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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter X.—Cheated in a Cow—A Good and a Bad One—The Saint of the Barnyard


Both myself and wife had always coveted a cow. All of the family were extravagantly fond of milk. Where so many children were about, it seemed indispensable to have one; besides, were we not upon a farm? and what would a farm be without having upon it at least one saint of the barnyard? As soon as we came on the place, I made inquiries of two or three persons for a cow. The news flew round the neighborhood with amazing rapidity, and in the course of two weeks I was besieged with offers They haunted me in the street, as I went daily to the post-office; even in the evening, as we sat in our parlor. It seemed as if everybody in the township had a cow to sell. Indeed, the annoyance continued long after we had been supplied.

Now, though I knew a great deal of milk, having learned to like it the very day I was born, yet I was utterly ignorant of how to choose a cow, and at that time had no friend to advise with. But I suspected that no one who had a first-rate animal would voluntarily part with it, and so expected to be cheated. I hinted as much to my wife, whereupon she begged that the choice might be left to her; to which I partially consented, thinking that if we should be imposed on, I should feel better if the imposition could be made chargeable somewhere else than to my own ignorance. Besides, I knew that she could hardly be worse cheated than myself.

One morning a very respectable-looking old man drove a cow up to the door, and called us out to look at her. My wife was pleased with her looks the moment she set eyes on her, while the children were delighted with the calf, some two weeks old. I did not like her movements—she seemed restless and ill-tempered; but the old man said that was always the way with cows at their first calving. Still, I should not have bought her. But somehow my wife seemed bewitched in her favor, and was determined to have her. This the old man could not fail to notice, and was loud in extolling her good qualities, declaring that she would give twenty quarts of milk a day. After some further parley, he inadvertently admitted that she had never been milked. My wife did not notice this striking discrepancy of a cow giving twenty quarts daily, when as yet no one had ever milked her; but the lie was too bouncing a one to escape my notice. As I saw my wife had set her heart upon the cow, I said nothing, and finally bought cow and calf for thirty dollars, though quite certain they could have been had for five dollars less, if my wife had not so plainly shown to the old sinner that she was determined to have them. I do not think she will ever be up to me in making a bargain. But as it had been agreed that she should choose a cow, so she was permitted to have her own way.

At the end of the week the calf was sold for three dollars—a low price; but then my wife wanted the milk, and she and Kate were anxious to begin milking. I am sure I was quite willing they should have all they could get. When they did begin, there was a great time. Now, most women profess to understand precisely how a cow should be milked, and yet comparatively few know anything about it. They remind me of the Irish girls who are hunting places. These are all first-rate cooks, if you take their word for it, and yet not one in a hundred knows anything of even the first principles of cooking.

The first process in the operation of milking is to fondle with the cow, make her acquaintance, and thus give her to understand that the man or maid with the milking pail approaches her with friendly intentions, in order to relieve her of the usual lacteal secretion. It will never do to approach the animal with combative feelings and intentions. Should the milker be too impetuous; should he swear, speak loud and sharp, scold or kick, or otherwise abuse or frighten the cow, she will probably prove refractory as a mule, and may give the uncouth and unfeeling milker the benefit of her heels,—a very pertinent reward, to which he, the uncouth milker, is justly entitled. Especially in the case of a new milker, who may be a perfect stranger to the cow, the utmost kindness and deliberation are necessary.

Before commencing to milk, a cow should be fed, or have some kind of fodder offered her, in view of diverting her attention from the operation of milking. By this means the milk is not held up, as the saying is, but is yielded freely. All these precautions are more indispensable when the cow has just been deprived of her calf. She is then uneasy, fretful and irritable, and generally so disconsolate as to need the kindest treatment and the utmost soothing. The milker should be in close contact with the cow's body, for in this position, if she attempt to kick him, he gets nothing more than a push, whereas if he sits off at a distance, the cow has an opportunity to inflict a severe blow whenever she feels disposed to do so.

All milkers of cows should understand that the udder and teats are highly organized, and consequently very sensitive; and these facts should be taken into consideration by amateur milkers, especially when their first essay is made on a young animal after the advent of her first calf, and that one just taken from her. At this period, the hard tugging and squeezing to which many poor dumb brutes have to submit in consequence of the application of hard-fisted, callous, or inexperienced fingers, is a barbarity of the very worst kind; for it often converts a docile creature into a vicious one, from which condition it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to wean her.

Of every one of these requisites both wife and daughter were utterly ignorant. They went talking and laughing into the barn, one with a bright tin pail in her hand, an object which the cow had never before seen, and both made at her, forgetting that they were utter strangers to her. Besides, she was thinking of her absent calf, and did not want to see anything else. Their appearance and clamor of course frightened her, and as they approached her, so she avoided them. They followed, but she continued to avoid, and once or twice put down her head, shook it menacingly, and even made an incipient lunge at them with her sharply pointed horns. These decided demonstrations of anger frightened them in turn, and they forthwith gave up the pursuit of milk in the face of difficulties so unexpected. We got none that night. In the morning we sent for an experienced milker, but she had the utmost difficulty in getting the cow to stand quiet even for a moment. My wife was quite subdued about the matter. It would never do to keep a cow that nobody could milk. She said but little, however—it was her cow. Longer trial produced no more encouraging result, as she seemed untamable, and my wife was glad to have me sell her for twenty dollars, at the same time resolving never again to buy a cow with her first calf.

