Frances and the Very Scary Chair

Dave had an old desk chair out in the garage. It was broken. He was going to toss it but then took a second look and decided it might make a really plush, nice milking stool.

chairNice, huh?  I thought so.  It was a bit higher than the overturned milk crate I had been using, but that was not a huge trade-off for such comfort.

So he put it in the milking stall.

milkingstallHere’s the milking stall.  Frances comes in the doorway (out of sight to the right), walks around to the rear of the stanchion, and ends up standing with her head sticking out the hole in the head catch.  Her feed bowl is on the outside.

The vacuum motor on the left is for the milking machine, which we bring in on a cart after she’s in place.

After she is finished milking, she has alfalfa hay in the rack just out of view on the left, and Dave always fixes her a pail of molasses-laced water (which we call “coffee”) and places it in the corner where the red X is.  I go back out and get her after she’s had about 45 minutes of peace and quiet to enjoy her meal and take her back out to the pasture.

Saying that a cow is a creature of habit is a massive understatement.  Their idea of perfection in the universe is complete boredom. They want everything to be done exactly the same way forever. The same routine. The same pathway. The same water bucket. The same grain ration (wanna have trouble – just change the ration). The same hay from the same field.

They are also incurably curious.  They notice everything. We try to sneak out to the field with a new bale of hay when they are over the hill and won’t see us so they won’t come “help.”  It never works.

When Frances comes into the milk room, she pauses in the door, always, and gives the room a once-over, checking everything.  She always stops and smells the vacuum machine. I have no idea why, but it’s a habit and I’ve learned to just wait for her to satisfy herself that it hasn’t changed in the past twelve hours. If a lead rope is in the wrong place, she notices and has to check.

francesinstanchionUltimately, she ends up like this.  Her head is caught so that she can’t just decide she’s all done with her grain and tired of being milked and it’s time to leave.  The dire process of milking takes exactly 8 minutes, so it’s not really much that we ask of her.

franceswithmilkercartAnd then I bring in the cart. We use a cart for a very good reason. Our barn is old. We have gravel in the milk stanchion, but dirt everywhere else.  Barns just aren’t the cleanest places on earth.

A dairy milk room is all concrete with drains everywhere.  They hose it all down twice a day after milking is complete. I can’t do that.  We’ve talked about building a separate milk room and have a concrete slab where it could go, but so far that has remained a “plan.”  And we know how “plans” often go.

So I put everything in the cart.  Nothing in that cart touches the ground, with the exception of the middle-sized bucket which contains warm water mixed with a bit of detergent and some Clorox and a sponge. That’s to clean her udder.

The large bucket holds baby bottles and nipples and the spray bottle hooked on the side is the teat-dip I spray her with. It consists of chlorhexidine (disinfectant) and lanolin (skin conditioner).

The serious thing is the stainless steel bucket with the milking inflations hanging on it. That is hooked to the vacuum pump and does the work.

And I sit on the upside down crate.

Until last night.

Last night, Dave put the new soft cushy milking stool in the room where the red X is.  He moved the water bucket to the other side.

farsidemilkingstallThere’s the bucket of “coffee” on the far side. Calves waiting for their bottles are in the stall beyond.

You can see that this isn’t a huge area.

However, I should have known better.

We’d done two things. Two big things.

We’d introduced a new thing – the chair – and we’d moved the water bucket.

To say that Frances was offended is putting it mildly. She came in, stopped dead in her tracks with her head in the doorway and had a fit.  That chair.  It was clearly evil.

We had to coax her into the stanchion. She was unhappy as hell but then got distracted by dinner.

Milking went fine.

I removed the cart after milking, and pushed the evil chair back in its corner and then we went to feed the babies.

She ate her alfalfa.  I assumed that she’d find the water bucket and all would be well.

I assumed wrong.

When I came back out to the barn, she was standing in her stanchion with her head out in the breezeway. She didn’t even want to look at that damn chair.

