Early to Bed, Early to Rise.......
- Mike set the alarm for 4 AM. It rang far too soon, it seemed to him, as he quickly dressed and went to awaken the twins, who were both sound asleep. They look awfully peaceful, Mike thought, as he gently nudged and whispered to them.
“It’s still dark, grandpa Mike.”
- “Yes, I know, but it will be dawn very soon; I’ve heard Uncle Frank already in the kitchen making coffee. And you should have a glass of milk before going out to the barn.” Mike waited until both children were out of bed before going downstairs.
- Frank and Mike were having a cup of coffee when the twins came into the kitchen. “Do you want your milk from the fridge, or straight from the cow? Frank asked.
“We always have cold milk at home.”
- “Tell you what. Drink a small glass of cold milk now so you can compare how much better it tastes when it’s really, really fresh,” Frank suggested.
- Frank and Mike had a second cup of coffee while the twins drank their milk. It was just about 4:30 when the four of them set out for the barn. The sky was beginning to turn from black to a dark gray-blue color. The horizon off to the east was a dark purple, indicating that sunrise was still some time away.
- All three cows were munching on hay at the feeding station in the milking area, waiting patiently to be milked. The calf that Frank mentioned to Jake at the meat locker was kept in a separate part of the barn and would be fed later.
- Even though the cows were very docile, Frank attached a pair of leg cuffs to the hind legs of the first cow as a precaution against one of the twins getting an unexpected kick. Then he went to the sink and washed his hands, got a small cloth and poured a bit of warm water into a bucket. “First we wash the udder and teats, because we don’t want any dirt in the milk.”
- Frank pulled out a short stool and sat down on the right side of the cow. Do you want to feel them? The cow’s bag is called the udder. Those four long nipples are called teats.”
- Mel stooped down next to Frank. As Mal started to run around to the other side of the cow, Frank called him back. “Cows don’t like to have people on both sides. Makes them uncomfortable. Mel, let’s let your brother see what they feel like too.”
- “All right, we’re ready to start milking.” Mike brought a clean milk pail from the shelf and put it under the teats.
- “Watch. It’s really easy and the cow is happy that she doesn’t have to carry around the weight of the all that milk she’s producing,” Frank explained as he took two teats, one in each hand, and started rhythmically squeezing, The stream of milk made a sharp sound as it hit the bottom of the pail. After a dozen or so squeezes on each teat, Frank asked which one of the twins wanted to try first.
- ........Milk the Cows, but Close Your Eyes!
- “Me,” Mel said right away. “I’d like to try.”
- Mel sat down on the stool and tried pulling on the teats. The cow stopped eating and jerked her head up. Fortunately, Mel was a bit nervous so she didn’t pull too hard.
- “You don’t have to pull at all. Just squeeze, like this,” Frank explained as he squeezed imaginary teats in the air with his hands.
“Oh, I see.” Mel tried squeezing and finally got the knack of it after a few tries. Milk squirted into the milk pail and Mel squealed, “I did it! I’m milking!”
- Mal stooped down to get a better look. His turn would be coming next and he wanted to show that he could do a better job of milking than his sister.
- Mel saw a wonderful opportunity, pointed both teats at her brother and squeezed hard. “So, who’s ‘Old Faceful’ now?” she giggled.
- Mel’s target couldn’t have been more surprised. Warm milk streamed onto his face, getting into his eyes and nose. Tasting the drops of milk that reached his mouth, Mal spat it out with a loud YUK!
- Frank and Mike were almost as surprised at Mel’s action (not to mention the accuracy of her aim) as Mal. After a moment, Mike teased, “What’s the matter, Mal? Don’t tell me you don’t like super-fresh milk?”
- Mel realized that she could have been scolded for being mischievous, but couldn’t resist the temptation to taunt her brother one last time. “Now we’re even!”
- “What do you mean by that, Mel?” Frank asked. “Oh, nothing. Just a game we were playing.”
“Let me try. It’s my turn now.” Mel insisted.
- “Since you’re even, don’t even think about squirting your sister. Milk’s too precious to waste even a drop, and besides, old “Bessie” here, might not think too kindly of either of you once the milking’s done.” Mike wanted to be sure the twins understood that he would tolerate one small prank, especially one that involved one of the farm animals, but not another.
