Finn Cram, 9, gets cow-milking pointers from Andy Jalbert at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. Cram was one of over 100 people who stood in line on the first day of the winter school vacation for the chance to try their hands at milking Raven, a patient, 5-year-old Holstein. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

WESTBROOK, Maine — The line was out the door and into the barnyard Monday at Smiling Hill Farm as more than 100 people waited their turn to try milking one placid, patient Holstein cow named Raven on the first day of the week-long winter school vacation.

“You take your two fingers and thumb,” said farmworker Andy Jalbert, giving quick lessons before letting each greenhorn have a go, “then slide them down the teat and squeeze lightly.”

Some got the hang of it quicker than others.

“Here, put your hand on top of mine, and we’ll do it together,” Jalbert said to the latter, making sure every child experienced some success. “There, do you want to pet her now?”

The hands-on, cow-milking activity served both parents and the farm by giving kids something to do during their time off and helping the diverse farm operation pull in some needed funds while their cross-country ski trails were idled for lack of snow.

“It’s great to see kids from the Portland area here,” said Smiling Hill Farm President Hillary Knight. “Some of them have never seen a cow before and the extra income is nice, too.”

A donation jar by the barn door sat stuffed with green bills.

Andy Jalbert demonstrates proper cow-milking technique at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. The farm opened its 35-head milking barn to the public on the first day of the winter school vacation. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Knight’s grandfather, Roger Knight, first opened the family farm for such public events decades ago as a way of preserving its open space in the face of Portland’s growing sprawl. The operation is only five miles from the heart of the city on outer Congress Street.

Now, Smiling Hill operates a 35-head, glass-bottle dairy, a lumber business, ice cream parlor, cross country running and skiing trails as well.

Several parents in line said the cow-milking fun was just part of what they had planned to occupy their childrens’ time during a vacation without enough snow and ice for sledding or skating.

“Today it’s haircuts and cows,” one queued father said. “Tomorrow they’re going skiing with mom.”

“You should have seen the Children’s Museum on Saturday,” another parent piped in, “It was wild.”

A few kids decided they didn’t want to milk Raven after getting up close and seeing how big she was. Others dove into the task with gusto.

One boy, concentrating on milking, nearly got drenched when the 5-year-old bovine decided she had to pee.

Janiah Goodwin, 10 (above right) gets milk from a cow, after a quick lesson from Andy Jalbert, at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. More than a hundred people waited in line for the chance to try milking Raven, a patient, 5-year-old Holstein (above left) on the first day of the winter school vacation. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / Troy R. Bennett | BDN

“Whoa, sorry about that,” Jalbert said as the youngster dove for cover. “That happens all the time. I’ll probably get hit 10 times today.”

The farm also brought out some baby cows for folks to pet while waiting in line. Outside, a pen full of goats munching on old Christmas trees waited to be appreciated.

At one point, a black farm cat named Mr. Wiggles made an appearance, meandering through the crowd, eliciting squeals of glee as he allowed himself to be petted and admired.

Finally, more than two hours after the event began, the last two children in line got their chance while parents clicked away with phone cameras.

With the barn door shut, gentle Raven laid down to chew her cud in peace and perhaps have a well-earned nap.

“We picked her for a reason,” Jalbert said. “She’s wicked nice.”

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.