Sunday, April 14, 2013

An Alphabet of Cows: It's Milking Time by Phyllis Alsdurf

I slip under barbed wire and race down the lane.
I'm late.
Dad's waiting on me to start milking.
"Come, boss," I holler.

Single file they come,
on the same worn path.
"Come, boss, come, boss.
It's milking time."

Down that well worn path that cows and their keepers have trodden for  millennia, a girl, her father, and their small herd make their way to the barn where the cows will be milked one at a time.

There's a ritual to follow, a routine that reaches far back into history, spreading down the straw in each stall, filling the buckets with their ration of grain that will keep the cows busy munching happily during the milking process. Child and man work together efficiently with few words, moving the cows into their milking stations.  The girl locks the stanchions that keep the cows still while Dad methodically washes their teats and udders to make sure the milk stays clean and hooks up their milking machine, beginning with the first cow, appropriately enough named Alpha.

Father and child wait patiently as tails swish and grain is crunched, talking about rain, tuning the barn radio to the weather report, until it's time to move the milker on to Bertha, and then to Cassie.

An alphabet of cows.

One by one as the cows are milked, Dad and girl carry each full milk bucket to the milk house to be strained into the big milk cans and deposited in the cooler.  One bucket is used to pour some milk into a pitcher to go to the house for milk for dinner and breakfast and the rest is taken to the little weaned calves to share.
"What are you going to name the little guy?" Dad laughs.
The little calf looks up at me with liquid brown eyes."Buddy," I say.

Soon the cows have all been milked, and it's time to unhook their stanchions and coax them out to the night pasture. Dad mucks out the stalls, while his daughter scrubs the milking machine parts in a tub of suds.

And finally it's time to spread new straw into each stall, ready for the morning milking that will come all too soon.

For one more night milking time is done. Every morning, every night, it's milking time.
Every day of the week, every week of the month, every month of the year, it's milking time.

It's satisfying to get to lead the cows in and proudly carry a full pitcher of fresh milk inside, to the kitchen where Mom strains out some of the top milk for morning coffee and lets her daughter fill the glasses beside their plates with the product of her work.  In her It's Milking Time (Random House, 2012), Phyllis Alsdurf's lyrical prose captures the hard but rewarding tasks of dairying for modern children who may never give a barn cat a splash of milk or drink milk for dinner that her own cows gave.  Her story, this gentle narrative softly and beautifully illustrated by artists Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, feels like the next best thing to being there.

Kirkus puts it succinctly: "a lovely, poetic picture"


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