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Then Sophy kicked Mona Lisa

By Deborah Rose / August 6, 1984

It is a little-known fact that cows are crabby in the morning. So am I, of course, but I don't weigh a thousand pounds. City people also think that cows are milked in the wee hours of the morning because they have to be. Actually, cows can be milked on any 12-hour schedule as long as it's consistent. The hours are early to coincide with the farmer's work schedule, not the cows'. As likely as not our Guernseys are still asleep when I barge in in the morning. And there's the rub all right. Moving a sleepy cow in a direction she doesn't want to go can cause logistical hassles an urban traffic controller never dreamed of.

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They lined up all right this morning, though. It was when I changed their positions in the milk line that the trouble began. A milk line is not a casual matter of who gets there first like the line at the grocery checkout. The milk line is carefully arrived at through power plays, supportive cliques, or brute force. A position in the milk line seems to represent to the cow her position in society, and woe to him who changes the status quo.

Which is what I had to do. Sophia was being moved to a low-feed group as she entered a new phase of her milk cycle. In laymen's terms I sent her to the back of the line. Not only was this demotion humiliating to Sophy but it caused problems with Inez. Cows are sociable creatures and like to stand with their girlfriends while being milked. Sophy and Inez were indulging in their equivalent of gossip when I split them up. The result was that Sophy expressed her displeasure by kicking Mona Lisa, and Inez mooed mournfully. Revlon joined in the chorus just for the heck of it. Then Sophy tried to butt in line ahead of Big Betty. Big Betty protested. Bedlam broke out. Another peaceful day in the country had begun.

In the end I compromised and let Sophy stand in front of Mona Lisa but not in front of Big Betty. You can't give in completely on these things. It doesn't look good. Inez was quieted by tickling her chin, Big Betty was only half awake and easily distracted, but Revlon required a few whacks on the nose. I am not a practicing pacifist before breakfast.

I turned the milk machine on, chased the cats out, and hoped that it would be an easy session. It wasn't. The all-important lineup had been changed still further by the addition of Drooler and Cleopatra. They had both dropped calves the week before and were coming off maternity leave. I had stuck them in the line at two low-priority spots with what I considered great diplomacy. There had been no trouble.

What I didn't realize was that the new lineup meant that Carmen, a low feeder , was milked in a stall next to Kickapoo, a high feeder. Kickapoo does not walk softly like the Indian. She earned her name. In bovine body language she managed to convey to Carmen that her food was better. Carmen sent up an immediate wail of unfair. Artful Dodger, a liberal who will always take the side of labor vs. management, began a noisy campaign in support. This got the other cows upset, which means less milk, so I had to tickle a lot of chins to calm them down again. Pure economics.