I milked a cow yesterday. Well, I did not exactly milk her but I was there when she was being milked. We went to visit my friends who keep cows, Holsteins with a few Ayrshires thrown in. I think 400 cows is a lot to take on pet wise. I would have thought one would be enough but people up here like their animals in bulk. They tend not to have just one dog, they will often have two; an old one that limps and a young one that doesn't. They would never have just one chicken, they have to have a yard full. Occasionally they will have a horse, but they are happier if they have a spare in the boot. Maybe they were deprived as children. My father has the same thing going on with sweet stuff. There was never enough sugar during the war so he now has at least three, ideally four, spoonfuls in his cup of tea.
Holsteins are the main milking breed in this country, having taken over from Friesians. I did not ask whether the Friesians objected to being taken over in this way and had brought in the United Nations. UN incompetence may well be the reason that "Holsteins rule OK" ofcourse. Thinking about it, I may well have seen Friesian Power graffiti and the odd mural on the lime mortared stone walls up here.
A high yielding milker will give 35 litres a day compared to a low yield cow which is only good for 25 litres. It must be a head-hanging shame to be known as a low yield cow in the milking parlour. The equivalent of being small town damned as "no better than she should be." I can relate to that. I wonder if cows have feelings to hurt. Those big brown eyes look like they have known what it is to love and then lose. The eyes alone mean you have to give them the benefit of the doubt on knowing heartbreak times.
I did not want to hurt any more feelings which is why I did not mention the smell to my dairy farmer friend. Cor blimey, you could slice it up and sell it. Although I am not sure who would buy it. Everywhere you looked a cow had her tail up peeing green water. Part of you expects them to pee milk for some reason. You can pretty much put money on a place smelling if it has its own slurry tank. "Slurry" is a technical term for animal pee and poo. I quite like the term, I may use it with the children. It is an astonishingly efficient system because the farmer feeds the cow soya, barley and silage (which is fermented grass); the cow yields its milk (be it a lot or a little) and also pees and poos. The farmer then spreads the pee and poo all over the land to grow grass and crops which he feeds to the cow, etc. Recycling cow style. Cows could become very fashionable if only the dairy industry was not hitting the buffers in a way that is so very eighties, so very coal.
A high yield cow is not necessarily a pretty sight for a breastfeeding mother. That giant pink, varicosed swinging udder makes you wince and think: "Rather you than me, Daisy." I mean what would they do if the shoe was on the other hoof? Would they hook us up to sucking rubber tubes? I put my finger in one to see how it felt, ( a tube that is, not a cow.) Quite nice, actually. It was a sort of soft, rhythmic pull. I could see with some tasty dairy cake infront of you and Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show on in the background, there could be worse ways to spend your time.
In the parlour you walk along a trench between two rows of bovine backsides. "Do they ever kick?" I asked my guide nervously. "Occasionally. Not often," came the reply. I hesitated to point out, you would only have to be kicked in the head once and that would be Goodnight Vienna. "We just don't want to make them nervous," I was told. Me? Make them nervous? Which one of us is more likely to make the other one nervous? Call me an old-fashioned Catholic, but I would think the one with hooves.
I am a newfangled Nelly. I take my milk skimmed. It tastes like water and it is not exactly my drink of choice. My farmer friend paused to dip Cow 131's shitty teats into disinfecting bubbles and carefully wiped them off with a paper towel. He squirted some milk into a plastic cup and offered it to me. It felt warm in my mouth and sweet; tasting of innocence and summer days. "That's lovely," I said. "Why do they pasteurise it?" I took another mouthful, swirling it round my teeth for the full effect. "To preserve it. To get rid of the bacteria. The E-Coli, that sort of thing." I still managed to swallow.
If you do not have a cow handy, a pint of milk in a supermarket costs around 35 pence a pint. My friend, the dairy farmer gets just 10 pence a pint when he sells it while supermarkets are reported to make a profit of about 6 pence a pint. My friend knew of three herds being sold off in Northumberland over the next month or two courtesy of the crisis in the dairy industry. I do hate supermarkets. Maybe I will grow my own milk and buy myself a cow if there are some going spare. I should probably buy two to fit in.