Monday, April 5, 2010

Milking Cows and Drinking MIlk

I have often reflected on the circumstances of my youth and I am sure that most of you have been affected by many of the same things that I was to one degree or another. One of the things that was a constant throughout all of our growing up years was the morning and evening ritual of milking the cows. Mother had been raised on one of the larger dairy farms in the area and Dad undoubtedly had his share of experiences with milking cows from a very early age. I remember Dad telling about how he helped Uncle Leo Passey with his milking and chores beginning at a very tender age, probably around eight. For most of the families in Lanark, a few dairy cows were almost a way of life. They provided a living for nearly all of the families in town, and for that matter throughout the Bear lake Valley. Almost every family had a few milk cows to go along with the other farm animals. One of the older men in town once spoke of a very fundamental economic prinicple, which seemed to govern most of the families in Lanark, whether they were aware of it or not. His name was David Orr and though he was no great philosopher, he did have things figured out fairly well so far as the basics go. He used to say that in order to survive in Bear Lake Valley a family should have one cow for every two kids in the family. This, of course, was basic subsistance economics, but it was probably quite true. Cows provided not only milk, but cheese, cream, and butter. Each cow had a calf every year which would then be raised and later either added to the dairy herd if it was a heifer or slaughtered and turned into beef if it was a bull. The hide was then used for everything from making shoes to harnesses for the teams. I didn't always appreciate the milking or the cows for that matter nearly as much as a perhaps I should have done. We always had plenty of milk to drink. Yes, it was raw milk and we didn't get TB or any other malady from drinking it, contrary to the concerns of more modern society. I well remember how good mother could make a little stale homemade bread covered with milk gravy and maybe a little sausage or bacon mixed in together with a couple of tablespoons full of homemade chili sauce and a little salt and pepper taste. I well remember watching Mom or Dad standing at the seperator and hand turning it as the cream was separated from the milk. I remember the old wooden churn which was used to churn butter from the cream and I remember the good taste of fresh buttermilk. Mother grew up milking cows and making cheese on her father's farm in Liberty and though I don't recall her making much cheese at our place, I do remember that on occasion she would make a batch of cottage cheese, which ,when salted, was very good to the taste.
If a farmer could get enough milk cows and was able to provide feed and a barn for them, it seemed to be one of the biggest indications that he was prospering. For most of my growing up years we had a herd of milking dairy cattle which numbered about ten to twelve and eventually grew after I was grown and no more living at home to more than fifty cows. Of course in the early days the cows were milked by hand, but for most of the time that that was one of my duties we had vacuum milking machines which did most of the work for us. The machines also made it possible for farmers to milk more and more cows which added to the family prosperity. The milk was poured into ten gallen milk cans and kept as cool as possible until morning when the milkman made his daily rounds and hauled the milk to the creamery near Paris where it was sold and made into cheese and other dairy products. Nearly every farmer sent their milk to this creamery which was a co-operative business owned by the dairy farmers themselves. There were other creameries in some of the towns around the Valley. There was one in St.Chalres and Bern, and Geneva just to name a few.
MiIking the cows was a chore, of course, but it wasn't as bad as we often pretended it would be. Above is a picture of a hungry kitten being fed by squirting milk directly into its mouth as the cow is being milked. I remember Ellis and I having milk wars across the barn when we were milking at the Lyme Hymas farm.
To some it amy seem a little digusting, but to me that was milk atually tased pretty good. Speaking of the Lime Hymas Farm, it was located about two and a half miles from our place and belonged to an elderly farmer by the name of Lyman Hymas. He and Dad were pretty good friends and one day Dad came home and announced that he was going to lease the Lyme Hymas Farm. This he did when I was about nine years old and Ellis was about twleve. The Lyme Hymas Farm was considerably bigger than ours and more properous. He milked about twenty cows. From this point on Dad would get up early in the morning and head to the Lyme Hymas place to do the milking and chores that needed to be done there. This left Ellis and me to take care of the milking, feeding etc. at the home farm. I remember rising very early, bundling up, and going to the barn with Ellis to milk the cows, feed the new calves and the cattle before breakfast and then hurrying to catch the school bus at the end of the lane. This didn't happen just once in a while. Dairy cows have to be milked twice a day, no matter what, and we both soon came to understand what responsibilty was. I think we may have occasionally complained, but we never even considered it as a possibility to get out of our chores and milking the cows. We felt needed and that made a huge difference I think in the way we approached life and probably helped shape our work ethic as much as any other thing. It is important to be and feel needed. The picture below shows Dad in front of the first dairy barn that we had. It was not a very good building. It had a wooden board roof which leaked profusly and a wooden plank floor which held us up and allowed the barn liquids to seep down between the planks. I can still remember walking along these planks and watching the fluids come up through the cracks. Eventually this barn burned down for some reason. I think it may have been an electical fire. I recall being awakend in the middle of the night and told that the barn was on fire. Dad and some of the neighbors tried in vaine to put out the fire, but to no avail. After this we had to milk the cows outside in the corral until a new barn could be built . This went on for several months and I remember, that Mom would come down and help us milk. Dad had tried very hard to save her from this task after they were married, but she kenw how to milk a cow and she was not afraid to pitch in and help, especially during this difficult time after the old barn burned down. Finally a new and larger barn was finished and it had a cement floor. This was a vast improvment over the old one that had burned to the ground. Sometimes our hardships turn ito blessings. Such was the case when the old barn burned down.

