Wintertime Dairy Chores

Reader Contribution by Mary Carton
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Most of the time I miss our dairy farm. However, cold spells like we’ve had lately, I tell myself that I don’t miss it on cold January days.  We had snow this week and very cold weather. 

We would come home from school, go out feed the chickens, change the water and collect the eggs.  Then we would take a hammer with us to the cattle and pig water troughs to break the ice and refill.  Sometimes the hydrant was frozen, so we would have to run a hose from the barn to refill.  Back to the house to warm our hands. By then it was milking time. 

The cows stayed in a wooded area around the hay barn and silo when not in the pasture.  A dry creek ran through the lower portion of it. The silo had a long trough that the silage would fed via a long auger.  On one side a row of free stalls each was narrow enough for the cow to walk in lay, stand up and back out.  Any manure would land in the isle for easy clean up.  Milking time we would go to round them up, only sometimes the boss cow would decide they weren’t ready.  If a boss cow decided she didn’t want to do something or was going to do something, then the rest of the herd was with her. The boss cow would pick a time when you are the most miserable to decide she didn’t want to do what you wanted.  Bone chilling cold or rainy days seemed to be her favorite. She and the rest of the herd would play ring around the rosie with you around the silo, the free stalls and feed through. You’d just hope that they would stay on the concrete path and not take off down to the other end of the woods.

After extended rainy days with a 150 head stomping around, the Alabama clay and dehydrated manure would turn into gooey quicksand, especially in the area that ran off of the hay barn roof.  In order to walk in it, you had to hold on to the top of the boot and pull it out along with your foot. The clay would glue to the boot, and if you didn’t pull it, would stay in the clay.  This particular time, we had several days of heavy cold rain followed by a drop-in temperature to below freezing.  The surface of the clay and manure was frozen, but would collapse if you tried to walk on it.  This was one of the days the boss cow decided not to come up for milking. My sister chased them around the silo for a while and came up for help. Two sisters went down to the silo, one blocking access around to the free stalls. I was out in the muddy area to prevent them from going down the hill to the back of the woods. We had just about got them to the barn, when one of them turned to run down the hill. I ran as best I could to head her off and turn her back to the barn. I found out that the clay will glue itself to your feet as I almost fell into the muck.  My sister finished getting the cows penned and I hunted my socks and boots. When I walked into the milking barn holding my socks and boots, Dad wanted to know what happened to you.

Cottrell Electric kept our milking equipment going.  Dad may have recycled it from a previous milk barn or bought it used from somewhere, as it looked close to a hundred years old. Dad always kept things way past their normal life span. Our old milking barn was a stanchion type. We would bring 16 cows on each side, lock their heads in so they could be fed and milked. Dad and our uncle would have to do a lot of squatting while milking. The floors were slightly inclined downhill toward the back of the barn.  Manure would be shoveled out to a small pit outside the barn via two trap doors for each stanchion side. When the pit was full, the manure was shoveled out into a manure spreader and taken out to the field.

One cold winter spell, Mr. Calvin came out to work on the old milk machine, and brought his boys with him. We took down to our fort along the dry creek, and on the way back, he decided he was going to walk across the frozen pit. He didn’t make it far. We fished him out and brought him into the milk barn. Dad took a hose to him and washed him down. By this time, he was about frozen, clean but still stinking to high heaven. Dad carried him to the house and handed off to Mom who stripped him and wrapped him in a blanket and put him near the kerosene floor furnace to warm up. She hung his clothes on a fold-up rack over the furnace to dry. 

This was the first and last time Calvin brought the boys out. I do know his wife wasn’t happy with the odor when they got home. The manure may have been washed off, but the odor still remained.

On the home front with the Hooligans, Problem Child Patches has figured out how to outfox the under-ground fence. It starts vibrating 10 feet from the line, so she bounces back and toward the line until she overwhelms the battery recycling just long enough to get out. When I get home, she is laying in the ditch in front of the house. I unload everything out of my truck while she is impatiently barking at me to let her back in. She also did something she hasn’t done since she was a pup; turning the faucet on the front of the house to get a drink. Only she doesn’t turn it back off. I was hoping that it was only on for a short time, however my meter reader left me a card on the front door that I had a big jump in water usage this time. I used over 6,900 gallons this time, and needed to check for a leak. She must have turned it on the afternoon before and it ran all night and most of the next day.

A musician/author friend of mine Cabot Barden let me sit in on his recording session at Fame Recoding studios in Muscle Shoals. It was very interesting learning how a song is put together especially with one artist playing all of the instruments.  As I set in the control room overlooking the studio, my mind wandered to some of the greats that recorded there:  Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman, Arthur Alexander, Etta James, Clarence Carter, Lou Rawls, Donny Osmond, Candi Staton, Little Richard, Bobbie Gentry, Paul Anka, Otis Redding, Drive by Truckers, Jason Isbell & the 400 unit, Travis Wammack, The Dell Rays, Terri Gibbs, The Osmonds, Billy Joe Royal, Lobo, Alabama, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Shenandoah, Andy Williams, Mac Davis, Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers, Dobie Gray, Wayne Newton, Liza Minnelli, Tom Jones, Wet Wiilie, Wilson Pickett, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Drifters, George Jones, Ray Stevens, Jerry Reed, Billy Ocean, Heartland, Darryl Worley, and Waylon Jennings among others.

Rick Hall, the founder of Fame, died earlier this month. His funeral as expected was a great musical sendoff. I was in the second week of bronchitis and didn’t get to attend. I photographed Mr. Hall at three events, a benefit for the Fame Girls Ranch, a meet and greet at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and his autobiography signing.

We had a nice warm clear day between the two snow events we had, and I took the opportunity to drive over to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I finally was able to see three of the twenty plus whooping cranes overwintering.

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