Sunday, November 6:
You can find videos on Youtube demonstrating how to palpate a cow, and some of them are very helpful. Some are just mildly humorous. Actually palpating the cow is pretty simple, but kind of like working a problem in calculus; when you’re done, you wonder if you got the answer right. Before we undertook the operation, we asked a friendly farmer for tips. “It’s pretty simple,” he told us. “I hire it out.”
Our local farm supply store sells obstetric gloves, which come all the way up to the shoulder; finding these for sale reassured us that ordinary people actually do palpate cows, despite how unlikely such a thing seems. The gloves come in packs of ten, and we hope the one we bought will last at least thirty years. There is just something about putting your arm in a cow’s rectum that makes you hope it will be some time before you have to do it again. The evening we picked to do the deed was one when we had visitors, family who are themselves interested in cottage farming; we could think of no fitter introduction to the lifestyle.
We won’t go into the details of the process, already ably set forth in the instructional videos on the internet, but we will say here that it isn’t as simple as you might think. Imagine trying to find by feel a pair of socks in a very full army kit bag, and you will have a general idea of the problem. We’ll leave it that Beth felt around for some time, and thinks the thing she settled upon as the uterus contained a small, firm mass about the size of a rat, the approximate the size of a cow’s fetus at around three months. Feeling what you can through the rectal wall of a cow is like feeling something with your hand in an innertube: details are fuzzy. An empty uterus might have been approximately the same size and shape, but should have two horns, or fallopian tubes; and repeated sweeps over the floor of the rectum failed to bring these into evidence. So, we hope this pregnancy test was positive.
The refrigerator is groaning with all the cream that has backed up since Friday, when our trusty Sears Roebuck butter churn went on strike. It is we don’t know how many years old, having been purchased by us at a yard sale in our pre-Isabel days and put away until we had a use for it. It remained in storage all the years of our goat dairy. Goat milk contains very fine fat particles which tend to remain suspended in the milk, rather than rising to the top where you can skim them off with a dipper. One can, we understand, separate the goat’s milk with a centrifugal separator, but we never tried. One reason is that we don’t have a centrifugal separator; another is that if we did have one, we wouldn’t want the job of cleaning it every day. So we drank our goat milk, and cooked with it, and made chevre with it, but never tried to make butter with it. Then we got Isabel, and when she freshened with her first calving, out came our long-stored butter churn, and we were in business.
We have been making butter at the rate of six to ten pounds per week, for about six years, and our feelings when on Friday the act of plugging in the churn brought no results, were like those of a crew of sailors in finding water rising in thebilge and the bilge pump out of order. Death by drowning seems the next item on the order of business. A day’s skimming produces about three quarts of cream, and it doesn’t take very many days for an alarming amount of cream to back up.
The churn had given us fair warning that it had internal problems. When in storage, it has the cord wrapped around the churn, and years of flexing gradually broke the wires where the cord entered the housing. For the last few months the churn has only operated if the cord was carefully draped over the spoon jar and held in place by the knife block. A couple of times one of our family mechanics assayed to fix it, but the housing is not easy to get into. On Friday the issue went from academic to critical. Some fairly cayenne argument then took place about whether it could be fixed, and what, in the event that it could not, we were going to do about it. Mom was all for building a new one out of a drill and the kind of drill attatchment used for stirring paint, but was shouted down. Curious. In the end, S-3 and a pair of vice grips got the motor housing open. An evening with the parts spread out on the kitchen table and we have a better-than-ever butter churn, and we are stretching the Sabbath to include getting two gallons of cream out of the refrigerator so there will be room for other things.