- Mal had his turn milking and actually did quite well. When the pail was about half full, Frank complimented the twins on their new skill and said he would finish the rest of the milking. He suggested that Mike and the twins go out to see the sunrise.
- The day dawned beautifully. The purple on the horizon was gone, replaced by shades of pink, yellow, orange and red. Soon the sun became visible over the horizon. It was bigger and brighter than the twins expected. Mike explained that the sun is always the same size, but it looks bigger at sunrise and sunset because of the way its light travels. “You’ve seen how big the full moon looks when it’s low in the sky, and then seems to shrink as it rises higher. It’s the same thing with the sun, except that the sun’s path only changes a very small amount each day.”
- Frank soon finished milking and called to Mike to help bring in one of the filled milk pails.
- Sunday Breakfast on the Farm
- “Today’s Sunday, my day to make breakfast and give Martha a break from her routine. I’ll bet you’ve never tasted crepes like mine.”
“What are crepes?” Mel asked.
- “A kind of thin pancake.” I make them with eggs, milk and flour and spread them thin on the skilled to cook. When they’re done, I spread some of Aunt Martha’s homemade jam and then sprinkle them with powdered sugar. Some people like them with cottage cheese instead of jam.”
- As most Sundays were on the family farm, it was mostly a day of leisure. All the adults (except Frank, of course) slept about an hour later than they would on most days. Mal and Mel volunteered to pick the eggs, relieving Martha of another daily task. Breakfast, change of clothes for Sunday services, reading the Sunday newspaper, quiet discussions on a wide range of topics: politics, fuel cells for cars, animal feed, education, the Internet, weather patterns.
- Having gotten up so early, the twins didn’t protest about taking a nap before Martha’s traditional Sunday chicken dinner. So when it came to their bedtime, Mal and Mel were still happily (and noisily) playing outdoors, even though it had gotten quite dark. In fact, the blackness of the sky and the twinkling of what seemed to be millions of stars fascinated them. They had never seen such a dark sky or so many stars.
- Spilled Milk across the Sky?
- Everyone was in the back yard, enjoying the mild evening. Mort, Agnes, Mike and Martha rocked back and forth on the four-seater glider swing under the pear tree while Frank sat on a wooden garden bench, cleaning some gardening tools with an old rag.
- “Enjoying our night show, eh? Those city lights sure do cover up some mighty interesting pictures. Want to see if you can find some of them?”
- Frank then pointed out the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper to the twins. “I can see it, I can see it” Mel shouted and pointed. Then Mal saw them too.
- “You’re seeing the very same stars that sailors and explorers saw and used for thousands and thousands of years to guide them in their journeys,” Frank explained. Pointing straight up, he said, “There’s Leo the lion. You can see different pictures at different times of the year.”
- “What’s that?” asked Mal, pointing to the wide band of stars that splashed clear across the sky.
- “That’s the Milky Way. Ages ago a farmer swung a pail of milk over his head to scare away a pesky bird. The milk streamed out so fast that the drops reached the sky and stayed there.”
- “Oh, Uncle Frank, that’s silly.”
- “What? You don’t believe me? I wouldn’t believe me either!”
- Frank continued, “You can tell time by the Milky Way, though. Look at where the Milky Way is now. It moves across the sky throughout the night. So, let’s say that when the first stars of the Milky Way reach the top of that tree when you’re standing right here, that’s your bedtime.”
- Frank knew it would take about a half hour, giving the twins time to settle down as they gazed at the dazzling display and perhaps even catch a glimpse of meteor or two.
- Agnes and Mort looked at each other in amazement. Despite their energetic playtime just minutes before, the twins had agreed to Frank’s bedtime without a fuss! The parents were happy because the next day, Memorial Day, would be busy, starting with a trip to the local cemetery to pay respects to the family’s war dead and then preparing for the long drive home.
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LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION
How to Milk a Cow
Milky Way Pictures
- LINKS: BOOK 1 TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION TO THE BIOFABLES SERIES
BioFables 1 Teaching Brief
BioFables 1 & 2: Word Counts, Reading Levels