I've never been one to handle defeat gracefully - at least not initially. I have screamed, kicked, thrown things and acted, generally, as if the sky were falling. Which is why, today, I know that I've finally made impressive steps towards full-on maturity. Today - after separating the calf from Maddie and after listening to bugle-like cow yodeling/screaming for more than 6 hours, and after waiting more than a week to fully separate the two in order to get a full milking, and after months of waiting for the cows to, literally, come home, and after more than 4 yrs of waiting for the milk cow I've dreamed of: I spilled the milk. And, I am pleased to report, I didn't cry over it.
Or not for too long.
One of the reasons the Madaline/Rodeo Queen package was so attractive was because a well-trained, friendly milk cow was coming with a nursing calf. This sort of arrangement alleviates the pressure to milk twice daily in order to keep the cow from drying up. It's a milk share situation and a wonderful way to ease a novice into the whole ordeal. Also, it's rare that two people can efficiently consume one gallon of milk each day or turn it into milk by-products. It has been done, but not by people like me. The trick to a milk-share is separating the calf from the momma periodically so that you can obtain more than a few piddly squirts from her udder. In an over-cautious effort to ease their transition, I waited more than a week to finally separate the two for any length of time. Moving to a new farm is traumatic enough so I was in no hurry to immediately cause further stress. Today, however, I was on a mission. Since I'd be home all day, it was a great opportunity to pull/lure the little bucking bronco calf (she's really started to love me as long as there's food in my pocket) into the front yard where she and Maddie could share a fence. My hope being that keeping them close would alleviate drama. And I was right! (mostly) For the first few hours, Rodeo trotted around her new enclosure and sampled all of the exotic delicacies in the front yard, namely - bermuda grass. Maddie ate from the round bale keeping an eye on her baby. It wasn't until several hours later when Maddie's udder began to fill with new milk and Rodeo became bored with the grass and hay that the bugling started. They paced the fence crying and pawing. Both finally laid down and, true story, mooed quietly in their sleep. It was a dreadful spectacle that tugged at my weak little heart strings enough that I decided to milk Maddie two hours earlier than planned.
After waiting so very, very long - I under-filled her feed bucket. Rookie mistake. When milking an animal, it's imperative they have enough feed to last them through the activity, otherwise they will become peckish and feisty and do things like back up and out of the milk stand. For the first time since bringing her here, Maddie had enough milk that I was able to get comfortable milking with both hands like you see in movies and stuff. I felt incredibly fancy. Through my newly acquired speed and fanciness - the milk developed a beautiful frothy, foamy head in the shiny bucket. This is IT!!! I shouted in my head - YOU ARE AN AMAZING, PROFESSIONAL MILKING PERSON!!! It probably takes most people weeks - nay - MONTHS to achieve such profound heights of milking perfection - I smirked happily down at the bucket that contained a volume of milk I previously believed to be unattainable. What - WHAT - had I been worried about all those sleepless nights before bringing the cows home?
I am clearly a natural.
Just at that moment, you know, when an invisible hand started patting me on the back - at that moment - I noticed Maddie start to snuffle and toss her head, heard the distinct sounds of a tongue licking an empty bowl. She shifted one way. Then the other. And then, in comically slow motion, she began to back up. I reached down, also in slow motion, screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo!" but as I grabbed the bucket, my "No" faded slowly with the realization that, despite holding the bucket firmly, it was making contact with her back leg which was raised in the air - a motion moving backwards. Just at the moment when the bucket hit her kneecap, its precious contents - hard-won milk my hands were still cramped from milking - flew forth onto my chest, sprayed both arms, and dripped down my thighs. Maddie stopped moving and looked up at me, letting out a soft, "moooo." What's with all the theatrics, lady?!
I stood up to full height, empty bucket in one hand, milk already forming a tight skin on my arms, the warm stuff absorbing into my jeans. It smelled sweet. And I knew how delicious it tasted. I allowed myself one, very quiet, whispered, "Dumbass" to myself and hung my head momentarily before walking forlornly from the pasture, wearing the fruits of my labor.
But the point of all this, of the painfully explicit details, is to illustrate one proud fact: I did not cry or throw anything or kick the feed room wall. I cursed under my breath, rinsed myself off, and am very, very close to laughing about it.
The more time we spend down here in the trenches, the more idioms I remember - the kinds we all heard growing up that I now understand have roots planted firmly in agriculture. There was a time when the majority of folks milked their own cows rather than heading to a supermarket (what the heck was a supermarket?!). In those days, no explanation was needed if you had a bad day because the milk had spilled. And your neighbor, probably also someone with their own little cow, would have assured you that there's always tomorrow, so there's no point in crying over spilled milk. I actually said this to myself today. I said it as I calculated the cost of the grain that went into her bucket meant entirely to distract her through the milking. I said it to myself when thinking about the time I carved out of a busy day last week to haul 10 bales of expensive coastal hay in the truck - just so the calf would have something special to nibble on while separated from her mom. I said it to myself as I thought about the check just written for that adorable cow who is, after all, an animal - who does not always behave as we would hope. But one thing is certain: tomorrow there will be more milk. And I'll put more grain in that damned bucket.