I find it ironic that with a bachelor’s degree in dairy science, I live in a county with decidedly few milking cows. While I enjoyed my college years on the UW-Madison campus learning everything bovine, my life took a different turn once I graduated. And yet, with all the hype of June Dairy Month going on now, my thoughts go back to when I was a youngster and was lucky enough to spend many days working on my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm in southern Wisconsin.
Early summer mornings pull my mind into reverie about this place which I thought was magical. It had everything I loved, all contained on a 140-acre piece of heaven. By today’s standards, this farm was a small one, with only 35 to 40 cows being milked at any one time, but to me it was a grand and enchanted locality.
I loved the long expanse of fields that were planted in corn and alfalfa; I loved the old, thick rope we swung from in the haymow; I reveled in the woods behind the back forty where giant oaks grew; and the big porch on the farmhouse drew us kids to its shady confines, where we played board games and drank cold glasses of lemonade on hot July days.
But admittedly, what I liked the most about this place were the animals. The newly born kittens, lambs, piglets and chicks were wondrous to me, but it was the calves that I was most enamored with. I watched enthralled as they came into this world and loved the job of feeding them every morning and evening, their fuzzy heads always butting the nippled buckets we fed them from.
And while this place held lots of fun for me, it was a working farm, and when I visited I was expected to pitch in and toe the line like everyone else.
Chores started at dawn, where many misty mornings I would hang on a big gate calling, “Come boss, come boss” as the cows walked placidly in from the green fields. Then they would file one-by-one into their stanchions, eager to get their breakfast and be milked.
There was a lot to do during this time. Someone would have to strap the cows, wash their teats and then attach the milking machine to the strap. Once a cow was finished, the machine was taken off and the milk was carefully poured into pails which we would carry into the milkhouse, where it was then poured into a big vat for cool-down. In addition to the milking, calves needed to be fed and hay thrown down from the mow, and the unending chore of mucking out was a constant.
It was only after the animals were taken care of and settled that we were allowed to go back inside for a hearty breakfast. Sometimes my aunt would hand me a little metal bucket and I would go into the milkhouse and scoop some of the fresh milk from the vat. This was used on cereal and for making pancakes. We would have bacon, fresh eggs and toast, and our appetites were insatiable after our early morning work.
Then it was back outside for more chores, whether that was baling hay, cleaning out stalls or weeding the garden. There was always something that needed to be done, always a chore a kid could do to make the operation run smoother.
Back then, lunch (or dinner as it was called) was the main meal and we would sit down to feasts fit for a king, thanks to my aunt. Short naps were taken after this and then it was back outside for more chores. In the early evening, the cows once again filed into the barn for a second milking and when they were let out to graze the night away, we would gather on the porch for games or to listen to stories and watch the sun set. Many times, crackers and a cheese spread were a favorite snack, and I have included a recipe that is one of my favorites. I love the fact it includes dairy products so I can honor all those farmers who I know work hard to provide us with such delicious foods.
I am sad to report that my family’s farm is no more, pushed out of existence when the mega-farm movement became popular and presumably more profitable. And yet, the memories of this place exist in my mind like it was yesterday, which explains my fascination with the herd of mama cows and their calves I see on my drive to work. Granted, they are being raised for beef, but they still take me back to those misty summer mornings long ago when I hung on a big gate calling, “Come boss, come boss.”
Tropical Garden Spread
- 2 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
- 1 (1.4-oz.) package vegetable soup mix
- 1 (8-oz.) can crushed pineapple in juice, drained
- 3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped red pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped honey roasted peanuts, no salt added
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
In a medium bowl, whip the cream cheese until smooth. With a wooden spoon, mix in the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate for 24 hours for flavors to blend. Serve with your favorite crackers or vegetables.