. Neither of my grandfathers kept cattle. But my maternal grandfather was country-born and worked as a blacksmith in his younger days. So I grew up around farmers, too, and can relate to your background.

  9. It was a dark night about two months ago when it was cold and the dogs were put in the garage so they would be happy out of the cold. Suddenly, Loreen heard them barking very strange. They bark when in the garage only sometimes, when something is very near.

    Loreen went into the garage to calm the dogs down and then she heard ominous footsteps walking in the gravel outside. She knew it could not be coyotes as the sound was really loud.

    She came back into the livingroom and said to me that someone was walking around outside the house and I had better get the shotgun and check it out. Instead I got a powerful portable light and we went out the front door. Before turning on the light I too heard the walking on pebbles across the street. Then I swiftly turned on the light and in our neighbors yard stood 4 cows calmly eating up her pompus grass and any other vegatation they could chomp on. The light caused them to casually stroll out of the yard and down the street. It was very dark and only could you hear them clopping away.

    We have open range in Arizona and farmers bring their cattle to graze on the open fields, cows like to meander around our area and sometimes will eat their fill in the neighbor's yards. We live a block or so from the golf course and they have been eating up the greens and fairways to the consternation of the grounds keepers. We cannot capture or in anyway harm these creatures as the law is clear; "You owe for the loss of the animal." However, they are not reasponsbile for damages they inflict on your land unless you are fenced in.

    That is my cow story! It is absolutely true, I swear on it!

  10. Our neighbors on both sides had cows and horses. We raised chickens. Were making a fortune (I'm told) until the Depression hit and eggs were worthless. I ate a lot of chicken.

    I did help track down stray cows on occasion.

  11. What wonderful cow stories you all have shared with me. I love the memories of my childhood on the farm. I know it's for cleanliness reasons, but I feel so bad about cows who have had their tails clipped. I always think to myself, how do they swat flies?

  12. I grew up in a rural area with a huge pasture next door where other people kept cows. I loved how they chewed their cud and stared at me with their big eyes, "duh, what are you?" My cat would romp through the field and catch mice. Those were the days! I still prefer the quiet of the country to city noise.
    Sally Carpenter

  13. I loved reading about your country and cows experience. When I was young my parents visited distant relatives in upstate New York where I got to see cows closeup. And chickens and goats and I don´t recall what else. I´ve seen them being milked but never tried to do this. Thanks for the memory!

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