youth milking cows

“A Dairy Girl to Start makes a Dairy Girl at Heart”

I was born a Dairyman’s Daughter because there was a time when being a Dairyman actually earned a living (What?!) for a farmer engaged in the business of milking cows. (What!? I know, right.) I have recently been enjoying milking goats down on the farm. Our family’s Agriculture Legacy includes a lot of dairy business.

Dairy Legacy

My great-grandfather David Walker Baxter relocated to the Springfield area from Scotland and nearly every story I have heard about that generation includes “bringing the milk cows up from the creek for milking time across the street”. My grandparents, Lee and Emogene Wilkerson, milked cows and sold their milk. My youngest memories on our Century Farm include me sitting in the feed box to play while my grandparents and uncle milked cows in the milking parlor (where cows stand to be milked) just outside the door. My uncle is still living life fresh, two times daily and my mom and dad milked until 2007. It was the best childhood I would have never known to ask for…the experiences, the skills, the life lessons…it was nothing less than a gift to my existence today.

Dairy Dawn

Although my Big Farmer and I have avidly kept milking out of our farm plan, I am currently milking a couple of does (mama goats) who have more than enough milk to share because they have recently had kids (baby goats). We are feeding this milk to a triplet kid in a bottle because her mama just can’t make enough to feed three. Milking is a 24/7/365 job. It takes precedence before everything else which isn’t for everyone. As a Dairyman’s Daughter, I love milking! It is the absolute best way for farm kids to grow up (in my biased opinion). To my few friends that still milk cows, can I please come milk your cows? If non-farming consumers were to list their aversions to the dairy business starting at the top (of the day), number one would probably be a lack of desire to start work before dawn. It’s a bit of a cliche, but it is true that “milking” often starts before daylight.

As a Dairyman’s Daughter you develop a disgusting love of the predawn hour that most folks will never understand. But let me try to describe some of the sounds and sights that I have experienced while ya’ll are finishing your beauty sleep. The day before the snow came, there was no breeze and it was a balmy 40 degrees before dawn. It seemed that not only the farm, but the entire world, was afraid to breathe out loud. I didn’t think it could get any quieter. But it did the very next morning as everything lay under a think blanket of heavy, wet snow. The silence was deafening. Being deafened by silence is a cool experience (particularly now that I am a parent…).

Before dawn, you can appreciate the ethereal glow of a mighty oak tree, whose giant branches are dressed with white snow on the topsides but are a natural naked brown on the undersides. This oak tree is awesome and eerie when uplit by the light pole in the farm yard. That tree is magically illuminated in a subtle shade of pink that glows at a ‘wowza’ level when the very earliest light before sunrise, without the hinderance of a single gray cloud, catches those branches by surprise. (And these are things I have experienced just this week! It doesn’t include the first 20 years.)

 Let’s just pause here a moment for me to apologize for not sharing a photo of such a spectacular visual concert. The Dairyman’s Daughter in me thinks, “You ought to try getting up to see it for yourself.”—after all, that WOULD be the BEST way to see it. There are also “rules” for going milking. I have included three of the most dominant ones below…

1) Everything is WET

Somedays, the milking parlor is much a-kin to a summer slip and slide….

Everything will get wet and it will stay wet. When things become dry, within moments they will be wet again. This constant wetness is often the result of repeated washing to keep milking spaces and fixtures (and cows and farmers) as clean as possible so Dairy Farmers can deliver safe, nutritious milk for consumers to use. Because of the wetness, electronics are not encouraged. As proof to this point, now we carry phones and cameras in our pockets and there STILL aren’t many milking pictures from the family farm! When I was growing up, it never crossed our minds to take a camera (let alone a phone) into the milk barn. There are no more than just a few pictures and a lifetime of memories to prove our years spent milking cows.

2) It is often Dark

From Dawn Until Done….

Technology is amazing, but I’m not sure I have the skills to make my cell phone camera perform before daylight. Winter milking memories are not very fond. Combining cold with shorter days makes for a dark start and finish. Things aren’t just cold, they can become frozen. Frozen solid. And the hot water heater is already empty for the first time (repressed memory…). My stress level is skyrocketing just remembering the things we had to do in the dark, cold, frozen winter. For my goat milking adventure, I chase away the darkness with my stocking cap that has a built in (and rechargeable!) LED push-button headlamp. Ahh, technology.

3) There will be MUD…

The Dairyman’s Workspace

…as well as mud’s #1 partner in crime: Crap (affectionately known as “that’s Not-Mud….”). There are Not-Mud piles, and Not-Mud puddles, and there is Not-Mud all over the hooves that are closely adjacent to the joint workspace of a Dairyman and their milk cow (or goat). I feel like this is a good point to reference the necessity of Rule #1… There’s so many things I could say about Not-Mud but we don’t have that kind of space here. The adage is true: Not-Mud really does smell like money to a farmer because it is proof that our animals are healthy and happy and therefore productive. And those are things that ALL of us, farmers and consumers alike, prefer to be.

A recent fair-weather view of the Century Farm where cows are still milked two times daily.

Dairy Today

Just the other day as part of my titled job, I was assigned to attend the Missouri Dairy Expo. It was like being among family since I knew a large portion of the attendees (some of them were even actual family). My familiarity was not a reflection of my extensive attempts at networking, but instead a lifetime spent growing up in the dairy community and a testament to how small that community is becoming in our area. It was fun to fit in, where the lingo and science hasn’t changed (but has improved) and everything was much like riding a bicycle: you just don’t forget memories so vivid.

Goat Milking Machine: best farm purchase so far this year

Milking Goats is the Present

My goat milking project is a trip down memory lane each morning. I could go on and on and on (but, soon it will be time to milk, again). The rules for milking cows and milking goats are much the same, just at half the capacity (this is a farming joke that references a cow’s udder—where milk is made— which has 4 “spickets (called teats)” whereas goats only have 2 of the same). Milking still affords the same troubles and aggravations. But so far, I have found that it also provides the same adventures, overcomes the same challenges, and experiences the same satisfactions like watching sunrises and saving money by not having to buy bagged milk replacer. As an added bonus, upon request Amazon delivered to us a gleaming, (rechargeable) battery powered goat milking machine and it has been the best $100 we have spent on the farm so far this year. While I am enjoying my morning milkings, I am glad that its necessity will end, and so will the chore, just in time for a different season on the farm. But when I make that transition it won’t change the fact that since I was a Dairy Girl to Start, I’ll still be a Dairy Girl at Heart.  

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