I have a small farm up near Seattle where I raise Jersey cows, milk them, and make cheese from their milk. Just 13 acres, Kurtwood Farms is home to 15 of these beautiful bovines. Twice a day, I lead them down from the pasture into the milking parlor where I milk them. In the cool months, I then lead them to the barn for their daily ration of hay; in the warmer months, to the pastures for grass. It is a great routine — predictable and satisfying.
And yet, every once in a while, it is not predictable. This past week, the cows decided to push the system a bit. Routinely one cow enters the milking parlor when the previous cow is finished and exiting the parlor. It is a very simple, very easy system — one in, one out. Cows love routine. Unfortunately, they love grain more. The lure to get them into the milking parlor and to stand there for the duration of the milking procedure is grain. They love it.
This past Friday, the great lure of grain overtook one cow's sense of decorum and order. She decided to squeeze through the gate along with one of her fellow cows. And then I had two, robust, large bovines in a space for one. My frustrations overcame me and I kicked the offending cow. I believe it was Dinah. Mischievous and unapologetic, she oftentimes pushes my limit of calm.
I was wearing rubber muck boots; lightweight insulated boots, sturdy but not designed for kicking a cow. Dinah turned slowly and casually and looked at me with little more than curiosity. In no way was she hurt. Although Jersey cows are the smaller breeds of milking cows (in comparison to Holsteins), they still weigh 1,000 to 1,500 pounds.
My foot, however, could feel the pain from the impact on Dinah's sturdy leg. In fact, five days later I headed out to give a reading for Growing a Farmer and I thought wearing my usual city attire of cowboy boots would be an appropriate idea. After four hours standing chatting with friends and signing books, my hobbled foot was throbbing. Pulling off the stiff leather boots that evening I thought back to my brief moment of frustration nearly a week earlier.
Dinah certainly was not reflecting on that quick moment in the milking parlor; without question she'd forgotten within seconds. My assessment: the cows have trained me well. They have managed to live a lovely life at Kurtwood Farms. Beautiful organic grain is dished out for them every morning and evening. The highest quality alfalfa hay is trucked in from eastern Washington for their nutritional needs. Their barn is the most beautiful timber-framed structure on the farm. And if, for a moment, I think I am in charge and try to remind them, the result is a week-long swollen foot. I have a new respect for these simple bovines.