St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Cow Jewelry

Back in the 50s, growing up on the farm, we had lots of things that our cows wore.  I got to thinking about it after Margo and I came back from the Polk County Fair planning meeting, where it was decided that the fair should rent a cow to allow people the chance to learn how to milk by hand. 

That seemed minor to me, as the fair is full of cows during fair season, but it turns out that a real cow, is way too dangerous to allow people to sit down on the milking stool, pail between their legs and squeeze away.   So renting a full-sized plastic model with realistic milking appendages is the way folks go about this nowadays, and it appears that the St Croix County fair (or someone down that way) rents them out for $600 per week.  

I mentioned this in my email summary of the meeting to my Fair support group, and one of them, Jay Bergstrand, president of the Polk County Genealogical Society (and former farm boy) asked "Will that plastic cow be swinging a tail full of poop and pee?  That was part of the learning experience."

Got me to thinking about the good old days on the farm.  By the time I got involved with milking, we had milking machines so only milked by hand if Polk Burnett rural electric co-op had an outage, quite common if the wind picked up for a spring storm.  Even then, Dad usually parked the Super C Farmall next to the barn, ran the garden hose out the window and connected it to the manifold (he had a valve screwed into the plug) and ran one machine from the vacuum provided that way.  

Even with milking machines, there was a whole set of paraphernalia related to cows and milking them.  Taking a tour of the barn and milkhouse, pretty much left as they were when Dad quit milking back in 1986 (except for an unbelievable amount of junk stored in it as neighbors dumped their left over items and Mom said --put it in the barn).    

First some photos, and then some description.  I got these from the internet, but we do have them all either in Brother Marvin's milkhouse museum on his farm, or at the farm here on Bass Lake. 

A necklace.  Put around the cow's neck, barbs pointing toward the cow, when the cow tried to shove her head through the strands of the barb wire fence, it gave her an extra poke to remind her that even though the grass was greener over there, she belonged on this side.  Reserved for those very few cows who ignored the barbs on a regular fence.  We had one cow who would put her head down, twist it sideways through the fence and ram forward taking the whole fence along.  Later, with electric fences, cows learned more respect for their boundaries!

Kicking chains.  A young heifer, being milked the first few times was often very much like a bucking bronco.  This type of chain went over the back of the leg, just above the knee (if you can call it a knee), and cinched the two back legs in tandem.  Cows always haul off and kick you with one back leg--standing on the other three.  They can pull the free back leg far ahead and really deliver a wallop to a dog, cat annoying them or a human trying to milk them.  Tying the two back legs together means they can't kick you with one of them without tipping over themselves.   Very effective if you can get them on without being kicked across the barn first. 

Above and below are methods of turning  bull calf into a steer.  Bulls grew ornery and were likely to kill a farmer if they turned on him, whereas steers were very reasonable animals.  A farmer only kept one bull for his herd of 20-30 cows and often raised the bull calves as steers for sale as meat.  A good farmer tried to get this done as early as possible in the bull calf's life so as not to give him any false hopes of fulfilling nature's role for him.  It never seemed to hurt them physically, but did hurt us thinking about it and they did seem to have sort of a dejected look about them right after the deed.  

Cows kept in the barn in the winter didn't need the longer hair they grew to keep them warm. It was a problem with sanitary conditions as they might lay in some manure and build up manure chunks in the hair.  So we often clipped the hair long the back flanks to keep them clean.  We had hand clippers and then an electric one.  

We fed our cows magnets if they seemed to be a little peaked or off their food.  This was not because we were holistic healers or into magnets for healing, but because of the voracious appetite of cows for whatever was in front of them including a piece of hay wire (used in the 40s and 50s to tie hay bales), old barb wire, or a piece that fell off the machinery and into the food.  The magnet stayed in one of the many of the cow's stomachs and attracted the irritating iron and for whatever reason, brought the cow back to good health.   A special tool was used to shove this past the teeth and down to where the cow would swallow it.  A few of these were used each year on our farm.  As his own veterinary, Dad always tried a magnet, a few shots of antibiotics, a teat reamer and other items before bothering the real veterinary with the cows problems or a real doctor with our human problems.
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 Cows grew horns.   They used them against each other, often injuring another cow.  Cows are hierarchical in herds--boss cow, boss cow's lieutenant, and so on.  To keep the rest of the herd cowed and in their place, they were free to jab them with their horns and a sharp horn could kill another cow, or at least poke a hole in them.  So we dehorned the cows.  The best way was to try to do it as a calf (caustic solution to burn them out; an electric burner to kill the horn bud, or a gouger to cut it out ...), but if you let them grow too long, you had an instrument like the one in the picture.  Two handles drew back the guillotine cutter, it was placed over the horn and a strong man made the slice while the cow or bull was secured in a tight frame.  Bloody, painful, exciting and dangerous.  We sometimes hired specialists to do this rather than do it ourselves.  

So, what have I missed?   The teat reamer to clean out the milk duct; the curve needle to sew up the udder or skin; the trocar to poke a hole into a bloated cow and let out the gas; the milking machines; the nose rings and anti-calf sucking rings and necklaces; hoof trimmers; syringes for shots; the artificial insemination equipment; the charts to track records; scales to weigh milk; strainers, cans, pads, bulk tank, milk pails, milk stools, milk testing equipment and ???
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