The Holstein Memories
Of Christopher Kimball

Dateline: 28 March 2014

Back in February of 2006 I posted an essay here titled, Making An Agrarian Family Calendar, which I was prompted to write after reading an editorial by Christopher Kimball, editor of Cook's Illustrated magazine. Today's blog post comes by way of Mr. Kimball's other magazine, Cook's Country, a copy of which recently arrived in the mail addressed to my son, James. 

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. :-)


roger u said...

The pic of the manure carrier carrier reminds me of the engine removal system set up in the tugboat I used to work on. Heavy rails permantly mounted overhead to which chains could be attached to hoist the engine up level with the deck and then slide it over to the wall where there was a removable panel for a crane to reach through. In a farm application, I could see it being raised high enough to easily dump into a truck or wagon for transport.

Simple, low tech solutions are the most fun!

Unknown said...

We have been trying for years to fund a family cow. (We have 4 kids, 3/4 of them are boys, and go through 2 gallons a day!) I would love for our kids to have the opportunity to drink raw milk from the cow they know and grow to love. Finally, I think I've found the perfect sweet jersey girl for a price we can swing. I continue to pray that God shows us the way to make this cow happen for our family. :)

Anonymous said...

So that's the purpose of the rail system! Having seen these in out of use dairy barns, I had thought it was for transport of feed, or milk containers. Now I know better.



Unknown said...

Hello there Mr. Kimball,
I read this post when you originally posted it, but last week I worked with a rail manure system exactly like the one in the picture, and remembered your post.
It worked extremely well and when I put up a barn, I'm putting one in.
I took a four day draft horse workshop right in my town of Brattleboro at Fair Winds Farm. It was indescribable. I posted pictures and links over at my blog.
I was also given a book that I think you would find intriguing, invaluable and enlightening...."The Resiliant Farm and Homestead" by Ben Falk.
Pam Baker

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Pam,

What a great experience. My only experience with work horses (and oxen) was when I went to school in Vermont, long ago. I have Ben Falk's book, and it is excellent. Thanks for the comment.