July 6th……….“DID YOUR HERD OF HOLSTEIN DAIRY COWS LIVE IN THE BARN ALL THE TIME YEAR ROUND? IF NOT, WHERE COULD THEY ROAM? HOW DID YOU GET THEM BACK FOR MILKING TIME IN THE EVENINGS”?
Ominous black clouds sounded out a glowering, grumbling guidon of the passing Summertime storm that had just visited the skies above our farm. This electrical weather event was a normalcy of this season in south central Minnesota.
As if playing a new game of peekaboo, the volatile, vertical lightning strikes now had been replaced by heat (or sheet) lightning that seemed to hide in the layered dimensions of the multi-grayed cloud banks. It was as if a sneaky paparazzo, with an old flashbulb attachment on his camera, was readying to sneak up on us for a candid photograph. As the mythical figure triggered his “flash”, there was, now and then, an occasional wide, expansive POOF of lightning in the cloud banks illuminating massive areas which revealed the cloud’s varied hues of subtle gray shadings while the ugliness of that weather system moved slowly off into the southeast horizon and any imminent danger left with it.
Now that the deadly fireworks in the sky had passed out of the area, the second act of God’s wonder in the skies was the arrival of the warmest rain this side of a childhood smile. The timing of the rain was ideal for a couple of reasons. #1. It was time for my daily afternoon trek down the gravel road to get our herd of Holstein cows for the evening milking from our pasture and #2. Our maternal Smith family cousins had come over that day to visit and were up for the adventure of getting the cows with me in the rain.
Cousins Brenda, Valerie and Deanna, along with my little sister, Candice, and myself ventured out the back porch screen door of our farm home and into the pelting drops of a heavenly rainfall that eventually drenched us all to the bone.
As the five of us sauntered down the descending elevation of our south, U-shaped driveway, tiny rivulets from God’s warm rain showers were beginning to follow gravity’s pull as the rain popped up in happy jumps upon the graveled surface of the ground.
Who needs umbrellas when the liquifying loveliness of the good Lord’s rain only required an occasional “windshield wiper” of your finger across a rain-laden forehead .
Being the chit-chatting cherub children that we were, our young cousin fellowship was enjoyed thoroughly as we walked down the countryside gravel road that paralleled our electric-fenced “cow lane”. After our almost 1/2 mile hike, we came to the pastureland that bordered Brush Creek at the south boundaries of our farm property. These happy Holsteins of ours could munch n crunch all day long on nutrient-rich grassland and, when thirsty, could drink gallons of water to their heart’s delight that ambled lazily along Brush Creek’s watery abode.
Upon arrival at the pasture, our soaked selves saw our dairy herd at a distance grazing happily through the vertical curtain of rain that didn’t seem to trouble them at all as they pulled up mouthfuls of green grasses that kept them well-nourished and their udders full of milk.
What came next was a practice that was centuries old, called “kulning” or “herd calling”. In our ancestral Norway, tending herds of cows usually came under the jurisdiction of farm wives or daughters. The ladies would conceive distinct songs which were created by each individual family to “sing” to their cows up in the mountain pastures. When a family’s bovines heard their special song sung to them, they then came towards the maiden making that calling sound and followed her back to their respective farm for milking and staying the night in the barn.
Instead of the traditional beauty of kulning, I was taught the simplistic version of herd calling that merely consisted of two song tones; one high and one low. In that warm, rainy afternoon, I cupped my hands on each side of my mouth, making a megaphone, of sorts, as I hollered…..“COME BOSS!!! COME BOSS!!! COME BOSS”!!! Pretty soon the senior ladies of the herd perked up their heads and began approaching my calling. They knew well that this human sound meant even tastier food was waiting for them up at our barn and that our father would milk them to relieve the pressure in their distended milk bags called udders. The younger cows soon learned, by their elder’s example, to follow along and, next thing you know, there was a long, black n white line of bovines exiting our pasture and making their way up the cow lane leading back to our livestock yard and the barn.
With the last “Harriet Holstein” now entering the cow lane, those black n white beauties were heading northwards with the rest of the herd. The five of us midget cow herders clamored down the ditch slope from the gravel road and ducked under the electric fence to follow the cows up the cow lane and to the livestock yard which led into the barn. With our warm heavenly showers having now ended, we enjoyed “Mr. Summer Sun” peeking out shyly from the clouds. We walked slow and peacefully behind the cows as the milk-laden udders of our Holsteins swayed poetically from side to side. I was taught early in my boyhood that you never chase or yell at the cows to make them run. For one thing, the heavy milk udders could be injured by aggressive slapping back and forth in the run and, for another reason, my farmer father would yell at me saying, “If you make those cows run so much, all I’ll get out of them is “cottage cheese”!!!! It was Dad’s facetious way of saying their milk could even be affected by making them run.
In a way, we midget herders that day saw the full circle of seeing our cows safely home during a heavenly rain to the point in time of Dad getting a Holstein “rain” (of milk, that is). It was a feeling of youthful accomplishment as we brought back to the farm yard the cows that belonged to the farmer father of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.