The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.
The musical “The Sound of Music” is known and loved far and wide, both for the music and the storyline. One of the more popular songs, “My Favorite Things,” is one that I heard many times over the years and can easily be pulled into my head.This time of the year, I always think of that song because fall is my favorite season and I feel like I could rewrite the lyrics to add all the wonderful things about it. There are so many beautiful, refreshing, and peaceful aspects of this period. Living on a farm takes these favorites to a higher level and hands them to me on a silver platter.
I am not totally convinced that a “slower time” even exists on a dairy farm. Without a doubt, harvest season has days of frenzy. There are times that we are pushing hard to get crops harvested before the bad weather hits, before the killing frost, before that first snowfall, and so we can empty manure pits and plant cover crops.
The pace is a bit crazy, but when the day arrives and we are looking at a huge corn silage pile tucked under the plastic and tires, or in some cases looking at a filled silo, there is always a feeling of great accomplishment. Celebrating is not how our employees would explain throwing tires on the pile, but when the task is completed, we all breathe easier. There seems to be more peace in life when the crops are harvested, the winter grains are planted, and some of the equipment is put away. It feels like we can all catch our breath for a moment.
Pleasant temperatures are another fall favorite. There is something so special about the cooler weather that gives us a reason to take a deep breath when we walk outside for early morning chores.
Every employee and animal is happier when the heat melts away and refreshingly crisp mornings and evenings return. The cows notice the difference and are happy to say goodbye to the sweltering temperatures that do not offer much relief through the night.
At the end of summer, Duane and I hosted a farm tour. During the walk through of the barns, the visitors were surprised to see fans and sprinklers that were running to keep the cows cool. They never thought of the fact that cows’ body temperatures are higher in the heat and therefore we use equipment to keep them more comfortable. They were also interested to learn that cows prefer cooler weather and that the late fall and early winter months are the cows’ best days for comfort and productivity.
It takes a number of weeks until their bodies cool down to a normal temperature, and by this time, we see a jump in our conception rate, pounds of milk are up, and the animals are obviously more comfortable in the barns. It’s the cows’ way of taking a deep breath and enjoying the refreshing weather.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the backdrop of color that peppers our Pennsylvania hills as a fall favorite. The vibrant trees behind a herd of black and white cows in the meadow always make me pause. The color is a beautiful addition to the season. But to be honest, the trees alone do not make it special. For me, the addition of cows in the pasture bring it up a notch.
Of course, I cannot list my favorite things without talking about my preferred fall foods. This season is loaded with wonderful, delicious food that is smothered in dairy. All of my favorite soups, desserts, and casseroles just taste better in the fall. I am not a huge pumpkin spice person, but I do love a good pumpkin pie or a pumpkin cake roll with cream cheese. I do not think there is any logic behind pumpkin, butternut squash, and apple butter tasting better in November, but my taste buds seem to think they do.
There are things about this season that are not my favorite. I suppose I need balance in my life, and flies and rodents bring reality to the beautiful fall season.
Have you noticed that the flies are more obnoxious when it starts getting colder? They hang on until the bitter end, dizzy and mad from the colder weather. They are trying to find any bit of warmth they can. They bite, buzz in circles, or fly into things until they finally give up out of exhaustion or get squashed under my rolled-up magazine.
I am fully aware that their days are numbered. Their eggs will not hatch in cold weather, and thankfully, they nearly disappear until the spring thaw. But I have to smash them before they try to fly into my nose and mouth. The trade-off from their obnoxious behavior is knowing that I do not have to deal with them for a few months.
The fall certainly has more benefits that, for me, outweigh the cons. My list of favorite things is deep and wide, and living on my dairy farm is the cream on the top of this wonderful season. I will take a deep breath and enjoy it.