Urban Farm Girl: Raising Kritters & Kids “Under that Udder” By Joanne M.W. Love There’s an indiscernible shift in power this week as dormant pastures across the valley turn green. Yippee-kiyay, we don’t have to feed all the animals twice a day for the next 6 months!! No more throwing hay in pj’s & boots, while my left eye is still partially closed, trying to catch up to the rest of my awake body. One particular spring, my sleepy, half-open, left eye never saw that hiatus from barn duty. It was a defining shift in power in my life, and the steepest learning curve I’ve had on the farm to date. It began as the pasture was greening, and our son’s cow, Violet, was giving birth to her first calf. Giving no heed to the pristine birthing quarters we’d prepped and monitored by video for weeks, Violet gave birth at 3am, in the rain and mud, without us. Alright. So we missed the entire birth. We still have our first jersey calf! As I race into the house to wake the family, my mind travels back to words from many, many friends. “Do you have a stanchion to put her in? Have you ever milked a cow? Do you have a Can’t Kick bar?” In effort to stay in the moment, I push these thoughts away. This definitely returns to bite me. While spending the next sun-rising hours convincing her baby to latch on, Violet’s udder expanded exponentially and now looked the size of 4 basketballs. Oh wow (only I didn’t say wow), that’s a lot of milk! Then I stared, longingly, at the corner of her stall, fighting the urge to curl up and cry. Slowly, I reached under her, stretching my hand as close to her teat as possible, yet pulling my upper body in the opposite direction to avoid blunt trauma (surely there’s a yoga pose named after this?). It took only one, swift, intentional kick from Violet for me to start speed dialing everyone on my Help List. First up was a good friend, one of the Cafferty brothers (there’s 6 degrees to any one of the 8 Cafferty brothers in Boise). Having grown up milking cows, he didn’t care that Violet attempted to kick him twice. As I gained confidence to jump in and join him, I felt my anxiety slowly evaporating. Then it dawned on me, I’d have to do this again in 12 hours by myself! Make that 11 hours and 35 minutes! Oh my word, what have I done?!
The following days were interesting, to say the least. My husband and kids came home and helped with that night’s milking. With a promise of eggs and coffee, my Cafferty brother returned the next morning to help again. And in the 48th hour, our vet, Dr. Hardy, saved my life. Having built a single unit milking machine for veterinary emergencies, he found he never had use for it and loaned it to me…..for a very long time. In hindsight, I should have named the calf Steve (Hardy). Throughout those initial days, I smelled like an udder and dreamed about udders. Like a paranoid schizophrenic, I became obsessed with the clock counting down the next 12 hours. I went to bed with carpal tunnel and woke up with carpal tunnel. And I’m certain I set disgraceful dairy records for the longest time taken to milk a cow. But I digress, there’s an intangible peace that comes with milking a cow. Whether by hand or by machine, there’s a calm and predictability that’s seldom found in our chaotic world. Under that udder, I’ve done some of my best laughing and crying. I’ve had treasured conversations with my kids, and quiet, precious moments with my husband. That udder’s witnessed celebrations, apologies, and intimate talks of first crushes. That udder has helped tempers cool down and broken hearts heal. Originally worrying this was a 10 month sentence of barn duty, I soon discovered it was a gift. In it’s simplicity, being under that udder is the perfect way to start and end the day.