One, two, three, four, five……… One of the first memories I have of milking was getting to go with Daddy sometimes to the Kraft plant fifteen miles away in Independence. Every morning Daddy would load the milk cans full of fresh milk on the back of our old farm truck and haul them to the milk plant.
When we got to Kraft and it was our turn, we pulled up right beside the conveyor belt that took the cans inside the milk plant. My job, which I thought was VERY important at the time, was to sit on the side of the truck bed with my pencil and little Southern States spiral pocket notebook and count the metal cans as they were unloaded onto the conveyor and then disappeared into the plant. One, two, three, four, five…..I would make a mark in my notebook for each can.
Daddy always kept those small notebooks and a couple of dusty pens and pencils in the glove compartment of the farm truck. I can still remember the smell of feed dust and dairy barn when I climbed in the truck ready to go do my important job. If I was lucky and Daddy had time we would stop at the store in Elk Creek to get a Pepsi to go with the yummy fresh cheese curds that we picked up at the Kraft plant. If there were no curds then a pack of nabs from the store would take their place.
I’m not sure how many cows we milked at that time but I do know it was in our seven stall stanchion barn. The milkers were attached by a clear rubber hose to a big metal can that collected the milk. The can also had a pipe running up to an air pipe that provided the suction to the milkers. When the can was about 3/4 full it would get emptied into one of the clean metal milk cans that we took to the plant. The cans would be stored and cooled until they were ready to be transported.
I don’t remember how old I was when we no longer had to haul the cans. Instead, the milk went straight from the milkers into a pipe that carried it to a milk tank in a newly built adjoining room. No more picking up cans because the milk truck would come every other day and pump the milk out of the big metal tank. We milked this way for the majority of my growing years.
Since there was no more work for a “milk can counter” I moved up to “cow feeder”. My cow feeder position was, like my counter job, strictly voluntary. I would walk down to the barn in the summer afternoons and take my position at the big grain barrel. An auger piped the grain from the metal grain bin outside into the big barrel with just a flip of a switch. I can remember the sound of the swish of the grain coming through the plastic pipe and into the barrel. There was a big metal scoop that had to be filled and then poured in front of each cow as she came in to be milked.
My job was to have the feed ready for the big black and white Holstein cows before they took their spot in the stanchion. Although most of the cows were gentle, startling them by walking in front of them and pouring feed could sometimes result in a swift back leg kick. This was not good for the cow and was especially not good for the person standing at the back end of the cow!
As I got older, Daddy started letting me put the milkers on the gentle cows that came to the stanchion spot on the end, next to my grain barrel. This meant that I didn’t have to walk behind or step between any of the cows. Eventually I became good enough to be a milker and would fill in when needed.
Earlier I alluded to Daddy’s farm truck smelling like “dairy barn”. Anyone who has milked, whether it was one cow or hundreds, knows what I am talking about. It was a mixture of grain, silage, manure and well, cow. It is a smell like no other and I think its uniqueness comes from being up close and personal with these gentle animals daily. I never thought of it as a bad smell but those specific odors would permeate into your clothes, your pores, and your hair. I can remember in the Spring, when the wild onions were growing in the pastures, the cows would even come in with “onion breath”. The dairy barn smell was like a brand on a farmer that identified him as a dairyman. Well, that and the black knee high pull on rubber boots. Passing a dairy today and smelling “that smell” still makes me smile and brings back so many memories.
Nothing was quite as pretty as black and white Holstein cows scattered out on lush green summer mountain pastures. I can remember that, like clockwork around 4:00 PM milking time, the cows would all mosey down from the meadow to the gate and be waiting for someone to open the gate so they could walk cross the road, through the barn lot and into the holding area where they would stand patiently until it was their turn to be milked. Being that close to the cows every day, it was hard not to get attached and have favorites.
Eventually, when I was in my upper teens, Daddy did upgrade to a milking “parlor” where there was no more need to bend over and put the milkers on the cows. The parlor milkers stood in a “pit” and the cow’s udder was pretty much eye level. I am sure Daddy’s knees and back were eternally grateful for this change. Then like many other dairies in our area, Daddy sold the herd and hung the milkers up for good in 2006.
It saddens me to see what the dairy industry has become today. Dairymen and their families are hard working, proud people and I am thankful that my daughter has a love for farming and remembers what it was like to get to go to the barn to play in the hay loft, feed baby calves on a bottle and help out with the dairy chores. I’m sure that these are memories that she will pass on to her daughter. And of course, my granddaughter’s Nana (me) will have a few stories to share too!