All the years that my husband ran the farm we did not think very much about dairy month. It was not until I became involved with the press that the subject surfaced. I wanted to let people know about the hard working farmers who put in long hours so that everyone could enjoy dairy products.
Our daughter was the Warren County Dairy Princess for a year. I made batch after batch of milk punch for all sorts of events. My daughter did not drive at the time so I was her transportation wherever she went. We attended dairy meetings as well as visited stores to give out samples of dairy products. She also did school programs that she and I put together to be sure the information was age appropriate. It was an excellent experience for her so I was more than happy to do my part.
Through the years the dairy industry has seen a great deal of change. The dairy farmers of today do things much differently than we did. My husband did things the old way. He maintained a small dairy farm that could be run by the family. The children began doing chores while they were still in grade school. They knew they had to have their homework done because they would be spending several hours at the farm doing the evening chores.
We milked about thirty cows, but had additional livestock that made up the herd. There were heifers that had not calved as well as small heifers that were growing. I have mentioned before how my allergies affected what I was able to do in the barn. Often I carried milk and fed the young stock.
Carrying milk was quite a process. I had to pick up the two buckets then set them down at the sliding front door. After I went out of the barn I set them down again to close the door. You could not let the cold air blow through the barn without risking illness for the cows. Once again I picked up the pails to go to the milk house that was located next to the barn. It was not attached at that time. For those of you familiar with the farm it has now become the farm store for Meldick Farms.
I set down my pails to open the door to the milk house, then, picked them back up to go inside. Once I was inside I hoisted the pails to pour through the strainer that was atop the milk tank. If you have never picked up a pail of milk you cannot appreciate how heavy they were. I leaned the pail against the strainer so that I did not spill one precious drop. The price of milk was low enough that we could not afford to waste anything.
View From Hickory Heights
While the family was milking cows we had plenty of milk. As long as we lived in the trailer near the farm I could walk across the road whenever I needed milk. Once we moved to Hickory Heights I had to depend on my husband to take the milk container to the farm to be filled and bring it home.
Since we always had milk I made many dishes where milk was the star. We enjoyed scalloped potatoes made from scratch, rice pudding, tapioca pudding, cooked rice with milk and of course, plenty of fresh milk for drinking. Our children grew up on raw milk. The milk was always tested though, so we knew that it was of good quality.
When we attended dinners where I had to make something to take, I often made one of my favorite dishes featuring milk. After all, the dairy farm family had to highlight their product.
Once we moved up on the hill my days of carrying milk were over. By then there was a new milk house attached to the barn. The carrying job was much simpler. There were not as many doors to open and close. The door to the milk house swung both ways so you did not have to set down the milk at all.
Years ago this road was dotted with small farms whose milk was put into cans and delivered to the creamery. My father-in-law had a milk route for a while. He used to tell me about having a butter route in Jamestown. His mother made farm fresh butter and he would take it, along with eggs to sell to city customers. If they had anything extra from the garden they sold that as well.
On a farm everyone had a job. There was no idle time. There was hardly enough daylight hours to get everything that needed to be done finished. Children did not have to go off the farm to find summer employment. They learned good working skills at home.
Often we hired neighbors to help with the haying. Hay was put up in small bales. The hay was cut, allowed to dry, then, raked into windrows. When it was dry the baler ran over the windrows and gathered it into a compact bale. The bales were loaded on a wagon and taken to the barn. They were then mowed away in the barn to be used to feed the cows during the winter months.
As I write about all of this there is a certain amount of nostalgia that surfaces. No, I did not like all of the details that contributed to our years on the farm, but I did appreciate it as a wonderful way of life. Our children learned responsibility. They learned time management. There were no business lunches and no time to do all of things that the corporate world thinks of as necessities today. Dairy farming was a lot of work, but the quality of life was worth it all.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at email@example.com.