COUNTY AGENT GUY
June is Dairy Month, a time of the year wherein we pause to thank the folks who risk wet tails to the face so that the rest of us can enjoy ice cold glasses of moo juice.
June is an incredibly hectic time on a dairy farm. Between putting up hay and the normal 14-hours of chores, dairy farmers are busier than a dog at a fire hydrant convention.
The scorching heat of summer arrives in June. I grew up on a 25-cow stanchion barn and can attest that there are few things more stifling than milking cows on a steamy afternoon in low-ceilinged barn that’s chock-full of hot bossies.
It’s like working in a sauna that’s heated by a bunch of hairy, cud-chewing furnaces.
But the start of summer marks the beginning of the grazing season. One of the things I thoroughly enjoyed when I was a kid was walking out to the pasture in the early morning to bring our 30 Holsteins up to the barn.
We had a patch of pasture that adjoined our cattle yard. Were our pasture viewed via Google Earth – this was back when Google meant reading a particular comic strip – it would have looked as if a 20-acre rectangle of green shag carpet had been plopped down next to our farmstead.
One summer morning the fog was so thick and the visibility so low you could have thrown a baseball and it would have instantly disappeared.
Navigating a fog that heavy is like being trapped in an endless tunnel. On its best day, the prairie is flat and largely featureless; adding that level of fog was simply overkill.
I couldn’t see where the cows were and had no choice but to follow the fenceline until I found them. They were clear out at the far end of the pasture, half a mile from the barn. Of course.
I could hear the cows before I could see them. To the untrained ear, the rumble of cuds being burped up from the depths of bovine bellies might have sounded scary, like humungous predators making room for their next meal.
And then there was the aroma. There’s something intensely tangy about cow pies that are so fresh, they were emerald blades of grass only hours earlier. Imagine a perfume that’s made by concentrating the essence of lawn clippings.
The girls were all laying down, so I had to walk from cow to cow and inform them that it was time to get up. After rising to their feet and stretching lazily, the cows began to plod off into the fog.
I could only hope that they were taking a direction that would lead us to the cattle yard. It was impossible to tell where we were or which way we were headed, so I simply put my faith in their instincts and clumped after them, carefully negotiating the minefield they left behind.
It was quiet as a morgue at midnight and I could hear sounds from miles around: the echoing cackle of a rooster pheasant; a dog barking up a tree at a squirrel; a neighbor’s “M” Farmall sputtering as it came to life.
You know you live in the country when you can identify your neighbor by the clatter of his tractor.
The cows soon formed themselves into a single file. As I hoped, they had somehow found the dirt cow path that would take us to the barnyard.
The fog made it impossible to see any but the nearest cows, so all I could do is dutifully follow the bovine parade and ruminate upon the truth of the old proverb, “If you’re not the lead cow, the view never changes.”
I had a pretty good idea as to which cow was leading our little troop. It was probably Betsy, a big-boned Holstein who was the size of a gravel truck.
Betsy was the oldest girl in the herd – she and I were both 10 – and was thus the undisputed boss cow.
After an eternity of journeying through the murk, the cheery yellow glow of our barn lights hove into view.
No sailor ever felt as much joy upon sighting a lighthouse beacon. And next to the barn stood Betsy, patiently waiting for the door to be opened so she could be the first one in and claim her stanchion.
That foggy morning illustrated how we trusted in and depended on our cows and how they, in turn, trusted in and depended upon us.
And it gave me a deeper appreciation of what it takes to bring our milk from grass to the glass.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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