Calling ‘Bossie’ stands the test of time

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“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.

Responses

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

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.”

Missing Grandpa

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.

Geezer

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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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

16 COMMENTS

  1. I was hoping to read about others using this endearing phrase. Every morning at 5 I would get up and head out to get the cows and call “Com Bos” in a sing song manner over and over. Goodness what memories.

  2. My mother always hollered down the lane “commmme Boss!” all the cows heads would come up with ears forward and the matriarch cow would start the girls moving up the lane! I still use it today when my girls are out in pasture. After acquiring some new girls it only took them about 1month to learn the call. They will come right in now and get their bit of grain.

  3. we always called our cattle by yelling, sing song, “Come Boss.” They were beef Shorthorns, raised by my dad’s side, my mom’s side had milking Shorthorns. We are midwesterners of mixed descent, but mostly French Canadian ancestry. My dad always said the call was come boss, but he pronounced it somewhat like ka bise. He was probably at least 3rd or 4th generation American, and they had family who fought in the Civil War, but French was his 1st language and he sometimes said things a little funny. The bossie name for catttle, cows in particular does seem to be a common thing, especially when you go back to the old time farmers and country folk of lots of backgrounds, and the Latin term makes the most sense. Seems like a really old timey, but common thing. A few of them were a bit bossy, but most of them were just sweethearts. Ours were very used to us and docile for the most part. They were like pets. And there was always a lead cow to the herd. She seemed to be more boss than the bull.

  4. My dad used to call the cows from the pasture to the barn using, “Kubas kubas, hup hup. We were just talking about this subject tonight at a little outdoor party. My family’s farm was in SW Michigan and I because of our Dutch heritage, I thought they were dutch words for :come cow. Nice to hear the phrase was other places besides our own farm. :)

  5. Wow, that is cracking me up! I think the ca boss (I know I spelled it differently, but same thing) DOES stand the test of time. My dad, 100% American, thru several generations, but also 100% French Canadian descent, and French was 1st language, also called the cows in saying ka boss. I think somewhere along the line, we heard it was “Come, boss.” The cows were bossies. Because they could be but probably going back to the LATIN word for cows/cattle.

  6. I remember my Grandpa calling, “Come boss, come boss!! and hearing his voice echo against the woods at the far end of the field. Always wondered about the history of the call and where it might have originated. And how the cows were trained to their own stanchion was amazing to me.

  7. Thank you so much for the explanation. I too have often wondered about the cow call. While I have long ago left that farm in Northern Iowa, I still recall both my grandpa and my dad calling in the cows for evening milking. I recall it was “Kubas” when calling them in from the field and “Soobas” to settle them while standing in the stanchion. One time I was having a bit of time getting them to return to the barn yard, so I started to throw a rock or two at them. Dad let me know in no uncertain terms that day you don’t want them to run back to the barn or they will tend to not let there milk down. So I never threw another rock, just practiced more on that call.

  8. When I was young, on the farm, we would call “Come Bossy, come Bossy!”, and the cows would come. The lead cow, always named Bossy, was the one that wore the bell. She was the one who bossed the others around simply by shaking her horns at them while giving them “that look”. It was really her horns that made her the boss cow, the horns that got her the special stanchion in front of the line. It was always amusing to watch her twist her neck to get her horns in one at a time like a ritual. It was all about the oats and molasses.
    Enjoyable reminiscing, thank you for that!

  9. I’ve just taken a huge trip down memory lane, thank you! I told my teenage daughter about her great grandmother calling in the milk cows with “Come boss, come boss!” She just asked me to google it! I never knew that it was actually a common phrase for calling in the cows. I really miss my Grandmother and my time milking the cows with her on the farm in North Dakota. I can hear her voice right now!

