Issue: July 2019
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Next deadline: August 29


Written by
Published on January 2018

I soon settled down at the Powell’s in Egerton and started into another routine. 

The whole family were early risers and within a short time of them getting up they went off to their tasks.  Jean to her housework and preparations for the breakfast - now, with me, a total complement of five.  Harry and Allister went off to attend to the stock regards giving them breakfast.  I thought it rather strange that they gave the stock food and drink first before themselves.  As it was my first morning, I was given my breakfast along with Norma (she enjoyed that).  Jean waited until Harry and Allister came in and the three of them ate together.  Next morning, I had a surprise which was given to me by Harry as he sipped his breakfast coffee.  It went like this: “Now then Ronald, can you milk a cow?”  “No”, I replied.  “I don’t know how.”  Harry fired his opening shot too and said, “What, a big lad like you?  It’s time that you knew how.  Come with me to the byre and I’ll start you off.”

Jean was ready for this and rose to the occasion and as she knew what was coming produced a pair of too-large bib and brace overalls and off Harry and I went with a milking pail and a heart full of trepidation.

Four cows stood side by side waiting to be milked.  Getting a stool Harry said, “What do you think is the first thing to do?”  Looking puzzled, he then said, “talk to them first and stroke them.  Especially you because they do not know you.  Now, watch me.”  Harry demonstrated the technique.  I watched, engrossed.  Then it was my turn.

I think my readers will have a good idea of my performance. (older folk especially).  Pulling the teats instead of gently squeezing them caused my cow to display her displeasure by kicking her back legs.  More tuition followed and eventually, to my delight and surprise, I managed to obtain about half a cup of milk but by this time my hands were aching.  Well, eventually all four cows were done and Harry informed me that there would be a repeat performance about 4:30 to 5:00 every morning before breakfast. 

I wondered what I had let myself in for but it did not stop there. 

After breakfast, the cows were turned out into the pasture and Harry pointed to a wheelbarrow and gave me a shovel and then pointed me to the night’s excrement.  “Clean up the byre.”  (that word again!).  Then I realized it was the cows’ accommodation. 

I was still a town boy but I was learning fast and as we sat around the supper table that evening Harry allocated the cow of this morning particularly to me.  ie  Milk her.  Keep her clean and talk to her and turn her out when finished.  This was the thin edge of the wedge but I could see me milking the others as well later but he was letting me down gently and this twice a day before meals.  Also, slop all of them out when they had been turned out to pasture or in the yard.  It became clear to me now that I was not here for a free ride and that I was expected to contribute towards my keep by doing jobs.  Seeing to the cows twice a day – what a shock! – but I soon learned from Harry to take a small cup with me and as I was milking, dip my cup in the bucket and have a half a cup of fresh warm milk.     
A few days later Harry slipped out a wild card by asking if I could drive a team of horses.  As my response was in the negative he was ready for me and retorted, “Right, come on and I’ll show you how to go on.” 

So, off we went to the stables and I received my first lesson on how to harness a pair of horses as a team.  “Don’t forget what I told you, talk to them and stroke them.” 

Okay, they were harnessed and led to the wagon.  A brown mare and a youngish gelding.  I led the mare.  She was more docile. 

Next came the driving part.  He thrust the reins into my two hands and gave instructions on their use and the terms GEE and HAW and off I went slowly.  The trouble was that I mixed my Gee with my Haw and at the same time pulled the wrong rein.  Poor horses.  They did not know where or which way to go.  Allister too was amused, by the grin on his face.  Harry wrote some notes for me and stood back as I read them and before I knew it I was trundling along toward the front gate with Harry trotting alongside.  When we got as far as the main gate we stopped and Harry then said, “Now, let’s see if you can back them up and turn and carry on up to the house.”  So, down I jumped and with instruction I took hold of the bridles and slowly turned them around and then went forward again and back to the house and stopped.  Harry was well pleased.  I was now a teamster (well, almost).  

Later, I was shown how to use a big rake and a harrow.  This was with just one horse and the mare was preferred for me as she was more docile.  I enjoyed using the rake.  I was on my own and it was an experience to be alone with a horse, though I am sure eyes were watching me that I did not come to any harm.  I soon was used to both the horses and they to me.  When they were out to pasture and I came for them they knew me well as usually I would pull an apple or a handful of oats from my pocket and they would then let me get on one or the other’s back for a free ride back to the stables. 

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