In 1958, my parents moved from Magazine to Booneville. They bought thirty acres from Mr. Raymond Durham on top of the ridge just north of town. Daddy had grown up on a Depression-era farm, so he always had a few cows on the place, and always had one of them that he milked.
I grew up on raw milk. Mama would boil a rag (usually a cloth diaper) and strain the milk through it. That was all. The whole family drank it, with no discernible ill effects to our health, amazingly enough.
One of the chores we children had was to churn the butter. Usually we just shook the milk in a gallon jar, but later on Mama did get a Daisy churn with a crank handle. However, none of that was nearly as much fun as Grandma Green’s crockery churn with the wooden plunger. Kersploosh, kersploosh – it had a very satisfying sound.
Occasionally Daddy would leave a gallon of milk sitting out until it would clabber, then pour off the whey so that only the curd was left. He would spoon it into a cereal bowl and eat it like ice cream.
We milked a series of cows over the years. I remember one named Pet; I think she was a Guernsey. She would let us ride on her back a few steps. One of them Daddy called Swiss, because she appeared to be of the Brown Swiss breed. It was not just cows of the dairy breeds that Daddy milked, however. Basically any of them who would stand still for it were fair game as a supplier of milk. I have milked a Hereford, and even an Angus.
Daddy was a good milker. He had strong hands and could put a good head of foam on the milk pail. We boys were not quite as good, but after Daddy began teaching in Fort Smith and having to leave earlier, the milking job fell to us. We would be rousted out at what seemed an unreasonable hour, stumble down to the barn in the dark, turn the cow into the stall, throw some feed into the bin, set up the stool, and get with it.
There were several challenging aspects to milking by hand. The first was to dodge the cow’s tail, which she was constantly swishing, especially in the fly season. Catching a sodden tail across the side of the face was a thrilling experience.
We also had to make sure the cow did not kick the bucket, or worse, put her foot into it. The key was to be quick with the left forearm. While you were milking, you had to be sensitive to how the cow was standing, and if she shifted her weight, you knew what was coming. Then you would extend your arm against her leg to keep it away from the milk pail. Nothing to it, IF you paid close attention.
Much of the time in the summer, we would be barefooted. Putting on shoes just to milk one cow was too much trouble. It became real trouble, however, if the cow should step on your foot. I have had a pretty good strip of hide peeled off the top of my foot as a reward for my carelessness.
Where there is milk there are likely to be cats, and we usually had several. We would train them to stand on their hind legs to catch a stream of milk directly from the cow. That was fun, but it served to make the cats so aggressive that they would try to look into the pail.
One factor that always enters into a home-milking situation is the content of the pastures. What is growing gets eaten by the cows, and the milk will have somewhat of the taste of what was eaten. When the bitterweeds were in full bloom, the milk did develop an unpleasant taste.
When we were little, Daddy would pay us boys a penny for every fifty bitterweed plants we could pull. We were not going to get rich on that scheme. Keep in mind, however, that a dollar in 1960 was equivalent to over $8.00 today. To our juvenile minds it was an easy source of considerable wealth. Back then you could get ice cream cones at the Dairy Bar for a nickel. (That equates to 250 bitterweed plants, if you are counting.)