Milking in the Dark (written 8/20/21)
Tonight's chore time began like any other, except for one critical
detail. Tonight there was a chance of thunderstorms.
We've had very few storms this summer, and we had very few storms last
summer. And for a storm junky like me, this disappointment has been yet
another cross to bear throughout the past several months of apathy. In
the spring and summer, storms are the life and breath of the Great
Plains. I love them. Sometimes I think I even need them. Big, bold, and
oftentimes bad, our storms are more or less legendary. Remember Dorothy
But lately, we had just gotten these wimpy showers. Drab, humid rain,
two or three pathetic rumbles of thunder, and the show would be over,
leaving the atmosphere even more muggy and miserable than it had been
So I didn't hope overmuch this evening as I tromped out to the barn. Not
overmuch, but there was still a chance. . .
I fed the screaming babies, dumped grain in the two bucks' dishes,
loaded up their hay racks with flakes of brome, topped off their water
tubs, and finally went into real action and got the milkers up on the stand.
By now I was only milking four does, half the number that I had been
milking earlier in the summer. Novel, Sherry, Sakke, and Mogen have made
the cut to keep serving for the next few months.
I got Novel on the stand first. Skies were dry. No wind, no rain. Heavy
Novel inhaled her portion of grain, I did my thing with the milk pail,
and she was done and out of there.
Sherry came up next. Sky still dry. Secure the head gate, grab the pail,
position the rattling fan to get the maximum air flow. It was sure
humid. The air was as heavy as a wet bedspread, and not a breath of it
was moving. I mopped my face and sat down to work, steaming with sweat.
The whole world was sultry and sweltering and oppressive.
Then a change. I could sense it more than I actually physically heard or
felt it. The air lifted. The breeze forced out by the big fan was still
tepid, but their were cooler currents mixed in. The weather had roused
itself, and something was up. Maybe we really would get some thunder.
I was just starting in on Sherry's other side when the wind hit us. No
warning, no subtlety. The first gust slammed the side of the barn like a
truck. It didn't slacken, either. The gusts collected themselves into
one vehement exhalation of wrath and joy.
The temperature dropped dramatically. Lightning crackled. Again, I could
sense the electricity. But when the rain and thunder wrenched the sky,
it still came so abruptly that we were all startled.
I left Sherry polishing off her grain, ducked out of the milk room, and
scampered to close the sliding door on the west side of the barn. The
gale-force winds were yanking and buffeting it, and the rain was
sluicing across the doorway in sheets. Finally, I hauled it completely
closed and snapped the latch into place. Score 1 for Reyna and goats.
By the time I returned to the milking stand and finished business with
Sherry, the storm was gathering strength. The wind hurled itself against
our little pole barn, topping out at a good sixty miles per hour.
Thunder crashed and boomed. The rain was torrential. It was beyond
deafening on the metal roof, and about fifty percent of my world was
blocked out. No usable sound now. Just touch and memory were left, and
the uncertain smudginess of my fractional vision.
And then, the lights went out.
Suddenly, there was no roaring fan to shield us from the noise of the
onslaught. And there was no light to help get the goats to and from the
milking stand. The storm seemed to hunker down on top of us a little closer.
But the work must go on. I had two more girls to milk, and the power
outage probably wouldn't last long. I opened the head gate, caught
Sherry's collar, and tucked my other hand under her chest to steady her
as she eased off the milking stand and onto the floor. Then we were
shuffling out of the milk room, turning right, and feeling our way down
the aisle and back to her regular pen.
Meanwhile, the other goats were raising a fuss. Mogen especially, who
tends to be vocal anyway, was charging around her pen and hollering at
the top of her lungs. Even as loud as a yelling Nubian inside a metal
building can be, I could still hear the storm better than I could hear
her. This weather wasn't messing around.
I shouted to the goats that they were okay and everything was going to
be all right, which seemed kind of counter productive. I could hardly
hear my own words, and yelling at frightened animals to calm them down
doesn't usually work well. Still, I wanted them to hear my voice and to
know that I was staying with them.
I got into their pen and grabbed each goat as she jostled past me in the
blackness, clipping them to their usual tie-down tethers, and trying to
act as normal as possible. Everyone finally captured, tethered, and
somewhat calmer, and we had score 2 for Reyna and goats.
And now it got interesting. How to get the next panicky doe up on the
milking stand in the pitch black. The stand is elevated about fifteen
inches above the floor, so it's a big step up at the best of times.
Without light, it could get tricky.
I snagged Sakke's collar, keeping her close and chatting to her over the
ear-ripping, heart-rending noise of the storm. We got up the first step
into the milk room, found our way to the end of the stand, and then I
held her still, waiting for lightning. Maybe catching at least a glimpse
of that fateful step would make it a little easier to navigate.
The storm flickered and flashed. I moved forward alongside the milking
stand, gave Sakke's collar a tug, and clucked to her.
"Step up, baby," I told her.
They know that command, and Sakke knew what she was supposed to do. And
she did it. With a rush of confidence, she was on the stand, her head
was in the stanchion, and I was locking it shut and breathing a sigh of
relief. Score 3.
The study in contrasts between Sakke and Mogen, though, was striking.
Sakke stood like a rock through the whole procedure, chomped down her
grain, and hopped off the milking stand into the dark abyss to the floor
like she'd been doing it her entire life.
Mogen didn't want to have anything to do with it. She balked coming out
of the pen. She tripped coming up the first step. And when it came to
that big, second step, she put the brakes on in a major way. Lightning
and encouragement and collar pressure did nothing to persuade her or
budge her. Even placing her left front foot on the familiar stand did
not convince her. She just didn't have the confidence in herself or the
trust in me to make that literal, blind leap of faith.
In the end, I hauled her up by main strength. Even then, with her head
secured and all four feet solid on the stand, she cowered. My verbal
soothing and coaxing were lost in the fury of the wind and rain, still
lashing the metal roof and sides of the barn.
The power came on three hours later. By then I had collapsed in bed,
utterly exhausted and filthy, since there was no way to shower with the
electric water pump shut off. Still, I had two meager victories under my
1: I had learned something about my goats. I always enjoy learning about
any of my animals. This time, I had discovered that Sherry and Sakke
were solid and dependable. Routine or crisis, they were reliable, and
they trusted me. It was Mogen who needed some work.
And 2: That had been the best storm we'd had for a couple of years. It
certainly had messed up my night, but it had absolutely made my day.