Today’s farm memoir comes to us from Ben.
I wrote this story 18 years ago when I sold the milk cows. Been a lot of changes since then. I don’t regret any of them. I notice I wrote my knees and shoulders hurt back then. Can’t imagine what they’d be like today if I was still milking. I just couldn’t; I’d have never physically been able to do it this long.
Today I’m not a dairy farmer anymore. Sold the milk cows. The cows were my friends and I was sad to see them loaded into the truck and leave… but it was just time. And I have to say that now that it’s over and done, I feel a million pounds lighter; a giant weight off my shoulders.
The cows were a big part of my life–and had been since, like, forever; I was always down in the barn growing up. Started helping Dad with milking when I was 10 years old. I was the fourth generation to be milking cows here. My Great Grandfather came to this farm in 1896. Built the old barn we call the granary in 1899. The first part of the dairy barn was built in 1924. Dad added onto it a couple times in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Mom and Dad built a silo in 1968, built another in 1976, built the pole barn, tore off part of the granary, built a couple machine sheds, and knocked down an old smaller silo. Mom and Dad also tore down the old house and built a new one.
You all know I gave my cows some rather… esoteric names… The auctioneer has a list of the cows coming in and sometimes he could read the ear tag and know who’s selling and other times I’m calling out names as they’re coming in: Erica, Louise, Lynnette, Kaylannii (auctioneer shakes his head), Comet, Antigone — which, of course he pronounced ‘Annti – gone’ and I had to say (phonetically here), “An-tig-o-knee; daughter of Oedipus from Greek mythology.”………. silence in the ring………. auctioneer says, “Ohh-kay…” Guy in front of me turns around and says “I don’t think they got that…” And Lynne Cow. The cow I named after Lynne Warfel-Holt, classical music host at Minnesota Public Radio. I told who she was named for and asked whoever bought her to please contact MPR and let Lynne know they were the new owner. They worked pretty hard at selling her. Kept saying she’s the only radio cow in there today. Ya know, I may not have had the best cows, but they sure had personality! And the auction people had more fun selling my cows then they did the rest of the cows!!
It was just time to do it. Kelly and I had been talking about selling, and weighing the pros and cons; definitely more pros to selling them than cons. (But the little voice way in the back of my head keeps saying “I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”) Hey, supper at 6:00, vacations, maybe my knees will still function in a few years, doing more things with the kids, maybe my shoulders will feel better, VACATIONS, etc.
Primarily it was a financial decision. Milk prices have been in the toilet the last two years. I was low on cow numbers the last 6 months and the price of replacement heifers is — and has been for the last couple years — just insanely high and getting higher. Supply and demand principles for cattle I guess. I have bought some cows, and got some bargains, but there’s no guarantee that a $1700 heifer will milk any better than an $800 heifer. I bought 3 cows and 1 heifer last spring; paid between $600 and $825 for the cows, $1150 for the heifer. All three cows turned out to be duds and two were gone by fall. I still had one of the cows, but she had to have a C-section and would not be bred back. The fancy heifer I still had but she had been bred back 4 times and I don’t think she was pregnant yet. And in the milking world it all comes down to getting pregnant and producing milk. Last week was a new high price for heifers in Zumbrota; $2260.00 for one pregnant cow. The previous high price was set just the week before. [2004 pricing]
I went to Zumbrota last week to see how cows were selling and to let them know I was interested in selling mine this week. I met with the sales manager and he escorted me into the front office, shut the office door and took my information (how many, herd averages, stanchion cows (as opposed to parlor cows)) and then he made several comments about how this is what they were expecting now and my name wouldn’t be on any of the presale publicity lest we trigger any ‘radio bandits’; people that would try to buy them before the sale to avoid the sales barn commissions. I got the distinct impression that he was trying to emphasis how confidential all this was. I went out and talked with a trucker I know about bringing my cows in and he acted the same way. It was very surreal how he kept scanning the parking lot, talking very quietly; even surreptitiously gave me papers behind his back. … very strange.
I’ll miss that big glass jar in the milkhouse called the receiver jar. It’s what the milk would come into from the pipes in the barn, before being pumped over to the bulk tank. When I was growing up and Dad and I would go to other farms, it was that glass jar that I was just fascinated with; watching the milk rush into that jar, I knew I had to be a dairy farmer so I could have that big glass jar. When we installed a different pipeline system about 12 years ago  the dealer wanted me to put in a stainless steel can. I said no way; I want that glass jar! If you haven’t seen it, it’s a tempered glass globe about 18 inches in diameter. There are four glass inlets molded into it about 6 inches long; one at the bottom that the milk is pumped out through, the one at the top is the vacuum inlet and one on each side connects to the milk pipeline that runs into the barn. The deal is you don’t mess with the connections between the glass jar and the other pipe; don’t want to break that outlet off the glass jar. Dealers were supposed to have an extra jar, but I never wanted to find out. Bad enough when a motor would quite at milking time and you had to call the dealer to make a ‘barn call’. Like a plumber in the middle of the night; it wasn’t cheap.
The night the cows sold we all went to Olive Garden for supper; that in and of itself no big deal. But we went at 6:00PM; ate like normal people. Got home it was only 7:30 and the kids still had time to shower and do homework. I took the kids to daycare before school this morning. Then went to Barnes and Noble (closed until 9:00) so got license tabs for the car, went to the chiropractor who was very pleased to hear I had sold the cows, filled the car with gas, went to Best Buy (closed until 10:00).
Finishing up here with aphorism’s that seemed appropriate for the time:
—One door never closes without another opening.
From the Tom Petty song ‘Into the Great Wide Open’ these two phrases:
—The future is wide open.
—The skies the limit.
What were you fascinated by as a kid that influenced you in your adult years?