She had refused to touch the water.  It was in the wrong place and obviously was poisoned.

I put on her lead rope and tried to lead her to the water. She was having no part of it.

She charged through the doorway and out of the barn, pulling me behind her.

That was a very bad, scary chair.

She went out to the pasture in a huff and headed straight for the safe, familiar water trough that always lives in the same place.  No molasses, but who gives a damn when your keepers poison stuff?

And I managed to get a bloody finger in the process (pinched in the lead rope when she jerked on it).

francesalfalfaSo this was the scene this morning.  You’ll notice that the bucket is back in the proper place and she’s happily having her alfalfa breakfast.  And the evil horrible chair is gone.

Sometimes the cow simply wins.


23 thoughts on “Frances and the Very Scary Chair”

  1. Reminds me of well-trained experienced trail horses who suddenly – out of the clear blue sky – decide that a rock – THAT ROCK THERE – is dangerous. Completely and utterly dangerous and by god, it’s time to save ourselves and the rider is either coming along or is getting left behind.

    Sometimes it’s fanged bunnies. It’s like a scene from Monty Python.


  2. What else is there to say but I LOVE AND ADORE FRANCIS!
    I hope the series of Francis The Milk Cow books are in the works.
    Francis And The No Good Very Bad Milking Chair comes to mind.
    Seriously she is a beautiful cow. Wonderful she produces enough milk to make so many delicious things!
    How old is Francis now? How old can milking cows get and still produce milk?


  3. Excellent read! I know nothing about cows but I’m learning from you! My uncle has cows. They milk and make butter & cheese, (ricotta and mozzarella). They don’t use social media but I plan to show them this & your gee, ghee. Again, thank you for sharing with us.
    *spoiled cow! Francis is beautiful! I’m sure she’s loved!


  4. How old is Francis now? How old can milking cows get and still produce milk?

    She was born in August of 2008, so she’s eight. Will be nine in August. Most dairies start thinking retirement (and at a dairy, that means McDonald burger) at around 10. Our dairy friends keep them longer than that provided they are healthy. Many of their older cows with declining production are sold to people who want a family cow. We were lucky that we were able to purchase Frances when she was in her first lactation. She’d had one calf and simply wasn’t producing as much milk as some of the other cows.

    She can produce milk as long as she can produce calves.

    Her normal lactation period is ten months or so. We breed her annually and then dry her off two months before calving to get her a rest and a reset.

    What most people do when they have a family cow like ours and McDonald’s just isn’t an option is to breed the cow one last time, and then just continue milking her as long as the milk flows until she dries off by herself. In some cows, that might be ten months. But I read about a cow that was retired like that and produced milk for something like three years.

    At any rate, at that point, she will become a pasture ornament. A dry cow doesn’t cost nearly as much to feed as a lactating, pregnant cow does.

    Unless something dire happens to me and Dave, she will die here.

    But we’re not running a business. Dairies have to make much harder decisions or go out of business.


  5. This was so funny Sally

    It was actually pretty funny when it happened, right up until I pinched my finger and drew blood.


  6. How can we not love Francis. I laughed and smiled all the way through her story. Even children would love this story.


  7. You don’t mess with Frances, the human or the cow…….love her

    For the rest of you, this is Frances. Frances the cow was named for Frances the human. 🙂 I promised you that video of Dave and Frances, didn’t I? I think it’s hilarious.


  8. Back in the day, when I still lived at home, I milked. Both by hand and later, with milkers. I can attest to the truthfulness of how much cows hate change. That hate usually exhibited itself as lots and lots (and lots) of nice, runny manure.

    What finicky digestive tracts cows have. I really enjoyed this post, Sally, it took me down memory lane to about 45 years ago.


  9. Francis really reminds me of my oldest kid who has autism.

    He also hates change, every single bit of it. I once had a full out rebellion on my hands for serving broccoli from the freezer instead of fresh. No bloody finger for me, though.

