Nevermore

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.

Nevermore

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 [1992] 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.

3/23/2004

What were you fascinated by as a kid that influenced you in your adult years?

40 thoughts on “Nevermore”

  1. When I was about 7 or 8, we lived in a Dutch colonial flanked by massive evergreen trees; there was a 3-4 foot gap between these trees in the front of the house… just the right-size space for a kid my age. For reasons unknown, I decided to start a bakery in that space. I would mix and swirl the dirt and I discovered that adding differing amounts of water would change the hue of the dirt, so I could have icing. At one point, I remember bringing ashes from the grill to make yet another color and of course I used the evergreen bits as sprinkles. I did this two summers in a row – I don’t know where the inspiration came from. Neither of my folks or any of my grandfolks were bakers at all but clearly it’s in my genes! Did bakery work for several years, did baking catering for a while and then there’s the whole pie thing….

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Fascination is probably a little strong but there were things I noticed, things I paid attention to that presaged my interests (and my lack of interest) as an adult.
    In the house where I spent my pre-adolesence, the attic was unfinished and had a walkway down the middle. On either side, in the rafters, was old stuff- boxes of old family photographs, things that had been my parents’ when they were children, a six-drawer chest full of miscellaneous hardware and artifacts that had belonged to my grandfather, who died when I was four. I used to spend hours up in that attic, just poking around in the boxes and drawers. I can still remember what was up there and where it was located.

    Likewise, in my grandparent’s house, where my grandmother and uncle still lived, I liked to go into the attic space, which had been converted into a sleeping loft for a great uncle who had subsequently died. Up there were the handful of books that had belonged to my father when he was a boy—mostly serial books like The Newsboy Partners, The Boy from the Ranch, Jerry Todd and the Pirates, etc. Those became some of the first books I owned.

    My point is that, from an early age I was more interested in the past than any of my friends and acquaintances. With regard to my early disinterest, I never had any interest in professional sports or sports figures and that has never changed.

    I’ve related here before how, in my early teens, I used to take the bus downtown by myself and visit art galleries and museums. Nobody I knew did that and I don’t know what impelled me to do so. I don’t remember whether my parents knew that’s where I was going.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Bill’s talking about attics reminds me of my fascination with attics, but for different reasons. I just love all kinds of hidden-away places – attics, walk in closets – esp. if set into the eaves and are long and narrow. In the first house I remember, our kids’ bedroom had an crawl space that my mom put a couple of throw rugs in, and it was our play house.

    I wrote a blog about the traboules we found in France, passages through buildings that connected long streets parallel to the rivers.

    Traboules

    I still love tunnels and caves, as long as they aren’t wet and slimy… Love to snoop around people’s houses and see where their hidden spaces are.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. There is a great tunnel in the old Schmidt brewery building. Actually it connects two of the buildings, the bottle house and the brew house. It’s on the small side and some of the taller workers must have had to stoop over as they traversed it.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Wow – where are the rest of the baboons today??

    Ben, how long was it before you didn’t miss the cows, or didn’t that ever happen? I remember when we lived on our friends’ farm that one summer of 1981, Chuck would sometimes pitch in and do a neighbor’s milking if they had to be away past milking time – it’s just one way farmers help each other. But I saw how tied down the dairy farmers were. It must have been a huge relief, but I can see is was probably a tricky transition.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I still miss their personalities. And I miss being outside as much as I was back then. But not so much when it’s -20°. Or milking when it’s 90° and dripping humidity. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Well, some of it is hereditary. We used artificial insemination and dad used a bill that ranked low on temperament but high on other things. His daughters had terrible attitudes.

          I had a cow named Molly who was born without lenses in her eyes. She could see shadows and learned to get around mostly by listening to the other calves. Took her a few days in a new pen or pasture to learn where the fences were, then she was just fine; came and went with the rest of the calves. Once in awhile she’d get separated from the other cows and I’d have to go to the pasture to find her. She’d be standing there, just waiting for me, walking around a little bit, eating some grass, chewing her cud, but just waiting for help. I’d call to her and she’d follow my voice until she figured out where she was, then could get home. I bred her and her first calf was born with the same eye problem.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. I also was surprised to see few posts. I have had a day that started early and I am scheduled back-to-back all day. Will weigh in this evening.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. Boy, not many influenced today I guess.

    We’re going to Olive Garden again tonight. Missed it the last two years.
    We find some friends to go with, have a good time with a fun server, I order 2 Vanilla crème sodas (which is sort of a made up drink and sometimes they can figure it out and sometimes they can’t) and we’ll have leftovers for 3 day.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. I’ve had some busy days lately, and I expect that to continue for a couple more weeks. I started PT yesterday and I returned to FiftyNorth in Northfield to start swimming again today. I really need to prioritize my health right now.

