The Skim Milk Cow

I never really thought much about cows and the milk that they produce. I guess I have always known in the abstract that the two were related. It is just that I was raised in the City of Buffalo and am accustomed to buying quarts of milk from vending machines and grocery stores. The actual origins of the milk that we drink became sort of detached from my consciousness. Oh sure, I have seen television pictures of cows being milked by hand and vacuum machines. Yet it all seems sort of removed from reality. I suppose I might appreciate the connection more if I had to get up at 3:30 A.M. every day to milk the bovine suppliers.

In grocery stores, we see many hundreds of types of food, produce and beverages. I don't know that I ever think about where it all comes from. It is just sort of there every time I need to pick up groceries. Milk is just another fluid that comes in plastic or waxen containers.

It was the visit by my great nephew, Mason McGinnis, that started me looking at milk in a more respectful light. At three years of age, Mason is a regular imbiber of what we call “whole milk.” To my wife and I, drinkers of “skim milk,” this concoction called “whole milk” looks and tastes like a pale syrup of rich fat buttermilk.

I often wondered how they separated out the various grades of milk, like “skim”, 1%, 2%, “whole milk” and “butter milk.” A part of me knows that a milk cooperative processes the cow's milk and pasteurizes and separates out the various grades of milk product for sale commercially.

But, another and younger part of me saw several herds of spotted cows standing about their various pastures, contentedly chewing their cud and turning it into various grades of milk products.

In one pasture, I could visualize a large herd of the spotted bovines chewing on a special type of grass and fodder. These were the “two per cent cows.” They were a little slimmer than the “whole milk cows” in the front pasture. And of course, the “one percent cows” were down right trim in appearance as befitting their slimmer milk out put. Lastly, I could see the “skim milk cows” who looked down right skinny munching away at the sparse grass in the upper pastures.

I don't know how they all got separated into their various designations, but the “whole milk” cows acted decidedly snooty in all of their fatty splendor. They talked only to the two per cent cows, who in turn lorded it over the one per cent cows. The “skim milk” cows of course talked to no one. They were the poor cows of the herd and could only produce a thin and watery milk.

Each herd was milked by a special farmer. The “whole milk” cows had a stout farmer with large hands to handle the fatty bovines. Each of the other herds had a successively slimmer attendant. The “skim milk” cows were attended by a scrawny slip of a lad who was small and thin enough to draw forth the pale liquid from the thin and shrunken udders.

And of course, the wagons and trucks that transported the product reflected the value of their content. A huge shiny tanker hauled away the “whole” milk products. Successively smaller vehicles transported the remaining products. Until, finally, the “skim milk” was hauled away in several large pails on an old hand cart.

This was of course before the age of cholesterol consciousness. When the population at large began to realize that “whole milk” was good for children but not for adults, things began to change in the bovine universe.

The skim milk cows became much more valuable because their fat conscious product was much more in demand. The farmers began to give the skinnier bovines a better pasture to graze in and better containers to handle their milk. In fact, the whole order of the cow world became inverted. Now the fat cows ate in the poorer upper pastures and the one and two per cent cows grazed next down the slope until finally, the rich green grass of the bottom land was reserved for the skim milk cows.

The skim milk cows were philosophical from a lifetime of adversity. They didn't question their new-found improvements. They just chewed on the rich green grass and soon became heavier and heavier until their milk product became fatter and fatter. So too the “whole milk” cows produced a thinner and thinner milk from eating the poorer and sparser grasses in the upper pasture.

The farmers of course began to realize the connection between greener grass and fatter milk and soon began rotating the herds up and down the pastures so that they all began to produce a uniform grade of milk that was then shipped in the same trucks to the milk cooperatives and separated out for commercial sale.

The herds all mingled quite freely with each other now, for of course they had learned a valuable lesson. They came to realize that much of what they became, and were proud of, was the result of how they were nurtured. If you feed a cow well and treat her favorably, she will produce a better grade of milk.

      Today, when you drive by a dairy farm you will see all of the various cows sharing the good pastures. They know it is the right way to behave. For, no one wants to be the “skim milk cow.”


                    May 11th,1999

                      (935 words)

                 Joseph Xavier Martin