Loretta Lynn Loves a Bucket
Sometimes a smart cow is a good thing. Well, occasionally a smart cow is a good thing. OK - let’s be truthful here - it’s really only VERY RARELY that is a smart cow a good thing. Smart cows (read: all Jerseys, and maybe, oh, let’s be generous and say approximately 2 Normandes), while charming and extremely interested in the odd doings of humans, begin their careers harmlessly enough. They steal a granola bar out of your back pocket and gallop off to the back pasture with it in their mouth. They learn how to open gates. Then they learn to open the new style of gate latch you installed because they learned how to open the old one. Eventually, it's opening headlocks so they can rodeo gleefully around the barn while the vet is trying to take a blood sample. Then it’s letting their friends out of the headlocks, because rodeoing gleefully around the barn while the people wave their arms and say bad words is much more fun as a group. It’s when you realize that both Houdini and Miney know the passcode to your smartphone that it dawns on you that you actually have a problem, and maybe those intellectually challenged cows are just fine.
Now on the other hand, you don’t want truly dumb cows either. One seriously, doornail dense cow can really snarl up the works for the whole herd. Toothfairy took two months to learn that the exit door to the parlor was to the right, not to the left. 18 months later, she still has to stop and think after she’s milked. But Loretta Lynn? - she’s in a special class of her very own. Loretta Lynn is the great-granddaughter of Princess, our 16 yr old matriarch and head nurse cow. Princess has had many, many heifer calves in her long career, and one of the finest is Loretta Lynn’s grandmother, the Principesa Maria. (Pesa, for short.) Pesa is a champion milker, has a lovely grazing body type, and very few of the bovine bad habits that annoy the humans. Unfortunately, while Pesa is the perfect balance of not too smart, and not infuriatingly dumb, she has failed to pass that on to her offspring. Her daughter Loretta often couldn’t use both brain cells at once; and her granddaughter Loretta Lynn, well, wow.
Since the cows came into the barn for the winter, Loretta Lynn has been struggling to learn to use the waterers in the barn. Now, I’ll admit, they are a little tricky. You have to stick your nose into a large hole in the top of an insulated tub to get to the water. Pretty challenging. Calves learn to do this in about 30 seconds. All the other cows have learned to do this in less than a minute. Loretta Lynn? We’re going on 2 months now. Eventually she figures it out, but you can tell that all that thinking is really taxing for her. But just last week, her world changed dramatically. We always have 5 gallon buckets of warm water in the milking parlor - the water comes from the plate chiller that pre-cools the milk like a heat exchanger. We use it for washing off the milking platforms and rinsing our hands. Loretta Lynn has watched these buckets before -watched them fill and be emptied, fill, and be emptied, and that day, apparently some previously shorted connection finally made contact. Loretta Lynn has always been the last cow to come in the parlor, but that day, she came charging into the parlor right after the bossy cows. She pushed a couple loitering cows aside, pulled her ears back, and jammed her head directly into one of the buckets. Fifteen seconds of noisy slurping, and the bucket was dry. She lifted her head, looked around, and jammed her head into a second bucket. Slurped that one dry. Lifted her head, spied the third bucket, and jammed her head in that one too. Only this time, when she had slurped it dry, yep - you knew this was coming - the bucket was stuck.
Now any other cow would have completely freaked out, charging around the parlor, crashing into things, trying to rub the bucket off on anything available, including people and other cows. This sort of activity being unpopular with both people and cows, the entire scene would have devolved into a chaos of milkers being kicked off, bellowing, and free and voluminous pooping. (The cows, not the people - although there might have been bellowing from the people.) But this is not what happened. Loretta Lynn stood there with the bucket on her head. She turned her head once. She turned it back. She took one step forward. She took one step back. And then just stood there. With full knowledge of the risks, I decided to see just how long she would stand there, and went on with milking the other cows. Ten minutes she stood there. Ten full minutes, apparently completely content inside her bucket. Eventually I had to pull it off and milk her.
And now it’s a pattern. Each milking, LL comes in the parlor, drinks a few buckets dry, and stands there staring into the empty bucket. She’ll stand there for a long time, gazing into that bucket with all the longing that those big cow eyes are capable of. I have no idea what happened in those ten minutes with the bucket on her head. Some kind of religious conversion maybe. Whatever it was, is hasn’t made her any smarter. She still struggles to put her nose in the hole in the top of that waterer. But let me tell you, she can jam her head in a 5 gallon bucket with the best of them.