COUNTY AGENT GUY
A vast assortment of slogans pass for wisdom on bumper stickers, but I like a bumper sign I saw many moons ago that declared: “Cows don’t give milk. It’s taken from them by force!”
That sentiment could be interpreted a couple of different ways. Being a dairy farm kid, my first thought was, “Right on! Dairy farming is a tough job and it’s about time we got some recognition!
I was so moved, I considered dashing off a strongly worded missive to my congresspersons stating that dairy farmers deserved to be honored. But then someone informed me that this is why we have June Dairy Month.
When I was a kid, the arrival of June meant many good things. It meant no more school, no more morning bus to catch, the suspension of scheduled bathing, and generally reverting to an untamed state.
But above all, June meant the beginning of the grazing season.
We had a pasture, but also took advantage of the free fodder growing in the road ditches.
Grazing the road ditches was actually possible back then owing to the fact that fences still existed. At that time, the idea of farmland being so valuable that every possible square inch had to be tilled was beyond imagination.
Herding our Holsteins into the ditches took a bit of planning, along with a crack cow-handling team. Said team often consisted of my sister, Di, and me.
To the layman, our job may have seemed simple, consisting mainly of heading out ahead of the herd as they munched their way southward from our farmstead. When the cows reached the end of our gravel road, it was up to us to turn the bossies around and encourage them to head back toward home.
We had tools to help us with this very vital job, the main ones being sticks that we would wave threateningly at the cows. These were augmented by pebbles gathered from the edge of the gravel road. If our shouting and the waving of our sticks didn’t convince our cows that they needed to turn back, we would reinforce our message by winging pebbles at them.
Herding was usually a fairly tame experience. Di and I had ample time to talk about all manner of things as we kept a weather eye on the cows and enlarged our arsenal of pebbles.
The cows would at first frisk around, relishing their newfound freedom. But it wasn’t long before they became serious about the task of gobbling grass. As the cows gulped down the luscious greenery, Di explained how cattle have the ability to eat now and chew later. As a teenager, I attempted to duplicate this feat several times, but met with miserable results.
One June when I was maybe 7, Di and I were making our way south from the farmstead. With us was King, our German shepherd. King had volunteered to tag along; owing to the “shepherd” part of his pedigree, we presumed he would prove an able assistant.
As we passed a culvert, King began to snoop obsessively at one end of the huge tube. A horrible cacophony of snarls, squeals and growls suddenly erupted from the ditch. King was locked in a fight with a giant raccoon!
A blur of fur rolled up onto the gravel road. It was difficult to see who was winning; the raccoon was nearly as big as King and was obviously an experienced scrapper. Di and I could do nothing but watch from what we thought was a safe distance, gathering large pebbles and hoping that the melee would be decided in King’s favor.
We had no idea how an angry and wounded coon might react to the sight of a pair of kids armed with sticks and fistfuls of pebbles.
News of the battle thundered across the prairie on an expanding shockwave of roars and yelps. The cows halted their grazing and froze in mid-chew. They stared in bovine fascination, clumps of slobbery grass dangling from their mouths.
The hurricane of caterwauling boiled across the steaming gravel road until King at last gained the upper hand.
Seeing an opening, he seized the colossal raccoon by its throat and pinned it to the ground.
The masked varmint was soon reduced to an inert bag of mangy fur and broken bones. Our cows, sensing that the show was over, calmly resumed grazing.
Such a thing never happened again, so I guess the word must have gone out in the raccoon community that King was indeed Canis rex.
Remarkable and scary as that incident was, it wasn’t without an upside. Because it proved to me that producing milk can sometimes involve a great deal of noise, along with some very high drama.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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