Milking a Cow

Claws and udders in action

By Brian Doyle | March 20, 2015
Martin Gommel/Flickr
Martin Gommel/Flickr


Yes, I did milk a cow, once, in Minnesota. Neither of us enjoyed the experience. The cow was aghast at my clumsiness, and I was terrified of the cow, and appalled at the startling intimacy of the event; I had been taught that fondling teats was not something done in public, not done without express permission and invitation from the owner of the teats, and surely not done while crouching on a tiny stool and pressing your face into the epic redolent flank of the owner of the teats in question.

Yet there I was, with my face pressed into an epic and redolent flank, as the cow made annoyed and threatening noises, and twitched her tail like a muscular whip, and shambled about nervously trying to get away from my hapless groping, as the man who owned the farm stood there issuing instructions and trying not to fall down laughing.

You want to strip the teats with your fingers, he said, which is an appalling sentence, not to mention I had not the faintest idea what he was talking about. He was a courteous man, though, and he explained at some length what he meant, and I have the vague recollection of words like udder and pastern and stifle, this last apparently a region of the cow in which my nose was pressed. Also I think he said the words dew claw, which rattled me all the more, because who knew that cows had claws? Did you know that cows had claws? I did not know that cows had claws. What do they do with claws? What possible use could they have for claws? Are cows more predatory than farmers let on? Do cows float around at night snaring squirrels and mice with their claws and crunching their tiny skulls and sipping the slippery tails with horrible glee?

All during the time that my nose was exploring her stifle and my fingers were groping helplessly with her teats and my mind was envisioning cows swooping down on rabbits and sinking their savage dew claws into their spines, the cow herself was rumbling disgruntledly, and shuffling around in the most uncooperative fashion, and pleading with the farmer to get this dolt away from her nether parts, and I was encountering various mysterious fleshy protuberances, and hauling them this way and that to no avail, and the cow was groaning piteously, and the farmer was making sounds in his throat like he had tried to eat an entire chicken and now was struggling mightily to get it all down, and the friend I had come to the farm with had stepped outside the barn politely so that I would not see or hear him laughing so hard that he sprained his face, as he said later.

Finally the farmer blew his whistle and the game ended, and I swear to this day you could hear the cow audibly moan with relief. The farmer then sat down on the tiny stool and deftly filled a bucket with fresh frothing milk, which he offered to me, but I was stuck at the whole concept of cow claws and I declined politely and we left hurriedly and that was the last time I was ever in Minnesota. Here and there I have been invited back to the admirable North Star State, where the state beverage is milk, but every time I am invited back I think of the words dew claw, and that is pretty much that, as far as returning to the estimable state of Minnesota, so far.

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