Winter Milking

☆ March 27, 2018

Yesterday, we woke up to four inches of snow and a sky full of flakes, more inches piling up by the hour, and it was beautiful, of course, but incredibly disheartening because this has been a hard winter and I had allowed myself to believe that we were done with the snow and done with the mud (it had finally dried out!), but no. We’re back in winter for a while. And while this winter has been so hard, one thing I’ve loved, deeply and unexpectedly, is winter milking.

Milking, for me, is like exercise is for many – one of those things that you never look forward to and only make yourself do because you have to, but then, when you’re in it, when you’re doing it, you’re filled with so much joy and happiness it seems impossible not to look forward to doing it again the next day. Often, when I’m milking Daisy, I think to myself, “wouldn’t it be wonderful to just quit everything and become a milkmaid?” These romantic daydreams last as long as the milking session and vanish when I’m done, replaced, in the space between milkings, by another thought: “omg, I am so sick of milking.”

Milking is a chore, a chore that extends beyond the actual act of milking – there is the washing of the milk pails and cups and glass gallon jars every single day. There is the cow wrangling and the udder washing and the post-milking thank you brushing of the cow. There is the toting of the the brush and washcloths and warm soapy water and hay and halter and treats and milk pail and cup to the milking area and the lugging of it all back to the house when done (but for the hay and treats). In winter, there is the ritual of layering up – layer after layer after layer to ensure warmth while sitting in the snow for nearly an hour. And there is the task of making sure the cow is peaceful and happy or distracted and entertained, and, even if she is none of those things on any given day, that she at least stands still.

In the past, this last part has been the most challenging part of milking for me. Daisy loves her babies and is so devoted to them, in previous years she has treated me as a kind of milk thief. The best word to describe her attitude towards my milking was begrudging. Or rather, on the best days, she was begrudging, and on the worst days, she was mean. She’d try to kick me, or she’d tap dance for an hour, making the act of milking as difficult as possible for me, or she’d hold back her milk. Cows can do that! They can refuse to let down their milk and will save it for their calves, even though dairy cows produce far, far more milk than any single calf could ever need. When Daisy would pull this trick, I’d have to bring her baby alongside me, give it a teat, and then race the calf, milking as quickly as I could so the calf wouldn’t drain the teat it had been given, then steal my teats, leaving me to trudge home with a measly cup or two of milk.

This year has been different. It’s been so remarkably different, I wonder if, after her miscarriage and before we got Mara, Daisy accepted me as her baby and now I’m equally as entitled to milk as her bovine baby. She’s treating me as if this is so. This year, she has not tap danced while I’ve milked, not once. She stands perfectly still and eats or meditates while I milk, just as she does when nursing a calf. Sometimes, she falls asleep. With Daisy so calm and peaceful, I sit at her feet and rest my head and shoulders against her warm belly while I milk. Rocked gently by her breath, there are times I almost fall asleep, too.

If Daisy wants to shift the position of her hind legs, particularly the leg I’m sitting next to, she no longer uses this as an excuse to whack me as she’s done in years past. Instead, she will raise her leg, draw her hoof up and in towards the center of her body, slowly move it forward in a semicircular arc, and then set it down on the ground again. With this maneuver, she is actively avoiding disturbing me or my milking. She is making sure she does not kick me as she shifts her feet. She is being so considerate! And she hasn’t held back her milk. It flows freely into my pail. I am blessed.

All of this means milking has been incredibly peaceful and meditative for me, even in the depths of winter. I don’t really notice I’m sitting in the snow, not while I’m warmed by Daisy and watching the colors of the sky as the sun rises or sets, and listening to the birds return as the weeks pass, and looking up at Daisy’s sweet face, her eyes half shut, her posture relaxed, chewing her cud. It’s been a chance to bond more profoundly with Daisy each day. Sometimes I break from milking and lean against her and sip her warm milk from a cup, frothy and rich. When I was a teenager and worked an espresso stand and had maxed out on coffee, I’d make myself almond steamed milk – warm and frothy whole milk with a shot of almond syrup mixed in. This is what Daisy’s milk tastes like, milked into a mug and enjoyed immediately.

