Straight from the Cows

Growing up on a dairy farm, I know what milk straight from the cow tastes like. Fresh, whole milk has a fuller texture and a richer aroma. Every morning growing up, one of us, often Dad, would bring a container of fresh milk up to the house. Mom would put it on the stove to pasteurize it. It was often still warm when many of us sat down for our typical breakfast of cereal. I liked the warm milk on my cereal and prefer it that way to this day, though I have switched to the skim milk version these days.

That’s the way it was on the farm. Barn to table. Chicken coop to table. Garden to table. I didn’t realize how much of a treat that fresh produce really was until I got older.

I spent plenty of time in the barn. Sometimes to help out and at other times because I liked being where the action was. Each morning and evening, the cows were put in their stanchions in our 30-stall dairy barn. They could munch on hay and drink from the drinking cups attached to the stanchions. Dad and my older brothers would work the milkers. I recall that we had three or four. The milker would get attached to a leather belt that went around the cow’s waist when it was their turn to be milked. The milker would get attached teat by teat and the other end was connected to a vacuum system. I can still remember the suction sound created when the milkers were operating. A different sort of synchronized symphony.

After a few minutes, the milker would get taken off, the cover removed and the fresh milk was emptied into 5-gallon pails on the cement between the rows of cows and gutters. When those were full, they would get carried to the adjacent milk house and poured into strainers on top of 10-gallon milk cans. The strainers would catch some of the fat and residue from the milk. I liked it when I got to change the pad in the strainer. We would let some of the numerous cats and kittens clean what they could off the pads after we took them out of the strainers.

When I got old enough and strong enough, I sometimes helped carry the pails from the barn to the milk house and back. As the 10-gallon cans got full, they were placed in a cooler in the milk house. Each day the milk hauler came and picked up full cans and left us more empty ones. It was a meaningful realization to me as a child that the milk from our cows wasn’t only helping feed them us, but many others as well.

Here are some of the items similar to the ones we used in our dairy operation:

I still wistfully recall that dairy barn smell from my youth. A mix of hay, milk, cows, and yes even manure, among other things. Speaking of manure, milk wasn’t the only thing that came straight from the cows when you hung out with them in the barn. If you weren’t watching, and if certain liquids and solids coming from the cow hit the concrete just right, you could get splattered with some different cow offerings. And of course, even when you had boots on and watched your step, you couldn’t avoid all the manure.

We sometimes helped clean the gutters too. It was a dirty and smelly job, but it had to be done and there was a sense of accomplishment when the last load of manure was hauled away. We might also help get the herd in from the pasture, spread hay for the cows, feed the calves in the pens nearby, and other small jobs depending on the time of year. I wasn’t afraid of the cows, but I would get fearful when my older brothers would put me up on the back of one. It seemed too high and unsteady a place to be.

As I headed into my early teens, we built a new barn and upgraded to a pipeline and bulk tank system. Milking wasn’t the same, but neither was my level of interest and the amount of time I was able to help. My favorite memories of growing up on a dairy farm are back in the old barn and milk house. Memories that came straight from the cows.

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