It is amazing how one animal can provide so much milk for so many people. Most homesteaders had at least one milk cow. I say "milk cow," because that's exactly what she is. She is a cow that is owned especially to provide milk. Here's the thing about a cow. Some cows are milked only once a day, some twice a day. This is done out of necessity to empty the cow's "milk bag." If not, the milk backs up in her udder and she becomes very uncomfortable, if there is no calf to suckle her teats.
My mother never owned a cow, but as far back as I can remember my grandmother had one. I am so glad that she did, because to this day, milk is still my favorite drink. Water is OK, but for me, nothing takes the place of a tall, glass of fresh, cold, organic, country milk ... with a few flecks of butter swimming on the top.
Our neighbor, Mrs. Brown, had a milk cow. One day, she asked us girls if we would like to go with her to the barn in the evening. If so, she'd teach us how to milk the cow. We took her up on it, and after she got to the cow, she set her bucket down directly under the cow's teats.
I was scared of animals, and even with our neighbor right there, I was still a little shaky. I was so scared that even when she showed me how to pull the cow's teats, I could never pull and squeeze them hard enough to make the milk come out. I was afraid that I would yank too hard and the heifer would kick the living daylights out of me. I already had enough scars in my face and I certainly didn’t need a wild hoof tattoo from a mad milk cow.
So. after a while of vain struggling, I just gave up and let the old pro do her thing. She squatted down, grabbed the cow's teats and with a quick squeeze and a rapid pull had milk squirting into the bucket like water flowing from a faucet. I just stood there mesmerized as she pumped that cow's teats until she had unloaded every ounce of milk in that cow's udder. Then, that was all for the day. I didn't go back to "help" her milk the cow anymore.
The most vivid memories of my grandmother's cow are from when I was a bit older and spent lots of time at her house. Each morning, early, she went out to milk the cow. I never went with her and she never asked me if I wanted to go. I'm glad she didn't, because early-morning-cow-milking was the last thing I wanted to do; however, when Grandma brought in her jug of fresh, warm milk, I was right there ... staring down that jug.
The sweet, creamy, organic butter that I ate at home and at Grandmother's came mostly from her lone cow. We got milk and butter from other cow owners too. A cow's largess is large, frequent and fluid enough to provide milk not only for the designated family but for others in the community. One cow can actually be a community cow. Not only did I and my grandparents drink her cow's milk, she also gave milk to Mom and my uncle's family. Grandmother probably shared her milk and butter with her other neighbors too.
A cow not only gives an endless supply of milk for drinking, but milk can be turned into cream, butter, cheese and other products, so the cow is a multipurpose animal and a one-stop, portable dairy farm. It supplies milk to quite a few families. And of course milk is used in preparing so many dishes, especially bread-based products and it is also used in so many others foods.
Unless a family is very large, the milk and butter cannot be consumed by one family, so the excess is shared with others or with the hogs. However, I tried my best to drink the hogs' share, and I think I did a pretty good job of it.