The Dairy Farm Adventures: Some Days Never End

Posted Wednesday, July 31, 2013 in Features

The Dairy Farm Adventures: Some Days Never End

by Lee-Rae Jordan-Oliver

In 2010, Matthew milked thirty-two cows by himself twice a day using bucket milkers.  To cover farm expenses,  we needed to increase milk production which meant buying more cows.  I protested mightily, knowing we were already physically and mentally maxed out raising a young family and operating a burgeoning farm.  How could we possibly add more to our overflowing plate?

In the late summer of 2010, we were fortunate to hire Bill, an intelligent, hard-working, loyal gentleman, to work on the farm full time.  Having Bill on board made the next step of expanding our herd possible.  Matthew called Dale, our cattle dealer, and requested twenty more pregnant heifers to be delivered to our farm by fall.

As the pregnant heifers arrived throughout the fall months, Matthew and Bill worked fervently  designing a pipeline in our barn.  The pipeline would eliminate the need for bucket milkers and make the milking process physically less taxing and much faster.  Having the pipeline in place was imperative if we planned to milk more cows. 

September, October, and November raced by in a flurry of farm activity.  Winter lurked around the corner waiting to pummel us with her icy fists.  Our barn held thirty-two cows and more space was required to shelter the twenty cows we recently purchased.  Matthew erected a thirty by hundred foot greenhouse frame with the intention of housing the overflow of cows in a greenhouse wrapped with clear plastic.

On November 27, 2010, Matthew decided the greenhouse needed to be covered.  Mother Nature would either work with us or against us.  Waiting for a clear, calm day in November would be like waiting for snow in August.  Our four person team included Matthew, Bill, Nick, a high school senior, and myself.  As soon as the plastic covered the greenhouse frame, the Westford Hill winds came to taunt us.  While Matthew and Bill secured one side of the greenhouse using the company's metal latch system, Nick and I used all our limbs to tame the unruly tarp which threatened to rip from our grasp.  Covering the greenhouse created a gigantic wind tunnel for the westerly winds to whip through unchecked.   After we had wrestled with the plastic for two hours, the November darkness swallowed our daylight.  Both sides of the tarp had been fastened, but each gust of wind made the plastic billow and shook the greenhouse frame.  Cold and tired, we called it quits, hoping the plastic would stay intact until the next day when we could reinforce the sides with additional strapping.

I scurried inside to prepare Saturday night homemade beans for my family.  When Matthew didn't come inside for supper at 5:30, I opened the door to holler, “Suppertime!”  Sticking my head outside I heard the greenhouse plastic thundering out of control.   Matthew's  parents were having supper with us, so they took care of the children while I rushed outside.   The wind had yanked the plastic out of its latch system on one side of the greenhouse.  I was prepared to fight the wild tarp whirring in the wind, but Matthew said, “I've already tried.   It won't work.”

“So what do we do now?” I asked.

“We'll have to pull the tarp off the greenhouse and let it fall in a bunch on the other side so the frame won't be destroyed.”

After uncovering the greenhouse, we returned to the house feeling duped by the wind.   Matthew wolfed down his beans before returning to the barn to milk the cows.  When the children were tucked snugly into their beds, I followed suit by collapsing in bed thankful, everyone was safe and sound.

At midnight, my eyes popped wide open.  I looked at Matthew's empty pillow. Worried, I scrambled out of bed.  Looking out the living room window, I saw the farm Suburban's tail lights bobbing away into the field.   Matthew was looking for a cow and her newborn calf, which left unattended,  would freeze to death in the November night.   I slipped my camouflage pants and fleece jacket over my pajamas, donned my knee-length muck boots, and grabbed a flashlight before heading out into the darkness. 

Approaching the parked Suburban, I shouted, “I'm here to help you!” so I wouldn't jump Matthew.  Hearing the bull calf bleating miserably, I knew something was wrong.  Matthew scooped up the calf and blood oozed from its nose.  He plopped it in the front seat where the heater blasted warm air.  By the time we returned to the barn, the calf was silent and limp.  I helped Matthew carry the lifeless calf into the barn where he tried to revive it by washing it with warm water and giving it chest compressions.  We surmised the mother might have stepped on her calf, or it was born with internal defects.  I wished for a Pollyanna ending, but this day would not have a happy finale. 

Matthew shifted his focus on finding the calf's mother to make certain she was okay.  As we bumped around the field in the wee hours of the morning, I said flippantly “Are we having fun yet?”  Through clenched teeth, Matthew quietly told me, “Don't say a word.”  After finding the mother munching on a round bale of hay, we finally returned to the house and dropped into bed for a few hours of sleep. 

The next day while the children were napping, I went out to the barn prepared to spew my worries.  When Matthew saw me, he read the concern on my face.  Before I said a word, he leaned against the wall and said with conviction, “I really love what I'm doing.” 

 “O.K.” I answered.  “That's all I needed to hear.”

For farmers, some days never end, but if someone stands by your side helping to shoulder the hardships, there is hope tomorrow will be better.      

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