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Al Batt: Smelling the dairy air

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I’ll admit it, I’ve never milked almonds.

I’ve never milked soybeans, rice, oats, hemp, flax, coconuts or cashews either. Apparently, milk comes from everything but milkweed.

“Were you born in a barn?” I’m often asked when failing to close a door. I hadn’t been, but I took field trips to the dairy barn each day. It was a nice place to visit but I didn’t want to live there. The time spent in the barn put a dent in my day as we milked the cows twice a day every day. I was Sisyphus pushing a heavy rock up a hill. The cows needed to be milked and there was no app for that.

I wasn’t a world-class dairy farmer, but I’ve been disqualified at a charity cow milking contest at a county fair for being too accomplished.

I realize most of you haven’t milked a cow, but you have had a glass of milk, a milkshake or a bowl of your favorite breakfast cereal drenched in milk. So that makes us kin.

I remember this happening in the year of the great snail stampede. I had needed to move slowly out of its way. The following episode occurred on a cold winter’s day. The barn was warm — each cow was a space heater. Our barn had two rows of stanchions holding milk cows in place. Dad milked one row and I milked the other. He milked one more cow than I did because he didn’t fall asleep. I leaned against a Holstein and caught 40 winks as I did. Some mornings I caught 41 winks.

Having livestock requires doing chores, not a chore. You fed them at one end and cleaned up at the other end. The cows had indoor bathrooms. It was called a gutter. There were no bowling balls involved. A gutter ran perpendicular to the south end of a cow. One of the first things a dairy farmer taught his kids was to never stand behind a sneezing cow.

The cows liked me. I fed them alfalfa and told them jokes. They enjoyed the alfalfa more than the jokes. One morning, I placed the milker on my favorite cow, leaned against her and fell sound asleep. I woke up to discover the milker had fallen from the cow. It was a grumpy awakening. I jammed the milker back onto the cow’s udder. I must have surprised her. Maybe I pinched her. She aimed a swift kick to where I wasn’t. I chuckled until she stomped on my foot with her large hoof. I don’t know when the last time you tried to get a 1,500-pound bovine off your foot, but it’s not easy. I pushed and whimpered. She applied more weight. That angered me. Our cows were income providers and coworkers. We treated them with compassion. I didn’t hit cows. Dad forbade it, but what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. I swung my fist in anger and hit the cow’s huge hip bone. The hip bone won. I grabbed my injured paw and yowled as I tried to free my foot. That caused the cow to raise her foot, freeing mine and allowing me to fall backwards into the gutter, which wasn’t empty. I jumped up from that predicament just in time to have the cow’s tail hit me like a blackjack in my temple area. It stung like the dickens. I did a pirouette before falling back face-first from whence I’d come.

Incidents like that cause lactose intolerance.

By the time I crawled from the gutter, I was covered in enough brown-green cow exhaust that all my mother’s spit wouldn’t be able to get off me. I had a slight headache, my hand was turning black and blue and my foot was throbbing. There are times when I think, “I’ve lived my life for this moment.” This wasn’t one of those. It’s not a smooth world.

My father said he was put on earth to milk cows. He rejoiced each day he could do that. That morning, as my father milked a few cows while I hadn’t finished one, he’d been pontificating about the goodness of dairying and the need for someone named Batt to be doing that work in this barn.

“Look around you, son,” Dad said. “One day, all of this will be yours.”

I tried to find a clean spot on my clothing to wipe my face with my good hand as I said with great earnestness, “Buy me out now, Dad.”

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.