Whitesburg KY
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Churning butter was tough task

Points East


Before my dad finally figured out that it was cheaper, not to mention far less trouble, to buy milk at 25 cents or swap a dozen eggs for a gallon from Lydia Caudill than it was to keep a cow back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, somebody had to milk ole Betsy twice a day, every morning, every night, seven days a week.

Milk cows do not take any time off unless they’re pregnant or in the mood to become that way. In which case, Dad either led the cow or hired Shade Blair, who had a pickup with a stock rack, to haul her from the head of Blair Branch out to the Isom “stock sale” where he traded up to one that was giving milk.

I can remember walking cows to and from the stockyard when I was in grade school and I can also remember riding in the cab with Shade while Dad followed us in whatever car he owned at the time after he had traded cows.

We’d usually get the dry cow to the stockyard late in the day on Friday, but Dad would be back before daybreak on Saturday morning to tout the one he was selling and to watch the ones for sale being milked. The goal, of course, was to get a cow that gave more milk than any other cow on the face of earth.

Dad was a pretty good stock trader and he enjoyed it tremendously. Truth be known, the biggest reason we kept a cow in the first place was because it gave him an excuse to trade animals. He did the same thing with mules and horses.

However, unlike draft animals that had an array of names and never the same one twice, every cow that we ever owned was named Ole Betsy as were several automobiles that he kept long enough to form an attachment.

I can remember him saying, “Ole Betsy’s gotta go,” and Mom would ask whether he was talking about the car or the cow.

Anyway, he’d often wind up with a new milk cow, almost always a Gurnsey or Jersey, and he’d make money in the trade. The reason for this had to do with the fact that most people buying cows were at least as interested in how gentle they were as in how much milk they gave.

Dad would look for ill-tempered cows that pawed the ground and kicked the bucket when they were being milked. If they had exceptionally large udders, an indication that they’d produce more milk than your ordinary cow, he figured he could tame them down in the milk shed.

Both he and my mother could usually gentle a cow within a few short days of them coming on the place so that when trading time rolled around again he could make a profit by swapping a reformed attitude to another bad one.

Still, owning a cow meant that we never went anyplace to take the night with relatives when I was a lad. They all came to see us and, because we lived on the old homeplace, we had “company” or house guests nearly every weekend. Our relatives usually brought empty gallon jugs or jars so they could take home buttermilk and cakes of snow-white butter.

I can’t remember ever dreading helping out with milking chores, but churning butter is easily the most despicable task that I can remember from my early years.

Dad finally bought a cow he couldn’t get to settle down. She was always kicking at him or the milk bucket and he wouldn’t let Mom or me try to milk her for fear that we’d get injured. He was working 10 and 12 hours a day in the coal mines at the time, and had to do the milking before and after long shifts of shoveling coal.

He resorted to using “kicker’s” on this particular Betsy. This device consisted of two steel cuffs that fit around the cow’s rear ankles, joined together by a couple links of chain which meant that the cow couldn’t move one foot without moving the other.

But she tried to anyway, resulting in a loss of footing altogether and came crashing down on top of Dad, crushing his stool and milk bucket and bruising him up pretty badly in the process.

The next day Ole Betsy went to market and Dad came home without another cow. We doubled up on laying hens so we could swap eggs for milk. The beauty of this arrangement was that eggs could be gathered any old time of day.

I can’t recall my mom ever complaining about not having a cow. And to this day, I’m sure that I would rather gather eggs all day than churn butter for 30 minutes.


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