Farm Horizons, February 1998

The story of Janet the Cow


She wasn't just an ordinary cow; her name was Janet. With a name like that, she couldn't be a commonplace cow.

Big brown eyes framed by long, dark lashes looked sideways at me from her place in the stanchion in the farmer's dairy barn.

She wasn't like the other Jersey cows in the herd, She was obviously special, but not in a good way.

She didn't give enough milk anymore to stay in the herd, and the slaughter house was the next stop, if I didn't rescue her.

We hadn't come on a rescue mission: we came to buy a cow and be self-sufficient.

Who coined that term anyway? It's dictionary meaning reads: "self-sufficient - relying on your wife to do everything, self-torture, and is synonymous with 'idiot.'"

But I digress. I usually do.

Janet was pregnant, so my husband reasoned (correctly) that two animals were a better bargain than one.

He felt we could always eat the calf. This part was very, very incorrect!

The farmer assured us that Janet would provide all the milk our family of five could consume, plus butter and whipping cream.

Take my word for this. The average milk consumer has no idea what the volume of milk looks like from a good dairy cow.

Having owned only a second rate cow, even I can only imagine the amount.

The farmer also got more money for her from us, than if he had shipped her for bologna.

We bought her and brought her home to a roomy box stall, next to the horses.

She didn't seem to mind, but the horses were basket cases for weeks.

I purchased a pretty, blue cow halter for her, and a very long, strong rope to use, when I tied her outside to eat grass.

Could I lead an eight-year-old cow from the barn to a nice grassy area, if she has never had a halter on before? No!

She kind of went where she wanted, and I tried to influence the direction as best as I could.

We made the general area I wanted, due to luck and a noisy lawnmower that scared her a bit.

I traveled the last 30 feet or so on my stomach, until she came to a halt in shoulder high grass on the edge of a swamp.

The rope was quickly tied to a fallen tree, and Janet was left to munch.

Several weeks passed during which there were quite a few leading lessons for Janet in an enclosed area, so I gained enough control that I rarely fell anymore.

Then, there was the milking. I, being the only experienced hand milker in the family, was elected to perform the twice daily chore.

I liked communing with my cow in the early morning hours, listening to that special sound of a stream of milk striking the side of a stainless steel bucket.

But the amount of milk that just kept coming out, never ceased to amaze me.

We had a healthy cow, so we never pasteurized the milk. We had milk to drink by the gallon, daily.

As the milk cooled in the well pit, I skimmed off the cream by the bowl-full.

It didn't work to take a cup and dip it in, I had to take a large spoon and ladle it into the bowl in globs, it was so thick and heavy.

We made butter every other day. The kids ran the mixer and added a bit of salt. Then they worked all the liquid out of the huge pile of yellow, yummy stuff.

We had butter on almost all our food and fried everything else in it.

Sometimes we only had whipped cream on our food, but sometimes we had both cream and butter.

You can do this with pancakes. First you make them with the cream thinned with a little milk. Then you eat them with butter, fresh raspberry jam, powdered sugar, and whipped cream. Quite a heart treat!

Other meals consisted of homemade noodles made with cream, dessert crepes topped with cream, cream puffs or chocolate eclairs topped with whipped cream, or cream (thinned with a little milk) on your cereal.

Any good cookbook can teach a person many ways to use cream, and we learned as many as we could.

Butter goes on anything. Need I say more?

Along with the homegrown eggs, I was a veritable Julia Childs. The eggs are another story, though.

We gained weight, but we were happy. The boys brought friends home just to see all the things that could be made with cream and butter. We were almost a tourist stop for Maple Lake.

Then disaster struck twice.

The first time was my foot surgery in the winter.

I was in a walking cast, and the first day I went out the back door to discover the results of an overnight ice storm.

My success at negotiating the slippery steps and driveway with crutches and a cast was limited, to say the least.

Crawling, dragging my milk bucket behind me, was the only choice. It was cold. I cried.

Once in the warm barn, I was in better shape. Janet was eagerly awaiting her food and the milking.

As she ate, I settled on my stool to milk. In her impatience, she moved a hind foot just a little bit. It hit my cast, and I jerked my foot back, upsetting the milk pail and falling off my stool into the straw.

I cried, again.

As I sat in a blubbering heap against the wall, my neighbor walked into the barn.

He came periodically to see if my baby pigs were ready to go yet. That's another pig story!

He was a very quiet man; good-hearted and always helpful.

He took one look and said, "I'll do that for you."

Then he milked my cow, fed and watered my pigs and horses, carried my milk can back to the house, and came back to support me, so I didn't have to crawl.

The Rassat brothers were pretty special neighbors. They all died too young, as did their parents.

Anyway, the second disaster struck when we couldn't get Janet pregnant again.

She dried up, and Ron decided we could butcher her and at least have hamburger.

With the help of another do-it-yourselfer, Ron butchered the beautiful brown cow with the big, brown eyes.

I had nothing to do with it.

The hamburger was so dry and tough, it couldn't be eaten.

My show dogs had a wonderful six months of cooked ground beef and dog food.

The calf she had shortly after we got her was named Hamburger, so the kids would not get attached to him.

One of the boys became a vegetarian, and the other two swore off beef for about a year.

I went to Weight Watchers and lost 56 pounds. Ron drank lots of water, worked really hard, and lost a bunch of weight, too.

The three boys probably have been damaged for life by fat, but we had a lot of fun.

My advice? Don't buy a cow, unless you have at least 14 children. Stick to laying chickens.

Eggs aren't cute. They don't blink their long-lashed eyes at you and lick your face with a sandpaper tongue.

Eggs don't smell warm and steamy on a cold winter morning.

I miss Janet.

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