Why Do Cows Kick?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, July 3, 1912:  Did the same things today as I usually do on other days. Got so mad at a cow who took a notion to run over the whole creation.

Advertisement in June 30, 1911 Issue of Farm Implement Magazine

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sounds like Grandma again was having problems with a cow escaping from the pasture. Grandma also occasionally had  to deal with other cow behavior problems. For example, on March 31, 1911 she wrote:

I got kicked today, and it was such a violent one that it caused me to land on my back. It was by a modest cow, who happened to kick me and the bucket at the same time. I guess I was as much surprised as she was.

Here’s an abridged version of what a 1908 book called The Farm Dairy by H.B. Gurler had to say about cows that kick:

Find the Cause of a Cow’s Kicking.—When a cow kicks, the first thing the milker should do is look for the cause. Do not fly into a rage and scold the cow, but remember that the cow must have had cause for the kicking. You may think the cause was not sufficient, especially if she hit you where it hurt, as she probably did for cows have a facility for doing that.

When a cow kicks she is either frightened or hurt, and if she is frightened and kicked you it is strong circumstantial evidence that you have at some time hurt her and she is afraid that you are going to hurt her again, and she feels that her safety depends on her ability to defend herself.

Sometimes cows are hurt. For example, the cause for one cow that kicked was a pond of water in the pasture in which the cow stood fighting flies, getting her teats wet, and causing them to chap, but not so deeply that the milker discovered it until the healing process had commenced. A few applications of linseed oil on the teats remedied the trouble.

There is always a cause for a cow’s kicking and it is not to our credit not to be able to find it.

Milk and Cream: How Rich was the Milk?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Tuesday, July 2, 1912:  Ruth tried to deceive me this morning about the quantity and richness of Mollie’s milk. I had saved some last evening to see how rich it was, and Rufus dumped nearly all of it out and filled it up with cream. Wasn’t she mean?

Photo source: The Farm Dairy (1908) by H. B. Gurler

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hmm—I grew up on a dairy farm and I barely understand this diary entry, but I’ll give a whirl at trying to explain it.

Each of the Muffly children apparently had their own cow—and Mollie was Grandma’s cow.

Milk that has not been homogenized separates after sitting for awhile. The cream floats on top of the skim milk.

Cream is worth more than skim milk because it can be used to make butter.

Cows vary in the ratio of cream to milk that they produce. And, cows that produce lots of cream were considered more valuable.

Here’s a quote from a 1908 book about the importance of having cows that produce a lot of cream (butter-fat).

A cow that produces less than 200 lbs. of butter per year should not be kept in the herd, and the 200-lb. cow should only be retained in such a time as is necessary to secure a better one. No one will become rich milking 200-lb. cows.

You can afford to pay $130 for a cow that will make 250 lbs. of butter yearly as to pay $30 for a cow that will only produce butter-fat to make 200 lbs. of butter.

The Farm Dairy  by H.B. Gurler

Grandma probably wanted to know if her cow Mollie was a profitable cow. Her sister Ruth (also called Rufus in this entry) apparently decided to tease her—by making it look as if Mollie was an exceptional cow who produced almost all cream.

Making Hay

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, June 27, 1912:  I worked all afternoon out in the hay field, and my hands which were bad enough now take on a deeper shade every day.

Click on photo to enlarge (Photo Source: Farm Implement Magazine: July 30,1911)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Harvesting hay was  hot, dirty, hard work. The sun was hot. Horses needed to be led; hay needed to be lifted and stacked . . .

For a previous post on hay making, see Hay Pulleys and Ropes.

Source: Farm Implement Magazine (July 30, 1911)

1912 Flower Gardens

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, June 24, 1912:  I got so tired a working today. I am about well nigh used up.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sounds like Grandma had a rough day. After hard days I enjoy relaxing in my yard and enjoying my flowers.

I know that Grandma enjoyed  gardening when she was older. Maybe she also enjoyed relaxing amongst flowers when she was young.

Here are some hundred-year-old drawings of flower gardens in the April, 1912 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

Bulls on Farms a Hundred Years Ago

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, June 14, 1912:  Such a time as I had a running after Jake this afternoon. He broke out of the field and when I spied him he was walking up the railroad. Carrie was over this evening.

Recent photo of the railroad tracks that cross the Muffly farm.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hmm—who was Jake? I never really thought about it before, but I bet that the Muffly’s had a bull—and that Jake was the bull’s name.

Photo Source: The Farm Dairy (1908) by H.B. Gurler

Bulls are MEAN. They have unpredictable tempers and sometimes charge people.

This adds a whole new dimension to what watching cows involved. When Grandma wrote about watching cows—it probably wasn’t a pastoral pastime, but a potentially dangerous job.

An aside—Most farmers started using artificial insemination to breed their cows in the 1950s and 60s—and they were very, very glad that they no longer needed to have bulls on the farm.

Dehorning a Cow

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, March 8, 1912:  I think I came out fairly in General History today. I remembered all of my speech, but as my custom is I never get enough pauses and proper way of speaking in the thing. This time it was too fast. Are going to have them again next Friday. They ought to be pretty well digested by that time.

Mollie was shorn of her horns today. Poor thing, I hope she won’t kick the bucket. But I don’t think she will.

Photo source: The Farm Dairy (1908) by H. B. Gurler

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Mollie was Grandma’s cow. Based on previous diary entries it seems as if each of the Muffly girls owned one the family’s cows.

Mollie had her first calf the previous August, so probably was about 2 1/2 years old when this diary entry was written.

I’m surprised that Mollie’s horns were removed when she was so old. I think that typically horns would either be removed when the cow was younger than this—or the cow would never be dehorned. My gut feeling is that Mollie was acting aggressively toward other cows with her horns—and that as a result ended up being dehorned.

The horns would have been cut off with a tool designed for that purpose. Mollie probably bled quite a bit afterwards—and there would have been the risk of infection.

Dehorning would have been very painful for a few days—though I doubt that there was much chance that the dehorning might actually cause a cow to die (kick the bucket).

The Tennessee Extension Service has a publication that explains how cattle are dehorned. See page 6 for a description of how older cattle are de-horned. I don’t think that the process has changed much in the last hundred years.

Churning Butter a Hundred Years Ago

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, December 26, 1911: Am beginning to get rather tired of this seemingly long vacation. When you don’t have anything interesting to do and you don’t go many places it is not very hard to get lonesome. Jimmie and I are turning into regular fight cats, so Ma thinks. I churned this morning, and then set things in order, but don’t suppose they’ll stay that way very long.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma sounds bored—and it seems like she and her six-year-old brother Jimmie were getting into fights to make things a little livelier.

When I was a child if I said that I was bored, my parents used to say that I must not be working hard enough and give me a chore. I wonder if Grandma’s mother had the same philosophy. Maybe her mother decided that churning butter would relieve the boredom.

This is the first time that Grandma’s mentioned churning in the diary. I assume that the family just made a little butter for their own use—though many farmers a hundred years ago sold butter.

There are drawings of “modern” butter-making equipment in a book published in 1908 called The Dairy Farm by H.B. Gurler.

The practice of printing butter has grown remarkably during the past fifteen years and now (1908) most of the butter that is retailed is put up in one pound prints which are wrapped in parchment paper, which carries the name of the farm or maker.