The air rushed into my lungs with a sting and a pain as great as a hundred bees. The thermometer reads 3.4, but the wind begs to differ. It is 4:00 p.m. and while most people are finishing their day at work, my afternoon duties on the farm are just beginning. Walking is slow as I tromp down the hill to the barn in four layers of clothes. The barn door on our century old barn groans and creaks as I open it. I am greeted by a pile of furry cats. They know that if they stay out of my way while I work I might reward them with a sip of warm milk.
I start by filling a small sink full of hot water. The steam creates a dense fog in our milk room. I then fill two silver pails full of milk and place them in the sink to warm. While I wait, I move through the barn and out the back door to feed grain to our heifers. This grain is a mixture of barley and oats and selected minerals. The heifers look out from their warm straw bedded areas and try to decide if the grain is enticing enough to leave the comfort. After a short debate, they run to the grain, eat and quickly return to their beds. They are really waiting for the hay I will feed them later.
The cats do not let me forget them when I return to the barn. Once scoop of cat food will keep them happy for now. The warm milk is waiting to be filled into bottles for the babies. Each of our youngest calves drinks three quarts of milk twice a day. As I venture outside again, the wind has shifted. I duck my head and do the ice walk shuffle to the calf hutches. The calves are happy to see me and suck hungrily on their bottles. While they drink I check their grain and water buckets. Most of them don’t eat grain yet, but are still offered a small amount.
After two trips with bottles and a trip with three buckets for the group feeders, it is time to go out back again to the heifer shed. This is the moment they have all been waiting for. Hay. They love it almost as much as the live version growing in the fields. Our hay crop this year was good, real good. The hay crumbles to the ground as I peel it off the round bale with a pitch fork. Even though I love feeding good hay, due to its tenderness, it is hard to quickly accomplish my task. The cold pitchfork, increased wind chill and milk residue, make my hands bitterly cold. The cold begins to hurt and I try to finish before frost bite.
The last scoop goes in the manger and I rush (as fast as you can in four layers) back to the barn. Pins and needles rush through my hands, cheeks and nose. My next task of washing bottles and buckets is welcomed. As I leave the milk house one last time, I turn on the pipeline wash system to ready the lines for fresh milk from the cows to the bulk tank. Tim and Jon will start milking our herd shortly.
Two hours have pasted since I first walked out of the house. The sky is dark now and the temperature has fallen another ten degrees. Despite the hardships of dairy farming, I never want to quit. Farmers are so efficient now that on average they provide food for over 140 people each year. I like to think that because of our dairy farm, we allow other people to focus their talents on other noble tasks. Because of us maybe someone is working on finding the cure for cancer, or teaching young children how to read, or driving a firetruck to a rescue.