Dairy Cow Shenanigans (For Fantasy/Historical Writers)

9:33 AM

Before we begin, I must thank Julian Daventry for inspiring me to write this post - she wrote a similar one several months ago centering around horses that you must go and check out HERE! I hope she won't mind that I kinda borrowed her format a little....

Should you decide to employ the use of an ornery dairy cow, here are few dairy facts that will probably be useful for you:

1. A cow has to have a calf in order to produce milk. This calf is separated from the mother and taught to drink from a bucket or bottle. This process has to be repeated every year. 

2. A cow doesn't have to be fed when she's milked, but it certainly keeps the cow entertained and standing somewhat still...most of the time. Feed her hay with a little bit of grain.

3. Butter is usually produced from the first few weeks of milking, as the cream is richer. The rest of the milking is better suited for cheese.

4. A dairy cow's ribs and hips may show, but that's nothing to worry about. The real problems happen when the cow is too skinny (all the bones are showing) or too fat (no bones are showing).

5. Cows can be many different colors - red, white, black, and brown are the most common though.

6. Cows don't have to be milked 12 hours apart with an early or evening milking - they can be set to any schedule. Just keep said schedule - cows are creatures of habit. Some also produce better if they are milked once a day rather than twice.

7. Unless cows have what's called a polled gene, they will have horns. They are not an appendage reserved for the bull, despite what Old McDonald taught you.

Okay, let's say that you're writing a historical fiction centering around pioneer or medieval times. Or you're in a portal fantasy story with a girl who needs to adapt to the livestyle of the people that she meets. And part of that lifestyle or farm includes a cow who is actively giving milk.

The lot of taking care of the cow would normally fall to either the mother or teenage daughters. Let's give that lot to a girl named.....Amy. 

Amy could choose not to milk the cow - after all, free will is still a thing to consider.

But if she doesn't this cow, there is going to be:

1. No milk for bread or cooking
2. No butter
3. No cheese (yikes, this is a staple....)
4. One very very unhappy cow.

Amy's mother could have a cow about not having any dairy products for her cooking, but I doubt she would raise as much fuss as the actual cow would. Cows HAVE to be milked at least once, preferably twice a day if their calf is separated from them (which in most cases, they are). If they don't, it's worse than a little kid that has to go to the bathroom. They moo loudly, and at the worst, the milk leaks into the floor or ground. And, they are at risk of an infection called mastitis.

So, like it or not, Amy has to go milk the cow. What kind of shenanigans can we create for this poor little dairymaid? 

Option 1: Amy spends hours trying to find cow. Cause she's loose somewhere. Cows are very good at finding the weak spots in the fence and...hem...escaping. I mean, a wooden fence isn't going to stand up very well to a 1400 lb cow, let's be honest. Oh, and I should mention that she's carrying a pitcher of water, a milk stool and a milk bucket this whole time.

Option 2: Cow is spotted. Now it's time for the merry chase around yard, pasture, or whatever to get her in the barn. Unless Amy is too tired and decides to try to milk her in the pasture - cause that actually was the common practice until the 1800s.

Option 3: Cow refuses to move. It should be noted that cows have a funny stubborn streak about them, and they can be the some of the laziest animals when they want to be. In this case, cow stares at Amy, who is trying to goad her up by either gently slapping her, raising her voice, and maybe gently foot-nudging her hip to make her get up.

Option 4: Amy finds cow stuck in something, most likely the fence. This is usually solved by vainly pushing and shoving the cow in various positions until she figures out how she got in there in the first place and reverses herself. Or destroys the fence.

Option 5: Amy settles her pitcher of water, milk bucket and stool into the right spot. As she goes to sit down....the cow walks away. Cause Amy forgot to tie her up before she started.

Oh you think she's going to hold still? And what planet are you from?

Option 6: After Amy get cow secured, it's now time to clean the udder. Following the pre-germ theory thinking, the milk needs to be free from visible dirt and debris. Amy discovers that the cow's udder is completely filthy - let's just hope it's mud and not the other kind of filth. So Amy must now spend several minutes cleaning the udder with water and a rag/towel.

New Curveball: This is Amy's first time milking. Which makes it all the more fun.

And now, what happens when she pulls on one of the four teats ....and nothing comes out?

Option 1: Amy isn't squeezing the teat right. In order to get milk out, you have to squeeze the teat at the top (where it joins the rest of the udder) and pull your fingers down; just like you're squeezing a toothpaste tube. It takes some practice to get :).

Option 2: The cow isn't letting her milk down. Cows have to be relaxed and comfortable with their situation before they let their babies drink - it's the prey instinct kicking in. Lots of things could stress a cow out: missing her calf who has been separated from her (a necessary evil, otherwise no milk), the heat, flies, agitated by humans, etc.

