On January 11th, at precisely 1:30 PM, Kate’s mom, my mother-in-law, the estimable State Representative Barbara McIlvaine Smith, will compete in the Celebrity Milking Competition at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.
Now, my New York City friends might be thinking of this as quaint. Which it is, in a way, but not if that way means small or low-stress. The Pennsylvania Farm Show is a big, big event, and, if you were going to be doing something difficult and unfamiliar in front of a big crowd — if you were going to be up on stage doing a mysterious activity, competing against local meteorologists, football stars, and assorted ringers, you would want some serious training. Rocky IV-style training. With a wooden stool, a bucket, and steaming breath:
My dad’s friend, chef Fritz Blank, was a regular competitor. Chef Fritz holds a degree in microbiology, grew up on a farm, and knows all about milking cows. He would be the perfect merciless trainer for Barb. Unfortunately, Chef Fritz retired to Thailand, and so is not available for riding in a golf cart and shouting through a megaphone.
So we need help. Specifically, we need milking lessons. And I don’t think using a plywood cutout and a latex glove is going to do it. I’m not quite sure of the best way to proceed — there are lots of dairy farms just to the west of us, but any dairy farm has been automated since the Fifties, so there’s no reason why a dairy farm, just because it’s a dairy farm, would be able to teach hand milking. I think we’re looking for a small farm — but a small farm that has the eye of the tiger.
I might try calling a local Amish Raw Milk farm, or the really excellent, organically-run Meadow Run farm, since they do active outreach to the community (they have an open farm day that we really enjoyed this year.) Or maybe I could call the Chester County 4H Club and see if they have someone that would be willing to train Barb. And Kate, and me, and Lydia — after all, I think “milk a cow” should be on Heinlein’s list.
Any suggestions on where to find a by-hand cow-milking trainer before the turn of the year? Please make a suggestion in the comments, and I’ll let you know how it goes. (Also, if my comment tool breaks or annoys you, please let me know by sending an email to john DOT young AT gmail DOT com — I don’t want to lose that one comment that holds the keys to victory!)
UPDATE: I got a response back from the Landis family at Meadow Run farm, which is gracious and packed full of AWESOME INSIDER TIPS. They say:
“Unfortunately I don’t think we can give you the milking lesson you’re looking for. Though we had been milking 3 or 4 cows outdoors that had calves this summer, we have now stopped. We would suggest contacting a dairy farm that would have indoor milking areas (in these freezing temperature). I know Seven Stars Dairy in Kimberton has lovely organic Jerseys although I’m not sure if they allow people to come in. You might check www.localharvest.com under dairy farms and call one of them.
You could mention to your mother in law that squeezing tennis balls in both hands for a few weeks prior can help build up the hand’s milking muscles. I think stamina and hand strength is as important as technique. Most people who don’t milk regularly just get tired very quickly. My second piece of advice is to pet and talk nice to the cow before milking since it’s all about the soothing and relaxation of the cow so she “lets” her milk down for you. I hope that’s not too much information, but it is certainly true.
Thanks so much for the advice! I’m going to be calling Seven Stars Dairy, and also our friend Meg, who graduated from Penn Veterinary school a year ago, and probably knows a cow.
Update 2: It’s starting to look like Penn’s New Bolton Center may be the way to go. My only reluctance here is that, if we go to the New Bolton center, that means Barb is not Rocky, but rather Barb is Dolph. I’m sure they’ll have her milking under water, squeezing gleaming stainless-steel “milkometers” while grimacing a ruthless Teutonic grimace. Actually, that sounds pretty cool. I’ll call Meg this morning.
Update 3: Meg came through in spades. She called a large-animal vet friend of hers, with whom she had ridden as a part of her schooling. Her friend knows a small dairy farm in the area, and reports that they will be “delighted to teach Barb hand milking.” This is great. I’ll give them a call and report back. Did I mention that I just finished re-reading All Creatures Great and Small and All Things Bright and Beautiful? Boy, talk about the right time to be doing this.