The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.During summertime, some families take the opportunity to embark on exciting vacations. Getting away from the busy everyday routine is a time of rest, refreshment, and reflection. For Duane and I, our best brainstorming came from time away from the dairy.
However, taking time away from the farm is not an easy feat for dairy farmers. Caring for animals, land, and employees is something we cannot take lightly. Leaving our livelihood behind is daunting. The demands of a dairy farm are present 24 hours a day, every day of the week. That does not pair well with a vacation.
A lot of preparation preludes time away from the farm, and it does not seem to matter if the trip is one day or 10 days. The instructions for the equipment, the chores, and the animals is longer than the farm lane.
The longest vacation and trip of a lifetime came for me when I was in eighth grade. Our family took a month off from the farm work and headed across the country to the West Coast. It was a treat to see the countryside, landmarks, and several National Parks before dipping our toes in the Pacific Ocean.
Homesickness really hit me as we wound around the Grand Canyon, though. I could not wait until the camper pulled into the farm.
There was a lot of work that led up to this trip. Most importantly, my father made sure the animals had the best care possible, and my newly married cousins moved into the farmhouse for the time we were away so they could take care of the cows, land, and garden like it was their own.
There are a lot of great memories from that time away, but the anxiety level was high for my parents. Even though we knew the cows and the crops were in good hands, it was stressful to leave the farm behind.
Hats off to my parents for making that trip happen. I am grateful that we had that experience.
Outside of that trip, our family vacations consisted of a weekend excursion to the mountains once or twice a year and day trips to the Atlantic Ocean. We were always guaranteed one weekend to the mountains for an extended Kennel family reunion. It was a weekend of crazy campfire stories and songs, delicious food, time in Pine Creek, and numerous visits to the nearby store for candy and ice cream.
I remember Friday mornings before the annual trip were always tense because everyone wanted to leave as early as possible. However, we also needed to make sure that details were taken care of on the farm before we drove away.
Most years, the farm ran smoothly without us, but things did not always go as planned when we were away. I remember there was a time when the wrong cow was milked and the tank of milk was not shipped. There was a time that the tank was not turned on and the milk was too warm for the plant. And one time the heifers got out and ran through the neighborhood.
All of these things can happen — and do happen — when the farmer is home, but it seems more dramatic when we are not present to fix the problem. However, potential mishaps did not stop us from going back year after year. The Kennel reunion was a consistent and valued vacation from everyday life. Even when Duane and I were married and had children, there were times when the Kennel weekend was on our calendar.
One year, though, the frustration outweighed the fun, and it had nothing to do with the cows back home. The heat and humidity were at an all-time high. The creek, usually cool and refreshing, was warm and nearly bath temperature. And there were bugs. I do not remember which was worse, the flies or the mosquitoes, but I do remember sitting in the creek on our lawn chairs just to get away from the bites.
In a few choice words, Duane made it clear that if he was going to take a vacation, he would prefer not to be miserable. At this juncture, the chores and the cows were looking like a luxurious five-star option.
The family reunion stopped many years ago, and Duane and I have found new ways to find adventure, make memories, and stay away from flies. Three of our four children are scattered across the country. The plus side is that they live in great places to visit. One year, we met in Phoenix to reconnect as a family. We spent a few days near the Grand Canyon and a few more touring a site or two south of Phoenix. And really, it was not where we were but the fact that we were all together that handed us the precious memories.
Duane and I also enjoy visiting our three wonderful grandchildren in Oregon. These moments are priceless, packed with so much love and many hugs, and I would not trade that time for anything.
As difficult as it is to prepare and leave the dairy, it is valuable to take time to regroup. When I am away from home, I have an opportunity to reset and see the farm with a new, fresh lens.