This gave us more room for growth and the dairy herd began to increase in number up to about 15 or 18 cows. This was a good sign and our little family seemed to be prospering a little more as the time went by.
We now were milking cows in a more modern place and using a more modern method similar to what is seen in the pictue below.  Sometimes, what may seem like a minor tragedy turns out for the best as was the case of the old barn burning down.  It took some time and a lot of effort and I'm sure probably more money than Dad and Mom had at the time, but we all pulled together and things seemed to turn out for the best. At least we moved past Dave Orrian econimic theory of economics  and operated at at a little different level.  It was still work and there was no getting away from it, the cows still had to be milked twice a day, morning and night as regular as sunrise and sunset.
Below we see the miricale of the milking machine at work.  Most cows could be milked in five minutes or less with little physical effort.  The milk was also of a better quality, uncontaminated by the human hand.  The milk was then poured through a stainer into ten gallon cans.
The ten gallon cans were made of a type of stainless steel and looked very much like the ones below.  During the course of my growing up years I remember setting as few as two and as many as eight milk cans full of milk out by the road to be picked up by the Milkman.  By the way, one of the men who hauled milk to the creamery was, Uncle Ivan Hymas, Mom's brother.  It was fun to have him drop by everyday to pick up  the milk, though our meetings were always short.  He needed to get on with his work.  It seemed like he was always singing a song of some sort in spite of having to lift the heavy milk cans into his truck.

Our milk cows were mostly Holsteins, similar to the one you see below.  They produced a lot of milk if they were cared for properly.  Sometimes a good cow could produce as much as ten gallons of milk a day for a while after having a calf.  The cows calved annually and taking care of the calves was another project that most of us kids were involved in at one time or another.  Getting the cows from the pasture was another chore that took place twice a day in summer.  In the winter the milking cows were kept in the barn and fed right where they were milked.  Another thing we learned to do was to fix fence and keep the cows from getting into the alfalfa and bloating.  We did see some failures in this and as a result lost a few cows who died from eating too much alfalfa to fast.  This was always a sad time and a major loss for a stuggling family on the small dairy farm.

At one point in Dad's dairying experience he  tried a different beed of cattle.  The Ayrshire cow was a rather handsome animal, red and white, rather than black and white like the Holstein.  There were a couple of reasons behind Dad's thinking in this regard.   They were supposed to be a little more hardy than the Holstein, and  they produced milk with a higher butterfat content and therfore worth more money at the creamery.  This was only an experiment and, though we milked some Ayrshires for a few years Dad gradually returned to nearly all Holsteins.  A prize Ayrshire cow is pictured below.

Eventulally the barn we built was replaced by an even more modern system, a milking parlor with a refrigeratted tank that held four or five hundred gallons of milk.  Mark and I helped Dad with most of the building after Iris and I moved back to the Bear Lake Valley. We also built a large red metal loafing shed for the milk cows.  Dad was proud of his new system even though it was more costly and had been a big decision for him at the time it was built.  Dad and Mom were getting older by this time and the kids were pretty much gone and I suppose they could have just called it quits and gone to raising beef or hay and grain or someting else, but they were never known as quitters and this was not their reaction at this turning point in their lives either.  Below you will see Dad in his cowboy hat, Dad loved a good cowboy hat, in front of the new milking parlor.  It was kept very clean and Dad spent a lot of time there night and morning. Mom also returned to the barn, I 'm sure mostly to be with Dad while he worked after all the kids had grown up and moved away.  Reed painted the Holstein cow which  was placed atop the milking parlor.

Below is a picture of a stainless steel refrigerated milk tank similar to the one that was installed in the milking parlor.  It held over five undred gallons of milk and was picked up by a large tanker truck every other day.  I remember this tank filled nearly to overflowing on many occasions.

The picture below was taken of the Eborn farmstead after Mark moved back to Lanark and bought the farm from Dad and Mom.  It was taken by our cousin, Kay Hymas, who had an airplane and would always buzz our place when he came to Bear Lake to visit his parents, Calvin and Venna Hymas, who lived in Sharon.  It shows a vast change from the day Dad and Mom bought the farm and to me shows that Dad and Mom were excellent stewards of what they had.

by Bart


  1. I'm going to reveal a secret never before known. "I hated those cows"

  2. Ellis, We all knew that all along. You are not very good at keeping secrets.