Lessons I Learned While Holding the Cow’s Tail

By Regena Handy

If you grew up in Patrick County during the fifties, sixties and seventies, unless you lived in the Town of Stuart, you most likely resided on a little farm. Though this way of life still exists for some, those days are now in the minority.

Our way of life was modest as was our home place. Farm animals included a dairy cow, workhorses, hogs, chickens, and dogs and cats. Every animal had a purpose, a job if you will. (Unfortunately for the poor old hog, his purpose was to eventually become part of breakfast.)

I was recently recollecting on our dog Shag who had been taught to keep the chickens out of the yard, which he did well, except when we were gone. I know this because, upon returning home we could see him from a distance, asleep, chickens scattered all over the yard. The instant he heard our car, he would jump up, barking like mad, and chase the chickens back into the fields.

You know, it’s amazing the things you learn by growing up with animals. Some of the best came to me while holding the cow’s tail.

Though I never was any good at milking the cow, I didn’t completely get out of that chore. Often my mother did the milking and if I was home, it was my job to hold the cow’s tail. I don’t remember how she otherwise managed — I have heard of people tying the tail to the cow’s leg.  I am going to share some lessons those cows taught me.

First of all, holding the cow’s tail is boring. Be patient and deal with it. Not all of life is fun times. It also teaches you acceptance. I didn’t like to do this chore but I did it anyway.  Third, help others. Not having to worry about the cow flapping her tail into the pail of clean milk made my mother’s job easier.

Another thing I learned was that it could be a grimy task. Now and again the cow was smelly and muddy and we’d have to clean her up. Helps you realize that sometimes there is no getting around it, you’ve just got to dig in and do the dirty work.

It taught a sweet lesson about sharing. As I said earlier, we always had cats and often her offspring roaming about. Occasionally they would show up, letting us know by their cries that they wanted milk. Mom kept a little pan close by and would squirt into it a few streams of warm milk.

One thing a person learns is to watch out for the unexpected. If the cow became agitated about something, she’d kick over the milk pail.

I learned the valuable lessons that while life can hurt, its also good. This was exemplified by the times old Bossy would be fighting the ever aggravating flies and accidentally stomp my foot. On the opposite side, after the milk was strained and stored in the refrigerator, there was nothing quite as refreshing as a cold glass for supper.

And lastly, it taught me to stay alert because if you are not careful that tail (or life) can get away from you and smack you upside the head.


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