    Maybe my kid has a future as a very routine driven cow poke. Probably not though, I have a feeling that the stubborn on both sides of the equation would halt production.


  10. I adore Queen Francis. I love every story you tell about her, she is such a character. You really do need to write books about her.


  11. Sally – can you remove that old cushion from the chair and use it on your upturned crate? It might make it little more comfortable for you and if you stow the cushion in the crate/bucket then Frances wouldn’t have a chance to complain.


  12. It might make it little more comfortable for you

    I can bear it for eight minutes. Dave just was being thoughtful and it turned into a freaking disaster. We put the evil chair in the foyer of the barn (people place) for humans to sit down while waiting for cows to deliver calves and stuff like that.


  13. My eleven year old grandson’s family home is a horse farm. It’s been in his family for generations and so he is quite accustomed to the habits of animals. He got quite the snicker out of Frances and the new chair. He says his mom’s lesson horses are the same way. They can’t use the blue stairs for the littles to mount. It has to be the dirty looking old brown set or the horses don’t want to get near them. He also commented that you can’t move the trough in the pasture or they all get confused.

    We have been working on his spelling. (can you believe that some schools do not teach *spelling* anymore? I was flabbergasted.) At any rate, we had quite the lesson on stanchion today, as he kept pronouncing it station.

    He asked if I could set the link to you blog on his tablet so he can read your “stuff”. I warned him that reading Sally’s “stuff” could be addictive and he smartly told me there were far worse things to be addicted to. I agreed and set the link.


  14. Ha! I was actually reading something by Temple Grandin just today in which she discusses the mentality of cows. She is autistic herself, and find it much easier to get into a cow’s mindset than allistic people usually do. A rough paraphrase of her explanation is that most people have an overlying later of presuppositions through which they filter the details of life, while animals and most autistic people don’t. So (to use the anecdote posted earlier), instead of “This is one instance of the category ‘broccoli,’ and I do or do not like it,” we get “This is a new object. It has the word-label ‘broccoli,’ but its texture, flavor, color, odor, etc., are all different. Now I have to go through the laborious process of adding yet another new object to the vast file of details I keep in my head, and darn it, I did NOT sign up for this today.” And for both animals and autistic people, there may be sensory issues involved as well, since the GACK STOPPIT THIS IS NOT NORMAL signal that most people have in reaction to, say, fingernails on a blackboard goes off for a much wider field of sensory input.


  15. I wouldn’t worry, Sally. He’s 11 and they have horses. He’s heard a lot of swearing already if his mom’s horses misbehave at the worst possible moments the way mine like to do.


  16. Thanks for the laugh this morning. I love how you tell Frances stories, she’s so full of personality.


  17. Temple Grandin

    I read one of her books, and learned something very valuable. We could not understand why sometimes, after dark, our animals, both cattle and donkeys, would NOT come to the barn. They simply held back and didn’t want to enter.

    It was the light.

    We’re human. We’re used to electric lighting. We understand that the severe contrast between dark night and bright light is normal.

    They don’t and they fear it.

    We turned off most of the lights and they came right in. End of problem.


  18. Reminds me of the time when my large 17.2 hh horse was very scared of a foot long log that was on our morning path to the barn. He’d walked that path morning after morning for years (in for his morning grain and back out with his friends in the pasture). That log caused massive rope burns on my hands and a sprained wrist (note to self: sometimes it’s better to just let go of the rope, especially if it’s feeding time and there’s grain in his stall). All over a log. Not even a big log. Just a fireplace type of log the owner must have dropped on his way back from splitting. This was an event horse, too. He had no issues going to large, scary show grounds and jumping over large scary things and into water. That log, though. . .nope. It wasn’t supposed to be there.


  19. No worries. I assure you, he’s already heard elsewhere, any swearing you may have ever used here, and just pays it no mind. Things roll off him pretty easily. Like I said, he lives on a horse farm. There are almost 100 horses on the property, many of them boarders. Lots of people coming and going all the time. Nothing you say here will scar him 🙂


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