    After swimming, I went to Take Five Guitars in Northfield and sold my Marshall Acoustic Soloist guitar and vocal amp. I haven’t used it for several years and never really used it much for playing gigs alone. I am getting to the point where I’d better lift and carry it when I can or I might never lift it again. I did get a good price for it. New ones are back-ordered so the guy in the shop was happy to receive it. Maybe someone younger can start a music career. To me it’s the end of an era, similar to Ben selling his dairy herd. I’ll never play solo in a coffee shop again. My brothers pooled their money and bought me that amp and it meant a lot to me. It was one of the nicest and most thoughtful gifts I ever received.

    Music, poetry, books and words have had the greatest influence on me ever since Mrs. Dorothy Smith taught me to read when I was six. Music always came naturally and words were easily memorized when set to music. So much can be expressed in poetry and music: love, gratitude, friendship, anger, spirituality, peace.

    I enjoyed reading your story, Ben. That must have been quite a day for you!

    Liked by 5 people

  7. I was influenced by both my parents in the arena of reading. My dad was a big reader – he turned me onto Scientific American, which I still take to this day. In later life he was a huge fan of Louis Lamour and Edgar Rice Burroughs. My mother didn’t read much when I was a kid (when in heck would she have time) but she a great reader now. In fact I think it’s about time I send her some more books!

    I’m sure I’ve mentioned it but they never tried to censor what I was reading. Not once.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. I thought Ben’s story was wonderful. It was hard for my Uncle Ronald to give up his milk cows and move to town to work in a boat factory. 1970 was not a good year for farmers.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I found fall leaves fascinating when I was young. There were so many shapes and colors, and each was prettier than the last. I would accumulate hundreds of them. I still pick up leaves in the fall, and press them in books. A lot about the natural world interested me, of course – bugs and animals and things you could grow from seeds.

    I recall there was one science class where we dissected things, and that part of science didn’t appeal to me much. I didn’t like the smell of the formaldehyde. One day we were scheduled to dissect cows’ eyes, and I feigned illness and stayed home that day.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I distinctly remember dissecting the cow eyes. In fact, I was just telling daughter about that.

      Speaking of things influencing us, here’s another story.
      A cow had died. The vet came and did a post mortem on it. I forget the details, but I knew our six or seven year old son would be coming home and be curious about this, so I pulled into the alley of the corn crib so it was out of sight and I closed the doors. He came home full of questions. Again, I don’t remember the details, but he seemed to know the cow was gone, he asked why were the doors shut etc. etc. and he really wanted to see the. cow. I tried to explain it was opened up, not trying to freak him out, but not really sure I should encourage it either. But eventually he was in the crib looking at this cow opened up. He walked around the cow and just kept saying “awesome!“ 15 years later he’s in college working with the coroner and doing autopsies. I tease him it all goes back to that cow.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. That was a few years ago when he was trying to decide medical or police. He is an EMT and is thinking he’d like to become a paramedic. But still a police officer for now.

          Liked by 2 people

  10. I found fall leaves fascinating when I was young. There were so many shapes and colors, and each was prettier than the last. I would accumulate hundreds of them. I still pick up leaves in the fall, and press them in books. A lot about the natural world interested me, of course – bugs and animals and things you could grow from seeds. Lakes and rivers.

    I recall there was one science class where we dissected things, and that part of science didn’t appeal to me much. I didn’t like the smell of the formaldehyde. One day we were scheduled to dissect cows’ eyes, and I feigned illness and stayed home that day.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Lovely story, Ben. I can only imagine how hard selling your cows was. Anything that you have given a name, that has a personality, and that you’ve had a relationship to would be really, really hard for me to give up. But I can certainly understand how freeing it would be of your schedule.

    For the last couple of days I’ve been watching the confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and I’m more concerned than ever. Not about her qualifications, but about several of the Republican senators on the committee. I greatly admire her restraint, her calm, articulate responses to even the most inane and mean spirited questions from Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton, in particular. What truly sinister, nasty human beings, if you can call them that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. They may be doing themselves more harm than good. There is a segment of the voting populace that will approve of their bullying and badgering, but it will repulse many others.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I sure hope you’re right. I sort of expect it from some of the older white males, but it’s really discouraging to see it in Cotton and Hawley.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. Rise and shine Baboons,

    What a long day. When I was young I yearned for walkie-talkies. I wanted secret codes and confidential communications to spy on the grown ups with. I begged Santa for them. But that never happened. My mother, aka Santa, said I did not need such foolishness. Blah blah blah. But now we have cell phones, the grown up version of walk-in-talkies. I don’t talk on the phone much,but I love texting which has its own “secret codes.”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I had walkie-talkies. Your mother was probably right—they weren’t as great as I thought they would be. Still, there’s something to be said for finding that out yourself.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I made my own walkie talkies when I was about five – got the idea from Captain Kangaroo. Two Dixie cups with a long string through the bottom of each. They also didn’t work as I hoped they would.

        Liked by 2 people

  13. I hate coming in so late I will have to go back and read everybody’s response but thank you Ben for the fun post
    what did I get as a kid that carried over and influenced me as an adult? It was kind of like free my brain and my energy started at that level and athletics physical activity music art just a real general curiosity had me going a mile a minute as a kid and nothings changed I’m a mile wide and an inch deep but I do still love him music art forts and physical activity is really important

    Liked by 5 people

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