Dateline: 28 March 2014
In the recent issue, Christopher Kimball writes of a time not that long ago (He was born in 1951) when small dairy farms still dotted the rural landscape, when farmers knew their cows by name, and when kids still had plenty of opportunities to help out with farm work….
"I have fond and lasting memories of Holsteins, since I spent many summers in Vermont helping out with the afternoon milking. This was a small mountain farm operation with 25 head (fewer milkers at any one time), a barn filled with flies, and an overhead manure bucket on rails.
I soon learned each of the Holsteins' names and personalities. Some hauled off and swatted their tails more than others; some liked a nice scratch behind the ears, like a dog. I can still feel their warmth; the swollen bellies; the heavy, bony heads; the supple, silky skin of the udders, and the rhythmic pumping of the [milking] machine.
I also learned where food comes from. The last pail of milk was brought into the farmhouse, so I drank raw milk in summers, knowing every step of its production, from calling in the herd to shutting the barn door once the cows had returned to pasture.
We have lost the intimacy between farm and table. Farm kids are lucky. They press cider, they dig up carrots and hill potatoes, they milk cows, and they may even help with the taking of life, gratefully putting food on the table.
Cooking does not exist apart from fields and barns. If you have never milked a cow, it is hard to appreciate the taste of milk. A cold glass still reminds me of a small red barn on a mountain farm a very long time ago."
To some degree, I can relate to Christopher Kimball's recollections. I worked for a year on a dairy farm after high school. There were about 6o head of Holsteins. I learned that dairy farming is hard, never-ending work, and I concluded that I would not want to be a dairy farmer. But there were certainly endearing aspects to the work and, in retrospect, I have good memories of that time.
Christopher Kimball's memory of an "overhead manure bucket on rails" led me to do an internet search…
|Click Here to learn more about this old-style manure carrier. It would not be that difficult to make a track-carrier like this, and I can see where such a tool might prove useful. It's something to "file away" for possible future use.|
Forking manure into one of those things was, undoubtedly, a lot of work. The farm I worked on had a gutter in the floor behind the cows, with a chain-driven "gutter cleaner" that carried the manure outdoors to a manure spreader. Once a day, after the morning milking, the gutter was cleaned out. But there was an addition on the barn with maybe a dozen cows that had a gutter without a cleaner in it. So I had to fork the straw and manure into a wheelbarrow, then wheel it into the part of the barn with the mechanical cleaner, and dump it.
Sometimes I had to clean that gutter out while the cows were still in their stanchions. One day a cow slapped me in the mouth with her manure-and-urine soaked tail, and my mouth wasn't closed when I got hit. That isn't a fond memory. :-)