And when I’m done milking, Daisy grooms me. She turns to me, and with a gentle toss of her head, begins covering me in long, deliberate swipes of her tongue. I only let her groom my clothes because cow tongues are rough and will take a layer of skin off with one lick. Sometimes, I misjudge the length of her tongue and she’ll nick my cheek or wrist with her spiny taste buds and I’ll flinch in pain, but it’s worth it, to be so loved by Daisy.



43 Responses to “Winter Milking”

  1. thecrazysheeplady
    March 27th, 2018 @ 9:58 am

    Very sweet :-).

  2. Barbara Sanchez
    March 27th, 2018 @ 10:07 am

    Ahh just the break I needed this morning! Thank you Shreve! It was both educational and soothing as your writing is such that I feel I’m right there in Wyoming with you & Daisy!

  3. Laura in Tampa
    March 27th, 2018 @ 10:21 am

    Daisy is such a beautiful cow! I was surprised to learn that In the past she wS so difficult to milk, and I now find myself oddly overjoyed that she’s found a way to accept you on her own terms. You have given me an entirely new perspective on cows, and I really appreciate it. Your farmily are lucky creatures indeed!

  4. torre
    March 27th, 2018 @ 10:37 am

    such a nice post-Daisy is so gorgeous!

  5. mlaiuppa
    March 27th, 2018 @ 10:38 am

    Yes, this year you are her “baby”. I think the grooming supports that.

    I love Daisy. And I think she loves you. Not sure how good cow memories are but if she ever has flashes of her life before you, I’m sure she appreciates the life she has now. So calm and peaceful. She’s grown into “milkinghood” just as she’s grown into Motherhood.

  6. Charity
    March 27th, 2018 @ 10:45 am

    So sweet!!! You making milking a cow sound magical.

  7. Tammy Olson
    March 27th, 2018 @ 11:06 am

    I loved reading this. Although the granddaughter of a dairy farmer, I have never milked a cow. Thank you for some insight into what my grandfather, long gone, experienced. Daisy is one of those incredible creatures that teaches us the depth of animal love and intelligence. You are blessed, Shreve, to be in her circle of trust.

  8. Liane B
    March 27th, 2018 @ 11:09 am

    Beautiful, just beautiful.

  9. Marg
    March 27th, 2018 @ 11:41 am

    That is the perfect picture of a “Milk Goddess”!
    White and creamy and named Daisy.

  10. Kristan
    March 27th, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

    Dear goodness, this brought me to tears. Particularly the description of how gently Daisy tries to shift her weight around you. Not because of that motion itself, but because of the relationship, the affection, that it belies. What a lovely tenderness you’ve shared with us. Thank you.

  11. Cynthia
    March 27th, 2018 @ 12:13 pm

    So much love

  12. Linda
    March 27th, 2018 @ 12:26 pm

    Shreve, this took me back to my childhood, growing up on my father and mothers farm. I have milked many a cow; yes, even in the wintertime. Thanks for the memories.

  13. Lindsay
    March 27th, 2018 @ 12:28 pm

    This is just so beautiful, the image you’ve painted. I know it’s a lot of hard, arduous work but isn’t it so worth all the hardship? She clearly loves you to bits and I’m glad she’s being kinder to you this year. :)

  14. Jo Davis
    March 27th, 2018 @ 12:44 pm

    how could Daisy not love you! the way you write, the way you describe things always makes me feel as if I’m there, you have such a gift with your words. Reading your posts brings so much happiness into my life ;) thank you!

    March 27th, 2018 @ 12:54 pm

    I never knew that cows had rough tongues!

  16. Susie Brandt
    March 27th, 2018 @ 2:05 pm

    Ahhhh. If only one could order chocolate milk.

  17. Debbie Lee
    March 27th, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

    Lovely story Shreve. Daisy is so special. x

  18. Patr
    March 27th, 2018 @ 3:16 pm

    Aw – it is so wonderful to see a human and animal bond so. She is one special cow as you are one special person.

  19. Colleen G
    March 27th, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

    I love this post for so many reasons and I love the bond that you two share. Daisy is such a beauty queen!

  20. karl
    March 27th, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

    Your lovely story reminds me of this lovely song (Holiest Day) by Rachel Ries (aka Her Crooked Heart) …

    Happy milking :).

