“Many the morn when the mist covers the valley as I softly call, ‘Come, Boss, come, Boss,’ and the day begins with a shining promise of fresh milk and churned butter on the table.”
— Donald Abrams, 1924
Not long ago, a friend and I were chatting about our collective memories of having grown up on a farm. She asked me if I remember anyone in my family bringing the milk cows in at milking time by calling them “Bossie.”
I told her I remembered, especially, my Great-Grandpa Charlie using that almost sing-song call of “Come Bossie, come boss!”
It set our minds to wondering if it was a universal summons, and how in the world it got started. Linda went home and did some research and learned that the name Bossy likely originates from “the genus for cows is Bos taurus. Apparently Bos is the Roman word for cow.”
Still, we wondered if many people still use this term today and if most farm folks remember their families using this call for their milk cows.
Linda posted the question on “Homesteading Today” on the Internet.
Some of the responses she shared with me were most interesting.
One man wrote that he remembered calling the cows with “CuBooooosss! Hup! Hup!”
He shared this interesting story of his grandfather and uncle who, as youngsters, held a most unique job in a village each morning and each evening. The two brothers would call “CuBosss” as they walked down the alleys in town, as it was their job to pick up everyone’s village milk cows that had been turned out into the alley after the morning milking.
The two boys would herd the gentle cows to some bottom ground down by the river to graze all day long while the children were all in school. As soon as school let out for the day, the two boys would then call them up again, herding them back down the alleys, letting each cow off at their respective homes to be milked and fed that evening.
The brothers were paid 3 cents per head, per week, for their escorting duties.
Another person wrote to say, “For us, it was always more like, “He, Boss, He, Boss!”
Memories from another writer recalled the call to be more like “Sue, Boss!”
One lady wrote, “It’s interesting that you would mention this …. my father and the farm are now long gone, but I do remember as a kid that my Dad would holler, ‘Sa Boss, sa boss” and all the cows would come up the lane to the barn. Thanks for bringing up old memories. I miss both — my father and the farm.”
I found this note interesting: “To call the cows in at milking time, it was ‘Come Boss, come boss’ and they actually would come home on the run, probably because each got a hand full of oats when they got there. I forgot about this: ‘sooooboss’ was to get them to stand still. With Tiny, we used this command outside in the barn yard. She didn’t need to be stanchioned to be milked.”
A farmer from Texas writes, “When I was a kid on the farm, Dad always called the cattle to eat by hollering ‘Cu Cow, Cu Cow.’ Some farmers had a cow calling horn on their pickup. Don’t think it makes much difference what you used, as long as the cattle associated that sound with being fed. All animals understand food.”
Another fellow wrote, “I can still hear my grandfather’s voice, yelling, ‘come bossy, come bossy, come bossy’ across the barnyard at milking time. Funny how I thought he was the only one in the world who said that! And I had no idea what it meant, but I’d be right beside him yelling the same thing. Gosh, I miss those days.”
Writing in to say his family called the cows with “Sa Boss,” this fellow said, “We learned it from dad, who learned from his grandpa. I miss hearing my grandpa call his cows. My grandparents farmed in Ohio. We’d visit every summer when we were kids. We’d get up early to help grandpa do chores. Seemed like the air was always still, thick with humidity and a bit of fog. I can still smell the corn cobs in the bin. My grandpa would call the cows from the woods, and they’d always come a runnin!”
From West Virginia: “Since we’re hillbillies, we call our livestock with “Woooookeeee, come on, come on!”
She recalled that her first Jersey she ever milked was named Buttercup, and her husband’s childhood milk cow, which was almost like a pet, was named Bessy.
My aunt and uncle, Dee and Howard, had a cow that was so much like a family pet that they didn’t need to call her to come in to be milked; she was always close at hand. They named her “HowDee” by putting their two names together, and called their farm “HowDee Acres.”
Uncle Howard would hand milk that cow and Aunt Dee would churn the most delicious butter from that sweet milk.
It is clear from reading the postings from all of these farm folks that “Bossy” as a standard summoning call for cattle remains strong. One dairyman wrote to say, “Every morning at 5:45 I still holler, ‘Come Bossy, come bossy’ about 10 times. And by the time I get everything ready to milk, 30 cows are waiting at the gate. And yes, mine all have names. Does that make me a geezer?”
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