Delicious, creamy, nutritional raw milk is the best!
My digestion has improved a hundredfold since starting to drink it. To Find somewhere that sells it close by, can be difficult. But the other week, when passing a farm close by, we saw a sign advertising milk and investigated.
We pull into the courtyard of a small farm. An old farmhouse, sheds full of contraptions I can’t name, all covered in cow poo and that sweet smell of hay and cows, that carries a bite to the nose! A quick knock on the farmhouse door brings a shout from a distant room, then a man of rugged stature, ruddy complexion, and pleasant welcome, appears in wellies.
“Yep! Can I help?” “Hi, do you have any raw milk? We were looking to buy some.” “Half an hour too early!” We ask if we can hang around until they milk the cows.
Hang around a working farm too long, looking idle, and they might offer you a job!
“You can help bring the cows in if you want it quicker”, says the kind farmer. My husband embraces the invitation a little quicker than expected. Was he joking!
Stood in the farmyard in a pair of sandals, I look incredulously at my husband for being so forward. “Only got these, and I didn’t bring any wellies!”, stutter I. “No problem!” he returns. So generous, he drops two pairs of giant wellingtons before us both. Are you serious, I think? “That’s very kind!”
With no socks either, I slip my small, pale, Cinderella like bare feet into the over-sized, green, rubber boots, the feel of old straw and dried cow cake between my toes. I am excited, but somewhat grossed out at the same time.
Our new friend points us toward a gate leading to a distant field, and off we go- an adventure!
“Will they chase us?” “Nah, the’ only tend t’ do that when they’re on heat”, he declares! As unsure of myself as the cows are of the two newcomers (for the cows know we’re strangers), we wait behind the gate.
The farmer chats to us about our whereabouts and undoes the creaking gate behind which he pats one cow, now standing in a size-able group before our narrow, muddy path. Close up to these great bovine beasts, they eye us with suspicion and nervous now as they leap away from us and our invasion through their territory. I feign confidence as we trudge past, sliding around in deep cow poo and mud and the stench, in the heat of a hot day.
I slide on, hurrying past the slurry pit, which we are told someone once fell into, and on through another gate and into the first green, grassy field. In bare feet within over-sized wellies-I now know I have a hole in my right boot through which deep cow poo seeps into, coating my bare foot in a warm, thick, oozing liquid coating. “Err!”
How can farm milk be so pure and so white?
I stumble across the path of shortest grass, over solid, hard ridges of earth-baked in today’s tropical sun. My sloppy wellies rub at my ankle with every step. And the cows stop chewing grass, a momentary interest, the newcomers! They moo, and move away from me- reluctant, rebellious, pawing the ground. “Don’t go so quick!” I call out to my husband.
They flick the flies away with their cow muddied tails, stand- and stare. I’ve never enjoyed being the spectacle of an audience and I am a bumbling moron here; they know so much more than me, about farm life! Another slimy slipway, another metal gate. Black and white hulks grouped together, my husband well ahead, now gone! I squeeze past, “Hello!” I say. The shit gets deep here as it again slides between my toes.
The next field is extensive and the herd, spread out wide.
I Scan the horizon and spot the farmer’s wife in the farthest right corner, an ant-a small dot- far away. My partner had taken the middle, so let’s take the left.
I find a route close to the rough Hawthorn hedge. Thoughts of running from an angry cow rush through my mind. The hedge too high and the barbed wire too sharp, I see myself athletic like, dive over the hedge at a low point and forward roll, jumping up onto my feet. Reality halts my run away thoughts with a jolt, as one might come back from time travel, I remember my age!
As I consider being cornered between cow and hedgerow, my best option is to be assertive; to march right through the middle of the group. I fool the cows, but to be honest, they’re more interested in the sweet hay than me.
With boots rubbing sore, I wince, and the afternoon sun zapping my energy, I at last reach the last cow. She tears up substantial chunks of sweet grass from its roots and tears it off with a flick of her great bovine head. She’s the rebel, the adventurer, and I see a Spanish bull in my mind- head lowered, ready to defend its corner. Sure, I’m glad there are no bulls, for today we are among ladies!
The cows know their routine and why we are here. I walk behind her and clap my hands. “Go on!” She could overpower me! Instead she moves forward, slow and reluctant, but obeys. One by one, they rise, lifting their heifer weight onto awkward, limp legs. Inquisitive, playful- spurring each other. Friendly! Intelligent?- I’m not so sure.
I let out a deep breath, smiling and confident now. I’m herding cows!
The farmer’s wife often does this alone. It must take her forever to bring in an entire herd! I’m tired already! How unfit and undisciplined I have become. How hard farmers work for so little!
My ankle is sore with every step and I limp along like one of the old cows, who bides her time and takes advantage of my husband’s soft heart and an extra bite of grass as she goes. I copy the farmer’s wife, watch and learn. Not shouting, waiting for them to drink, not rushing them. She is fair, calm and kind.
As the cow’s group at the gate, a wandering cow lured by the longer sweet grass at the edge, distracts my attention for a moment. When I turn back, I’m too close to a cow’s behind and step back quick! If she lifts her tail, watch out!
A bottleneck forms as the ladies stand around.
But three rodeos we are- skilled now-a team- we call out with clapping of hands and slapping of legs.
A long slurp at the water trough. They each take their turn, moving forward at a leisurely pace. The farmer waits beyond to receive the herd, and I grin, glad to have helped. “How did it go?” he asks. “No calamities or spatterings?”
“Everything’s fine. It was great!” The cows move as an incoming tide, across the farmyard and into the barn. The farmer takes control and the cows know him well. He shouts and they move faster and jump into line. He’s the boss, giving simple instructions and like cows, we too, obey. I lean over a pen to see a proud mother of two calves. “One’s adopted”, he says. She doesn’t seem to know.
The sore on my ankle and the cow muck being rubbed into it, isn’t a happy combination. I slip off the large wellingtons, “What a relief!”- to reveal a bare foot caked in thick mud and wet cow poo.
“Oh dear!”, says the farmer. An audience stood on the concrete yard and all staring at my foot with wrinkled noses and disapproval. No one offers a water tap so I hop to my car and scrape it off with disinfectant wet wipes, kept for killing Covid!
My husband makes a straw bed for the cows while I’m invited to sit in the garden until the job’s done. Sipping warm mugs of tea, we chat about the pitfalls of milk production, the trauma and tragedy of Foot and Mouth, the dreams of a farmer who never wanted to be a farmer but had no choice, and living on a narrow boat.
Two very different lifestyles brought together!
Twenty-two generations of farmers behind him, he tells an emotional story, very personal and sad. “When the army took over to cull my cows, I was a ghost on my own farm. No longer the boss. No one spoke to you. It was the lowest point of my life!” This, after working a farm year after year, for no profit.
Who else would stand up again after such a fall, and go on working, except the farmer? They belong to their way of life. I applaud them, for this is resilience, true tenacity!
With a clean silver jug, he fills it with natural milk.
From this we fill our own plastic bottles. I drink a cup full-it’s sweet and creamy. He doesn’t want any money. “You worked for it, you’ve been great sports!” he says.
We have to refrigerate it quick. Downhearted- kind of sad to go. “We had a great time, herding the cows and chatting!” “Come back anytime!”
New friends, better understanding and a first time cow herder. Truly an adventure!
So spare a thought for the farmer, those resilient, hardworking and traditional folk. As you adopt a polar bear or protest about some other dying, endangered species, remember our own!