mud, sweat, and tears

Tuesday, July 3:

   Three strands of polywire will hold even the young ram lambs; with two we have sometimes to go put back the bleating little boys, who can’t reach the water tank when they are outside the paddock.  While they are pastured at the top of our steep south hill pasture, that third strand is a significant extra effort for whomever is out in our ninety degree, ninety-nine percent humidity afternoon unreeling polywire.   We have found, however, that in the first few weeks of any endeavor we are likely to feel that the effort required is unreasonable; but as the routine becomes familiar, what seemed to be excessive effort becomes part of the day’s chores.  We are also able to look at that south hill pasture and see that, of all the paddocks out there, only one third of them are on the extremely steep angle of that upper slope; paddocks built lower down are not only easier to build, but can be made smaller (because of the superior forage) and that part of the pasture therefore lasts longer.  The time to give up is when you’re beaten, not when you’re tired.

   The flies are at their worst in this damp, hot weather, and no one knows it better than the dairy cows up at the monastery.  Despite relief to be found in the cool places at the edge of the woods, and the deep growth where they can wade in and brush off the flies, they are pestered by legions of them.  Milking becomes a competition between milker and cow, as she tries to get a foot up to kick the flies and the milker tries to keep that foot out of the bucket.  Every few squirts one has to fend off a foot, shifting the bucket forward and out of reach.  Sometimes it is a front foot that stamps, which can send mud splashing into the milk.  In this weather we leave the girls’ tails untied and dodge the coarse hair slashing in our faces, figuring we get fewer kicks that way.

   Still, last Thursday we had a rodeo at milking time, ending in a kick that sent milker, bucket, and milking stool sprawling into a lane already thick with mud from a leak in the temporary canvas roof.  As luck would have it, we had an audience:  a three man camera team which had spent the day shadowing one of the Franciscan sisters was peering at us over Poppy’s back while we milked.  Up came the back right leg in an impatient jab at a horsefly; a wave of creamy yellow milk surged over the milker, who, knocked prone in the alley, disappeared  from sight.

   There was a moment’s expectant silence, then a tentative voice inquired, “Are you alright?”

   The milker slopped to her feet, wiping mud from one tearing eye, righted the milking stool, and sat down with the now-empty bucket between her knees.  “If you didn’t get that on camera I am.”

   “What are you doing now?”

   The steady swish of milk in the bucket was interrupted as Poppy tried again to get her foot in it.  “I hadn’t finished milking her out.”

   By most folks’ standards, this is a crazy man’s job.

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