I used to milk cows one-handed. I have two hands, but I only ever prepped and stripped cows with my right hand. I also only carried milking units and attached them with my right hand.
Then, three years ago, I developed tendonitis in my right shoulder. We had grown our cow numbers and, apparently, one can only milk so many cows before developing a repetitive stress injury. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
The tendonitis became so painful that I couldn’t even hold a dipper up with my right hand.
I switched to milking cows and carrying milkers with my left hand. The first couple days were awful. I had to teach myself to prep and strip with my left hand. Plus, my left arm didn’t have the strength and stamina of my right arm.
But, I persisted. And, within a couple weeks, I was milking as efficiently as if I had been born left-handed.
I milked entirely left-handed until the tendonitis in my right shoulder finally resolved. Interestingly, strength training is what helped me overcome the tendonitis.
According to my physical therapist, tendonitis often develops when joints don’t move properly, which is often caused by muscle weakness or imbalance. There are other causes, as well, so if you’re experiencing joint pain, please see a doctor or physical therapist.
I used to think that, as a dairy farmer with a physically demanding job, I didn’t need strength training. Now, I’m a big believer in the benefits of resistance exercise.
Once I could use my right hand and arm normally again, I switched to bilateral milking. I use my right hand and left hand equally to prep, strip, attach, and carry milkers.
Beyond milking, I strongly believe in the importance of balancing physical effort between both halves of my body. When I push up feed or carry pails, I make sure one hand/arm isn’t doing all the work.
This practice has paid dividends, especially during the past two months.
In mid-December, I jammed my right thumb and damaged a ligament. I haven’t had full use of my right hand since. I’ve been milking cows — and doing almost everything else — with my left hand.
The good news is that this time, my left hand and arm didn’t require any training to achieve proficiency. And even though it will be a while yet before my right thumb regains full strength and range of motion, recovery is going well.
Before long, I will be milking with both hands again.
Perhaps you, too, could benefit from bilateral milking.
The author is a dairy farmer and writer from central Minnesota. She farms with her husband, Glen, and their three children. Sadie grew up on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agricultural communications and marketing. She also blogs at Dairy Good Life.