The Making of a Milkmaid

This is an old photograph of my first milk cow, Tilly.

I wanted to share a little history with y’all today. Since this is “Memoirs of a Milkmaid,” I thought I’d tell the story of my first experience as such. 

When I was 12, my family moved from Utah to a small farm in rural Missouri. We knew almost nothing about farming, but that didn’t stop us from acquiring all kinds of farm animals. At one time or another, we owned the following: sheep, goats, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, ducks, dogs, geese, cats, cows, and horses. 

I believe I was around 14 when I purchased my first family milk cow. (I’ve written before about how these purchases don’t always go as planned.) The milk cow was a Jersey that I was told had been hand-milked. I named her Matilda but always called her Tilly. Tilly was in milk when I bought her, so I had to start milking her right away. This turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected, because she, in fact, acted as though she had never been hand-milked before. Kicking ensued. Through a training routine that included feed, a stop-kick*, and smacks to her hindquarters, Tilly learned to stop kicking.

Actually, Tilly ended up being the most well-behaved milk cow I’ve ever owned. I could milk her anywhere. I just tied her up to whatever was available, fed her a little grain, and she would stand like a champ, even after she finished her feed. Also, she was fine with being milked on either side of the udder or both sides at once. I remember sometimes having one of my brothers help me milk, and we would milk together, one on each side of her. Tilly was very easy-going. 

I don’t remember how much milk Tilly gave each day. But, I do remember investing in an old, brown refrigerator that was cheap, ran great, and was kept out in our garage. I ran a self-pay milk station out of this fridge for the neighbors. I only charged $2 a gallon. I sold cream separately, too. 

For a 14-year-old girl, it was a fairly good business that kept me busy milking, washing containers, separating cream, and making butter. (No cell phones or social media back then, so I had to do something productive instead.)

I had Tilly for a couple of years and learned a lot from the experience. I like to tell people about how, while I had Tilly, I could always beat my brothers at arm wrestling, because milking made my arm muscles so strong. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have great luck with Tilly. Her first calf was stillborn. She got mastitis several times. And, very sadly, she died one winter after slipping on some ice and breaking her hip.

You become familiar with woes such as these when you live on a farm and have to take the bad with the good. 

Little did I know back then that after I married, I would end up back on a small farm and again be hand-milking a cow. Oh, the surprises the future always holds!      

*a stop-kick is a device that you place on a cow to stop it from kicking

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