A few days ago, Matilda’s calf was born – it was a beautiful all-Jersey bull calf, leaving no doubt that the Jersey bull Sampson did his job while our Devon/Jersey bull Explorer was off visiting another farm.
I have missed the rhythmic, grounding routine of milking. Each day I walk up to the pasture, where Matilda is invariably grazing or swallowing down unladylike mouthfuls of hay. I call her name, “Ma-TIL-Daaaa!” And she swings her head around and looks at me eagerly. She swishes her graceful tail, and trots over. If I haven’t opened the fence for her by the time she arrives, she tosses her horns and stamps her feet with annoyance.
We walk down to the milking barn together, sometimes she follows me, sometimes I am pulling her along as she slowly munches her way down, sometimes we walk abreast, and I lay my hand on her broad hip, feeling how her strong muscles move her body along under her silky coat.
When we get there, she sticks her nose straight into the feed bowl to make sure the contents are satisfactory, while I clip her in. She noses the feel bowl around, doing what seems like her best to spill as much as possible, and I dive onto the milking stool and grab the clean udder cloth to wipe down her teats. She is a fastidious cow, and her udder is usually pink and spotless. I milk quickly, my hands long used to pulling each squirt of sweet, creamy milk into the pail.
Towards the end, she gets restless and moves her feet around, making things difficult so that I will give in and toss her another scoop of feed. She knows I will. While she eats and the milk pail foams and fills, I nuzzle my face into her warm flank. All the cows smell different, and I love how Matilda smells. Grassy, milky, creamy and furry all at once.
When she is done, I leave her to lick the feed bowl clean while I bring the milk in to strain and chill. As I pour it through the strainer, I see streaks of creamy yellow and blueish white, the butterfat and the skim milk sliding past in a silky stream. I save a glass back to drink – it’s so sweet before it is chilled, almost too sweet.
Matilda is waiting for me, usually impatiently. I brush my fingers along her back and scratch her neck before I unclip her, and we struggle back to the pasture. I say struggle, because this is when she likes to dally and nibble her way along. It’s no good pushing or pulling on her – she knows she’s bigger, and she doesn’t care. Sometimes I lean against her warm side, and wish she would walk faster. Slowly, we return, and she smugly trots back into the herd, licking her back and swishing her tail. She is the queen, and going down first to be milked is her special privilege.