We humans fool the poor old milk cows. A cow will have a calf. Then she’ll produce milk for the calf for a certain time. But we fool her into thinking we are the calf with a never-ending appetite.
But that won’t go on forever. Eventually she has to be “freshened,” as we call it, to get the milk supply started again. Romance is what she needs. So there’ll come a time — a farmer can read the signs — when she needs a little loving.
That was a hated time for me. That meant leading her to the community bull.Not just everybody kept a bull Someone has written that there’s no meaner animal alive, wild or tame, than a full grown Jersey bull. Strange, because Jersey cows are usually very gentle. Old Fan was, at least.
To keep a bull you had to have very strong fences. You didn’t want him getting out all the time. Cousin Bailey had the Jersey bull in our area. Daddy, before he went off to his job, would instruct me, “Just lead her over to Bailey’s and he’ll take care of the rest, and then lead her back.
Sounds so simple. It was about a two-mile trek. Old Fan, as I say, was a very gentle cow. I learned to milk on her. But you had to pass by houses and pastures. Here’s a typical scene:
Mrs. Johnson had a flower bed right by the road, and she tended it religiously. It was the best tended flower garden in the … whoa! Mrs. Harrison just up the road had one too. Maybe they were in competition. But you could count on it: one or both of them would be taking care of the flowers when Fan and I came by. I hated those flowers.
Mrs. Johnson: Hey, Bobby. Where are you going?
(I’m standing there, holding the halter rope, and old Fan is standing there. Where did she imagine?)
Me: Oh, it was such a pretty day, I thought me and old Fran would go for a stroll. (All the cows in the pasture come running up, sensing that something big is going on.) Those cows: Moo, moo, Moom.
Old Fan, as I jerk on the rope and tell her, sotto voce, to shut the hell up: Moo, moo, moo.
Mrs. Johnson: Tell your mother I have plenty of butterbeans if she wants them.
(Something about this business speeds up the elimination process in cows.)
Mrs. Johnson: How’s your brother Jack doing since he had that wreck?
Cows: Moom, moo. Plop, plop.
Me: Oh, he’s just fine.
Cows: Moo, moo. Plop, plop.
Me: Well, I guess we better go on. See you later.
Mrs. Johnson: Well, ‘mmm, tell your mother about them butterbeans.
Me: Yes’m. And to old Fan, in her ear, you sorry, low down, …
Old Fan: Moo, moo. Plop, plop, plop.
Then, up at Mrs. Harrison’s place, it’s the same thing again: Law, me, those are pretty flowers.
Finally, thank goodness, nobody is at home at the next two or three houses, and I’m there.
This scene, in retrospect, always makes me smile and wonder. I lead old Fan into the Bailey’s front yard, praying that he will be somewhere in sight so I can go directly to him. But, no-o-o-o-o. Cousin Alma comes to the door. You know the routine:
I’m standing there with a cow, Bailey has the only bull in the community, and cousin Alma says,”Whatcha’ doin’, Bobby?”
Me: Urh, is cousin Bailey around?
Cousin Alma: Oh yes, he’s in the back yard. I’ll get him.
Whew! What a relief! Everything’s okay now. The bull, wherever he is in the pasture, somehow knows it’s time to go to work. Dangerous as he is, he pays not the slightest attention to me or to Bailey, but goes to work immediately. What’s the old saying? Get a job you like and you’ll never work a day in your life. Both animals soon seem quite content with the world, and it’s time to go home.
No problems on the way back. The pasture cows seem only mildly interested in her now. The flowers are growing in peace. I hope everything “took,” as we say, and that I won’t have to make that walk again for a long, long time.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.