Memories of our county – Milking cows

Nannie Maude Reynolds
Shares memories and thoughts about Winston County’s past.

Someone mentioned buttermilk the other day and it brought back a flood of memories. It was my job to help milk the cows. I hated milking. Spring, summer, fall or winter; it is not a pleasant job. I have often heard that the mule was the most stubborn animal on the farm, but if the mule is more stubborn than the cow, he was bad. We milked the cows early in the morning and at night. They were kept in a stable at night and turned out to pasture during the day. Every day late in the afternoon, we had to go hunt the cows. Sometimes we found them in the neighbor’s fields since we had no fences at that time. The lead cow wore the cowbell.

We followed the sound of that bell and drove them home. The cows came home very peacefully in single file. Sometime they wore a trail in the hillsides and made great gullies where they walked day after day, week after week.  The stable got deep in excrement after heavy rains and a person had to wade that to get to the cow to milk. We had no boots and wore no shoes in the summer. It is the most painful thing in the world to have a cow step on your foot in a stable ankle deep in excrement and twist that hoof around on top of it. It is also very frustrating to have her kick a bucket almost full of warm frothy milk out of your hand just about the time you get through milking or put a dirty foot into it. The cows switched their cockleburr matted tails to swat flies in the fall and they were going to hit you in the face, no matter how much you dodged. When you got through milking one cow, you swatted her on the rump and she went out into the barn lot and another one came into the stable to be milked. It was necessary to leave some milk for the calves which had been kept up in the barn lot during the day. Their lowing called the cows home some days and we did not have to go hunt them. It seemed that the baby calves were born on the coldest day of the year. Many a time we have found the little calves hidden in a thicket and had to be brought home in our arms and kept by the fire in the house one or two nights to prevent freezing.

It’s a wonder I like milk at all after those experiences, but I loved milk then and I still do. We carried the milk to the house and strained it. Before refrigeration, we have tied a rope around a jug and let it down into the well on summer mornings in order to have cool milk for supper. The word ‘homogenized’ was a new word that we learned in school years later. Today, the idea of drinking raw milk is nauseating. The extra milk was allowed to clabber in a churn which sat on the floor of the kitchen near the wood burning stove or beside the fireplace.  It was someone’s job to churn every morning in order to have butter for our biscuits and buttermilk with which to make them. It took what seemed like hours for the butter to appear on top of the milk in the churn. Mama skimmed the butter from the milk and whipped it, added a little salt and we had good, sweet butter for breakfast and buttermilk for drinking and cooking. The only time I did not like milk was in the spring when the cows ate wild onions or bitter weeds.

Sometimes in life we have to be persistent, work hard, and go through hard, disgusting trials in order to achieve our dreams. However, the result is worth the effort and the reward of a job well done is a sweet taste in our mouths.

Nannie Maude Dewease Reynolds