The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.
Changes are happening at the farm and we are playing musical chairs with our houses. After decades of living on or beside the farm, Duane’s parents decided it was time to move to a different living situation. The logical next step was for Duane and I to move into their house. Our daughter and her family will take over the farmhouse. My excited grandson says, “It’s the double-decker!”
This, in turn, leaves her house at the heifer farm vacant, but vacancy is never long term on a farm when there are multiple employees. We have felt that pinch more and more in the past few years. If there is not available housing when hiring a new employee, the opportunity to secure a qualified candidate goes way down. Available housing is like gold.
Musical houses is not something that happens often on our farm. The last time there was a move at the dairy it was with the animals.
Years ago, when we moved from the tie stall barn to the parlor, we went from a small space to a much larger area for the cows. The move went relatively easily because on moving day, we just put up fences and walked the cows up the hill.
Turns out, we still walk the cows up that hill. The old tie stall barn has been converted into a barn for close-up cows. They calve at that barn and then after calving, we hook up a few ropes as a fence to help guide them as they walk up the hill to the next phase of their careers.
Typically, the cows willingly walk up the hill, and the baled rope that we hang on a post guides them until they crest the hill and see the freestall barn in front of them. Once they see the trough of feed, there is no turning back and they briskly walk into the barn. They have just calved and fresh feed is the most inviting carrot we can put in front of them to get them into the barn.
Of course, there are always a few wild young heifers that drive us crazy and head the wrong direction. I remember one particular heifer that had just calved. She had never been to the freestall barn, and she had no desire to crest the hill to find out what was on top. She ran out to the trench and back again. After the second time of her passing the wrong way, we got a few extra bodies around the farm and corralled her into the proper area so we could get her milked.
This system came in handy when our barn roof collapsed and we had to move hundreds of animals into another area while the freestall barn was cleaned out. All the veteran cows knew the process of walking up and down the hill, and they very calmly moved from one area to another because it was familiar territory.
In so many ways, I feel like Duane and I are doing the same thing. In this next phase of life, he and I are walking up the hill and starting the next chapter of our careers. But we also know where we are moving to, as the house and surroundings are familiar. What I was not prepared for was the amount of stuff we have to deal with in the process of moving — boxes and boxes of stuff.
One of the biggest steps in this move is dealing with everything we have acquired during our tenure at this address. Cleaning out the house has been a good exercise, but wow, I can’t believe the stuff that I am finding.
I do not even want to guess how many needles, syringes, and breeding sticks I came across while cleaning out corners, drawers, and cupboards. How many caps, gloves, mugs, or clothing with logos does one family use in a lifetime? Evidently, we need a lot. I certainly need to come up with a better purging plan going forward.
Most of us in our family have the mentality that if it is free, it is for me. We are always grateful for the t-shirts, sweatshirts, and jackets that show up every year. As I go through the drawers and closets of the house, I am sure we never got rid of the accumulation. Who knew that I needed a basket for caps in nearly every room of the house?
As our families are shifting, we have not only been focusing on our own stuff but interestingly there are things that Duane’s mom and dad have discovered in their own packing. Since they are in major downsizing mode, many things have been relocated.
In the process of our packing and purging, we are also accumulating some of their stuff. For example, Duane came across a box of calf books that his mom and dad first used when they established the farm back in the 1960s. They kept the book that registered their first calf with the Holstein Association. That is a really cool book to have and look through, and it is a nice piece of memorabilia. The flip side is that we probably do not need all the calf books from that year until now. Sentiment needs to be gauged and within reason. We will just have to wait and see who is holding the box when the music stops playing.