February 22, 2010

Middle-of-the-Night Milking

It isn't really the middle of the night, but it sure feels like it.

Winter's short days mean that when I am milking a goat twice a day, I must milk in the dark for one of those times. Unless I want to go outside first thing when I get up at 6 AM, but I don't want to... that time is reserved for Bible reading and prayer. So I choose to do the evening milking in the dark.

I bundle up in a hoodie and my coat and put on my boots and insulated gloves. With my bucket on one arm and the high-power flashlight in the other hand, I step out into the dark. The cats come running from their hiding places. My big white dogs are on the other side of the fence, whuffling at me. (You've heard a dog whuffle before, right?)

First I open the gate to the front yard and tell the dogs what good protectors they are. I turn on the garage light (a shop light that hangs over the milkstand) and set down the milk bucket, pour Faith's grain into her bowl, and take my flashlight to go get her, accompanied by the dogs.

Often I disturb the other goats in the larger pen, and they call me. Faith is calling me too; she is ready to be milked. I might hear the neighbor's dog barking, or our own Dawg down the hill where the sheep are. Sometimes I'll hear coyotes howling in the ravine.

Now that we've lost the roof off the "old barn", it's kind of creepy being inside its old skeleton with the stars overhead. I open Faith's gate and let her out. She walks next to me back to the garage and hops onto the milkstand.

I feed the dogs and the cats, and they argue over the food. I get Faith ready to be milked, and the dogs argue over the few squirts of milk in the strip cup. Halfway through the milking process the dogs spot the tailless cat that they don't like. He's sitting on top of the stacked hay bales; they chase him into the nether regions of the old garage. They do this every night, and I'm always worried that they are really chasing a skunk or a rat instead of the cat. Obviously there's been a skunk hanging around lately in the yard; I can smell it.

When I am through milking and Faith is finished with her grain, we walk back to the roofless barn with the flashlight. Faith does not walk out of the flashlight's beam. As we pass the water trough she stops to take a long drink, then walks to her gate and waits for me to open it. I tell her to stay warm and dry and I'll see her in the morning. The cats walk to the back door with me. It's nice to be in the house again and out of the wide open, dark night.

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