It was voted unanimously that another should be procured, and that this time the choice should be left to me. Now, I never had any idea of buying poor things of any kind merely because they were cheap. When purchasing or making tools or machinery, I never bought or made any but the very best, as I found that even a good workman could never do a good job with poor tools. So with all my farm implements—I bought the best of their kind that could be had. If my female gardeners had been furnished with heavy and clumsy hoes and rakes, because such were cheap, their mere weight would have disgusted them with the business of hoeing and weeding. So with a cow. It is true, I had become the owner of a magnificent thirty-dollar horse; but it was the only beast I could get hold of at the moment when a horse must be had. Besides, he turned out to be like a singed cat, a vast deal better than he looked. I had repeatedly heard of a cow in the neighbor­ing town, which was said to yield so much milk as to be the principal support of a small family whose head was a hopeless drunkard. She had cost seventy-five dollars, and had been a present to the drunkard's wife from one of her relatives. By careful inquiry, I satisfied myself that this cow gave twenty quarts daily, and that five months after calving, and on very indifferent pasture. I went to see her, and then her owner told me she was going to leave the place, and would sell the cow for fifty dollars. I did not hesitate a moment, but paid the money and had the cow brought home the same evening. My wife and daughter had not the least difficulty in learning to milk her. Under their treatment and my improved feeding, we kept her in full flow for a long time. She gave quite as much milk as two ordinary cows, while we had the expense of keeping only one. This I consider genuine good management: the best is always the cheapest.

The cow was never permitted to go out of the barnyard. A trough of water enabled her to drink as often as she needed, but her green food was brought to her regularly three times daily, with double allowance at night. I began by mowing all the little grass-plots about the house and lanes, for in these sheltered nooks the sod sends up a heavy growth far in advance of field or meadow. But this supply was soon exhausted, though it lasted more than a week: besides, these usually neglected nooks afforded several mowings during the season, and the repeated cuttings produced the additional advantage of maintaining the sod in beautiful condition, as well as getting rid of numberless weeds. When the grass had all been once mowed over, we resorted to the clover. This also was mowed and taken to her; and by this treatment my little clover-field held out astonishingly. Long before I had gone over it once, the portion first mowed was up high enough to be mowed again. Indeed, we did secure some hay in addition. In this way both horse and cow were soiled. When the clover gave out, the green corn which I had sowed in rows was eighteen inches to two feet high, and in capital condition to cut and feed. It then took the place of clover. Both horse and cow devoured it with high relish. It was the extra sweet corn now so extensively cultivated in New Jersey for market, and contained an excess of saccharine matter, which made it not only very palatable, but which sensibly stimulated the flow of milk.

The yield of green food which this description of corn gives to the acre, when thus sowed, is enormous. Not having weighed it, I cannot speak as to the exact quantity, but should judge it to be at least seven times that of the best grass or clover. Even without cutting up with a straw-knife, the pigs ate it with equal avidity. In addition to this, the cow was fed morning and night with a little bran. The unconsumed corn, after being dried where it grew, was cut and gathered for winter fodder, and when cut fine and mixed with turnips which had been passed through a slicer, kept the cow in excellent condition. She of course got many an armful of cabbage-leaves during the autumn and all through the winter, with now and then a sprinkling of sliced pumpkins, from which the seeds had first been taken, as they are sure to diminish the flow of milk.

Thus I was obliged to lay out no money for either horse or cow, except the few dollars expended for bran. By this treatment I secured all the manure they made. By feeding the barnyard itself, as well as the hog-pen, with green weeds and whatever litter and trash could be gathered up, the end of the season found me with a huge manure pile, all nicely collected under a rough shed, out of reach of drenching rain, hot sun, and wasting winds. I certainly secured thrice as much in one season as had ever been made on that place in three. In addition to this, the family had had more milk than they could use, fresh, rich, and buttery. Even the pigs fell heir to an occasional bucket of skim-milk.

When our city friends came to spend a day or two with us, we were able to astonish them with a tumbler of thick cream, instead of the usual staple beverages of the tea-table. My wife evidently felt a sort of pride in making a display of this kind, and Kate invariably spread herself by taking our visitors to the barnyard, to let them see how expert she had become at milking. When they remarked, at table, on the surpassing richness of the cream, as well as the milk, my wife was very apt to reply—

"Yes, but when your turn comes to go in the country, be particular not to buy a cheap cow."

This remark generally led to inquiry, and then Kate was brought out with the whole story of our first and second cow, which she accordingly gave with illustrations infinitely more amusing than any I have been able to introduce. Indeed, her power of amplification sometimes astonished me. She told the story of our having been cheated by the old sinner, with such graphic liveliness, my wife now and then interposing a parenthesis, that the company invariably concluded it was by far the better policy to give a wide berth to cheap cows. I am not certain whether the fun occasioned by Kate's narratives was not really very cheaply purchased by the small loss we suffered on that occasion.

This abundance of milk wrought quite a change in our habits as to tea and coffee. At supper, during the summer, we drank milk only; but insensibly we ran on in the same way into cold weather. In the end, we found that we liked coffee in the morning only. This was a clear saving, besides being quite as wholesome. Our city milk bill had usually been a dollar a week. I am quite sure it did not cost over sixty cents a week to keep the cow. Then we had puddings and other dishes, which milk alone makes palatable, whenever we wanted them; and at any time of a hot summer's day a full draught of cold milk was always within reach. Then the quality was much superior, exceeding anything to be found in city milk. I must admit that keeping a cow, like most other good things, involves some trouble; but my family would cheerfully undertake twice as much as they have ever had with ours, rather than dispense with this yet uncanonized saint of the barnyard.


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