Option 3: There is something wrong - most often, mastitis. Signs of this include flakes or even chunks in the milk, pain, extra warmth, and a stink. At the worst, the milk resembles buttery cottage cheese. In a historic setting, the only thing that cures it is a rubbing and stripping the teat out until the infection is gone, and pray the infection doesn't kill her in the end.

Let's say, after some help, that Amy is now milking merrily away, with her head tucked into the cow's side, giving pressure in a similar manner of a calf. Her hands may get sore after a few minutes, but she's getting a good strong draw and the milk is flowing freely.

Then the cow's feet move.

Option 1: It could be the cow is just shifting her weight. Some cows are antsy as they are being milked - Holsteins, especially. At worst, they "dance" around like toddlers.

Option 2: The cow could gently kick at a fly buzzing around her udder. She doesn't like them anymore than Amy does, so she tries to help shoo it away.

Option 3: She could kick the bucket and potentially spill the milk. This could happen at any time, but cows especially loooove to do it at the end of milking. And you wonder where that old saying came from? 

Option 4: The cow could step into the bucket. Ew.

Option 5: If the cow is bad-tempered, she could kick at Amy. Hands and knees will be the first targets. If Amy is milking a cow with a temper, she better learn quick reflexes. Kicks can range from being light and irritating, to hard and bruising.

And as if Amy wasn't tortured enough, there are few other things that could make her miserable: 

Option 1: She misses the bucket and gets milk all over her dress and hands.

Option 2: The cow, in doing Amy a service, whacks her in the head with her tail. Believe me, those tails are like Nerf bats crossed with whips - they hurt! Oh yes, and it tends to leave a filthy mark either on the face or the nicely starched white cap.

Option 3: She doesn't quite get enough dirt off the udder and winds up getting her hands all grubby and sticky.

Option 4: If doing it in winter (which is rare), her hands could become raw as well as the udder.

Option 5: The cow could answer the call to nature....which then sends poor Amy scrambling to get the milk out of the way before *something* falls in and herself for getting bespattered upon.

And there you have it - a whole host of potential shenanigans to throw at your poor dairy maids! And that only scratches the surface of what tricks a cow can pull on you. Oh, and for the record, I apologize if any dairymaid reacts badly to any of these treatments.....

Scribblingly yours,


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  1. XD This is hiarious Catherine! I've never dealt with cows but I can imagine what trouble they could get into. Poor Amy.....

  2. Ack this sounds like a fun curveball to throw at my characters someday...I don't currently have anywhere this might be important, but I love it as a prospect for the future ;)

  3. Cows sound so interesting. *Nods head* if there is ever a scene where one of my characters comes face to face with a cow, I will definitely use this.

    1. P.S. Though I kind of made coming face to face with a cow sound like coming face to face with a dragon. XD

  4. Oh my word, this is GREAT. Now I want to write a scene with a cow in it, despite the fact that I don’t really have an opening for that in any of my books quite yet . . . XD

  5. This is perfect, I have a whole bunch of characters who come from a dairy farm community, so of course now my brain is conjuring up all kinds of scenarios. xD

  6. Oh. My. Gosh. Catherine you just made my day! And the part about *something* falling in the milk just put the icing on the cake!!! xDDD

  7. This is great xD Not only is it hilarious, but a lot of this information is extremely useful!


  8. Haha, those poor dairy maids - you know, I almost think you have a vengeance or something...! ;)

  9. WOW this is awesome! Will definitely return to this if I ever again take up that Jack-in-the-Beanstalk retelling of mine... :)

  10. BRILLIANT!! Great spin on my horse post!

    Also...don't forget that cows can be totally fine with one person they're familiar with...and then run after somebody new...which is why I still don't let people in my cow pasture, even though I'm perfectly safe...

  11. This is. HILARIOUS!! Such great facts! I knew most of them meself, but some I did not---so I learned something new today. Thanks, girl! ;D I was raised on a beef cattle farm, but when my mother was little it was an active dairy, and my grandparents tell all kinds of stories in regards to milking.

    Such a fun post! Thanks for sharing!

  12. This. Is. Amazing. I feel like I know all the ins and outs of cow-milking now, even though I've never done it irl and don't want to. XD

  13. Hahahaha! Loved this so much ... very clever, and educational too ;)


  14. Heh. I haven't had much experience with cows. I've always been interested in being self-sufficient (mostly I just want cheese :P), but when it comes to animals, I tend to enjoy being a distant acquaintance *ahem*. Except...I might make an exception for big, old dogs.


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