  10. I’m from North Eastern North Carolina. My granddaddy called the cows twice every day. He called them in for milking at 4 in the morning and four in the afternoon. His call was “waaaarden-waaaarden um-bashay!”. I know there are some Scottish roots in our family. I just wish I had asked him exactly what he was saying. I would love to hear him do that one more time

  11. I grew up on a farm. We actually had 2 farms about 3 miles apart, each with the same river running through them and each was 65 acres. One farm, with a large storage barn, was about 1/3 pasture for our Hereford herd and 2/3 in hay. The second farm, (the home farm) was about 1/4 in pasture with the rest divided between wheat, oats and hay along with our house, hay barn, various storage sheds and the milking barn. On that farm we kept our dairy herd – 24 milk cows. In the morning and in the evening my father or mother (Dutch heritage) would call the dairy cows up from their pasture to be milked. They were usually close to the river at the back of the property where the the grass grew faster and thicker along the banks and there was fresh water for them to drink whenever they wanted. When my parents called the herd in, they would cup their hands in front of their mouth and make a low, almost alpenhorn type call, ‘Come Bahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhs’. I think it was derived from ‘Come Bossy’ but I’m not sure and both my parents have now passed. It’s a very cool memory because we lived in a small mountain valley in the Kootenays and especially when my Dad called, his deeper voice would echo off the surrounding mountains in a way that will be forever locked in my memories. I can remember fixing my eyes on where the path to the river entered the woods and waiting for the first sighting of the cow with the bell leading her herd behind her in single file into the milking barn. Each of them knew their own stanchion and knew there would be a feed box of grain or ‘chop’ for them to munch on during milking. In the winter, after they finished their grain their manger would be filled with hay. During cold nights and sometimes during cold days in the winter, the cows stayed in the barn. They were let out in the morning and the evening before milking to stretch their legs and have a drink while Dad cleaned the barn and filled the mangers. I can remember my Dad using a sledge hammer to break holes in the ice near the shore so the cows could drink. He’d break it open in the same places twice every day so the ice buildup never got too thick in the drinking holes. I can remember laying In bed at night in the summer, as a child, listening to the peaceful sound of the way off melodic clang of the lead cow’s neck bell as she grazed along the river bank. Wonderful memories – getting teary eyes just thinking about it <3

  12. I often wondered, as a child, what that strange “Ku Boooooss, Ku Booooooss, Ku Booooss” call my father belted out from the barn door was. I knew, of course, that he was calling the cows, but I had no idea what Ku Boss meant, or where it came from. Nevertheless, I’d shout it right along with him in anticipation of our herd of milking Holsteins lumbering up the hill from – at times – over a mile away. It wasn’t until much later, once I began my avid interest in my German genealogical roots, that I discovered this was a pretty common phrase uttered at farms far and wide! I lost my dad last year at the age of 83 due to complications of Alzheimer’s, and this memory of him is one of my favorites. Thanks for a nice walk down memory lane!

  13. My dad, born 1910 in southern Michigan, used to call the cows in with “Come boss, come boss, come boss.” Our part of the country was influenced by descendants of New Netherlanders, so I’ve wondered if the phrase might have had Dutch origins. Any thoughts on this?

  14. Anyone ever heard of “ Coe…..Anch….Coe….Anch?” That’s how my Mama calls them. And I’ve heard Coy Coy Coy.

  15. Thank you for discussing this subject. My grandfather, who died around 1980 or so, was a dairy farmer in upstate New York along the Vermont border. He had a herd of Guernseys and used to call the cows “Bossy” and talk to them one by one when he went in the field or called them in for milking. I always wondered where that name came from. Up there you needed a silo so they didn’t starve in snowy weather. He had a McCormick Farmall tractor from the early fifties, probably bought used. My dad grew up in the great depression. There were four kids. Dad and his brothers milked the cows by hand – and got strong forearms, but they always had raw milk to trade for firewood and food. Homeless men would wander by occasionally and granddad would give them work, a meal and a place to sleep in the barn if needed. I have a picture of him on an old horse drawn mowing machine when he was about 20 years old. Good guy. Fond memories. Miss those days.

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