Cows are much bigger up close.
As a child, my family made an annual trip to visit cousins in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, a small town in Arkansas named Paris. They have an Eiffel Tower there, only a little shorter, reaching 25 feet in height when adding the 7-foot lighted water feature.
My aunt and uncle were dairy farmers, living just outside city limits and at the base of Short Mountain. Every morning before light and every afternoon, my uncle followed the same cow routine, and on my visits, I shadowed him a few times.
We would wake up much earlier than I wanted, eat a delicious country breakfast prepared by my aunt, and throw on rubber boots before heading to an old stick shift truck ready to drive through cow patty pastures. Making circles and occasionally honking, we stirred the cows to begin the slow single file march to the milking barn. How they knew what to do and where to go was exciting for a city boy to watch, particularly as they lined up in their stalls ready for the milking process.
One by one, they stood at attention, while my uncle attached fingered suction devices to teats of the cow udders. Once placed, I watched the milk drain through the rubber lines and upon completion, he occasionally would yank the teats by hand to make sure all milk was collected. After some encouraging, I milked a cow and promptly sprayed myself in the face with warm white liquid.
The milk barn was loud and smelly, with hoses everywhere, and my uncle constantly had to water down all the mess. Between the machines and the mooing, there was a constant sound of an industrial cow choir. The bovine ladies had various colors and patterns, mostly black with some red, and many of them had pet names and personalities.
Standing in their presence, their sheer enormous size was only equaled by their voracious appetite, eating and eating and eating. After the milking process, the real dirty work began, retrieving shovels and walking to the cow holding area, where we scooped almost endless amounts of fresh poop into a manure pit, careful not to step too far or risk drowning in a pond of feces.
Unfortunately, on one occasion, my left foot encountered a soft spot and within a split second, my left leg was encased in slimy excrement. On a warm summer day, the mixture of the pungent smell with armies of flies made for a rather unforgettable experience.
Yet, it is those strong senses that now resonate deeply in my memories, including the time I fed a calf with a milk bottle. The young animal slobbered all over me and almost ripped the bottle from both of my hands which were clutched tightly as possible in a boy/calf tug of war.
Family dairy farms have been in decline for decades. Americans are drinking less cow milk, and along with mass production dairy businesses, the family dairy farmer is slowly becoming extinct. My hope is that these small farms remain part of our landscape. Farm life is difficult and backbreaking, but my cousins had a good childhood and learned at an early age the importance and benefits of hard manual labor.
For this suburban boy, when I see a herd of giant cows and smell the aroma of their pats/pies/droppings, I think fondly on my vacations to Paris, the American version. I may not ever get another opportunity to milk a huge cow up close, but as they say, I can’t cry over spilled milk.
Clark Hicks of Hattiesburg is s a civil litigation attorney. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.