It was sometimes sad when the livestock hauler was called to pick up cows from the herd and take them to South St. Paul. It was sadder still when an animal had been in the herd for a long time.
The hauler, who made his living by trucking livestock to the stockyards and returning home with appliances and other goods to stock local stores, was gentle and used his shocker sparingly. It was not the case when angry bulls or fattened hogs refused to move up the chute.
Any producer who spends twice a day milking in a stanchion barn develops a bond and appreciation for their cows.
It was especially tough when the cow had once been one of the best producers and was gentle as a lamb. I gave pet names to each cow, which Dad said was a mistake. However, he had named a cow and each heifer offspring "Ma’s Cow," in honor of my mother.
The name’s origin had its roots way back when our family switched from milking by hand to machine milking. One cow bucked so hard at the machine that she could only be milked the old-fashioned way. As a result, Mother made two trips with pail in hand across the yard each day.
Dad and my older brothers showed no sentimentality, with the exception of one cow that had been in the herd for more than a decade and had birthed several fine heifers. She would, they insisted, be allowed to die on the farm because she was more special than all the others.
She was the bell cow and as such led the herd along the well-trod pasture trails. Her stanchion was the first in the string and, as a reward, received extra corn and concentrate.
When she died of old age, she was buried south of the barn near the garden where Mother grew popcorn, sweetcorn, watermelon and muskmelon, and all kinds of squash. It was near where our best dogs rested in the soil.
For my part, all cows were special, except for those that kicked at the drop of a hat. These ornery cows were seldom among the best and in any case weren’t worth the bother.
When the trucker arrived, the big sliding barn door opened wide and in the winter, fog and cold flooded into the barn.
Emotions were much different when fattened hogs were loaded. Gates were temporarily constructed for the purpose and often failed when barrows and gilts bulldozed their way in the wrong direction. It was right near impossible to stop a hog from going where it wanted to go.
When the trucker and his truck left, all that remained was to wait for the check. Dad walked to the mailbox -- the one for which its anchor was a one-bottom John Deere plow -- each day until it arrived. He listened to the South St. Paul farm report to see market tops for the day and bemoaned the market’s unfairness when the price received didn’t reach the day’s highs.
The stanchions emptied by the cull cows didn’t remain so for long. The milking herd was too big for the number of stanchions so a half-dozen cows were rotated in from the free-stall barn.
Winter caused challenges in that regard. When the temperature dropped below zero, teat ends chafed and cracked. Bag balm kept alongside the barn’s radio helped, but did couldn’t solve the problem.
The bag balm helped with our cracked hands and irritated wrists. Winter offered other challenges. On occasion winter storms knocked out power. Milking 35 cows that weren’t used to being milked by hand was much worse than an adventure.
In the middle of the crisis, the question was asked about who would climb the silo chute to throw down silage. For the most part, I never liked the answer that was given.