  21. Patty
    March 27th, 2018 @ 4:33 pm

    This is the BEST. STORY. EVER. ❤️

  22. pam ryan
    March 27th, 2018 @ 5:03 pm

    All the while I was reading this, I was looking at my picture of Daisy meeting you on the road.
    Daisy is just so special and your stories are so much fun to read and I learn a lot,,having never milked a cow myself.
    thank you, Shreve, & I hope you get to enjoy the milking for many many more years to come.

    March 27th, 2018 @ 5:11 pm


  24. Laura
    March 27th, 2018 @ 5:35 pm

    aww I love this post…Daisy is such a wonder of nature–thanks for sharing <3

  25. Pat D.
    March 27th, 2018 @ 6:18 pm

    Oh, what a wonderful story, so vivid and distinctly written. Hurray for you, and dear Daisy! Thanks for sharing.

  26. Terry A Conboy
    March 27th, 2018 @ 6:52 pm

    It’s so good to know how good you treat Daisy. It makes me forget for a moment that there are so many commercial dairy cows whose life is not so pleasant.

  27. Julie
    March 27th, 2018 @ 9:52 pm

    oh to be so loved. this post made me want to cry. soft tears…what a completely lovely and thoughtful articulation of a deeply satisfying
    “chore”. milking is a chore, a job? it is necessary. you have been accepted by Daisy so completely. And a love like that..yes it is something to be quietly celebrated in your heart. thank you for giving us this peek into a time of yours with this sweet girl.

  28. anita
    March 28th, 2018 @ 8:20 am

    Thank you

  29. Siobhan
    March 28th, 2018 @ 12:07 pm

    Wow. How beautiful.

  30. Carolyne
    March 28th, 2018 @ 1:02 pm

    I love it!!! Now….all you need is a snowman (boo, or moooooo, to no snowman snow!)

  31. Laurie
    March 28th, 2018 @ 2:44 pm

    I so much loved this story – I felt all dreamy like while reading – Thank You for sharing this special event!! I love Daisy!!

  32. scotty
    March 28th, 2018 @ 8:40 pm

    can you maybe cross breed or something so i could get a mini cow?

  33. Sandy G.
    March 29th, 2018 @ 2:30 am

    Oh, sweet Daisy! That was so interesting to hear about your relationship and interaction with her. She has the sweetest face.

  34. Ruth
    March 29th, 2018 @ 8:10 am

    Thank you.

  35. Kathie F
    March 29th, 2018 @ 8:15 am

    Now I really, really want a cow.

  36. Carrie
    March 29th, 2018 @ 4:06 pm

    I weirdly feel like both you and Daisy in this post. I’m currently pumping for my baby and it just feels like such.a.chore. It’s not fun, it’s time consuming and the lack of excitement when I get less than .5 oz makes me feel like it’s not even worth it sometimes. But! I love it when my baby nurses! I really, really love nursing and while he’s still little, I know that any breast milk is better than none (and that’s not a judgement at all! We’re supplementing with formula because .5oz isn’t going to fill a bottle or belly!)
    Anyway, this was a sweet story and in an odd way, I can relate on so many levels.

  37. Ticia
    March 30th, 2018 @ 4:03 am

    Such a sweet post!!! How wonderful to be adopted by Daisy…

  38. Kim
    March 31st, 2018 @ 10:32 am

    Just beautiful <3

  39. Deanna
    April 2nd, 2018 @ 8:00 am

    Nice teeth! Seriously.

  40. Kelley Rico
    April 2nd, 2018 @ 3:33 pm

    Such a beautiful evocation of what this kind of life really IS. I don’t wanna do this!!! constantly morphs into a kind of bliss. And of course pain in the posterior, but, OH WELL. xo

  41. Susan H.
    April 5th, 2018 @ 9:37 am

    Like Carrie said above, I found myself relating to this in terms of breastfeeding and pumping and the endless cycle of washing, feeding, and being an on-demand food source. I know it is a privilege and I should enjoy the process, but sometimes the logistics cloud the view. Thank you for sharing and providing perspective!

  42. Judy
    April 7th, 2018 @ 10:15 am

    Divine. Thanks for a beautiful story of your milking process with Daisy.

  43. Ellen
    April 14th, 2018 @ 3:00 pm

    I can totally believe she adopted you as her calf. As a mom who breastfed her children, when you are full of milk there is nothing better than a baby releasing that pressure. It’s like when you have a really full bladder and you finally get to go to the bathroom. Aaaahhhhh

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