Dairy: First Milkings

When milking a flow emerges, a rhythm. You start from the top of the teat with your thumb and index finger squeezing and then you tighten your middle finger until you’ve squeezed your smallest finger, encouraging the milk down its path and into your bucket. We realized early on that one side took longer to empty. It was unclear if it was because this side actually produced more milk or because the teat on the back quarter of that side was so short you couldn’t get a long stream out of it because it only held so much milk before you’d have to start the process of pushing the milk through the teat and out again.

This is how we figured it out: “I think we should switch sides regularly,” I said to Josh speaking of our routine to each take a side of the udder to milk. “I’m worried that I’m not doing it right and if I’m hurting her. I think I should be giving each side a break from me milking it.”

Josh agreed and that night, at approximately our third milking I got comfortable on a milk crate (more traditionally there would be a three -legged milking stool, but a deeper farming tradition is to use what you have on hand – and there were a half dozen milk crates or so in the barn). Still fairly new and insecure in my milking skills I discovered the very short teat. I decided to focus on the front quarter first and then work on the back quarter when the other three quarters were less full, and therefore giving me more room to work. I was pleased with the strong swoosh of the milk stream I was creating hitting the bottom of the bucket and before long making an even more satisfying sound as it hit the liquid. I rested my head against Shadow’s warm side, a welcome heater against the chill in the barn. Wanting to investigate the milk stream I was creating more carefully I lowered my head. Like the milkings before, I realized that strong milk stream sound was not my own, but Josh’s. I concentrated on the rhythm of the milk stream coming out of the quarter I was working and could hear a faint pft…pffft…pfft. Disappointed but determined I kept milking. Minutes later the strong milk-hits-milk-in-bucket sounds ceased.

“Are you done?!?” I asked incredulous.

“Yes,” was the simple reply.

“It feels like I haven’t even started!” I said, feeling Shadow’s firm udder and panicking slightly. Josh took hold of the back quarter that I’d neglected and the strong swoosh sound of milk hitting milk and foamy froth forming started up again. Reminding myself that Josh had grown up on a dairy farm, machine milked of course, but still with more experience, I was able to console myself with the thought that if I could just get one quarter done by myself, that would be something. That night I proudly finished that quarter.

Okay, I didn’t. But I would have, we realized, if I had been on “my side”.
That side was not producing milk as heavily as “Josh’s side”. From then on I chose to believe that I was milking Shadow quite well, thank you very much, or at least well enough, to stick to my side of the udder.

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