Sept. 29 2017 08:00 AM

Replicate your partner’s responsibilities to gain a truer understanding of their day.

Earlier this month, I flew to Oregon to milk cows while my dad had surgery. I had instructions and milked with him from start to finish for three days prior to his departure. I had milked cows for decades and always enjoyed working with Dad.

I soon learned that milking cows was the easy part. Dealing with an habitual kicker, a bucket cow, or a fresh heifer was doable, too.

It was not even the early mornings that got to me.

It was the emotional pressure of making sure all the valves and equipment were in their correct position, the system washed after milking without incident, and the bulk tank was properly cleaned and rinsed once emptied.

The fear of milk flowing anywhere but directly into the tank, spiking bacteria counts from improper cleaning, and high somatic cell counts were thoughts that constantly plagued my psyche and knowing that if I screwed up, it would mean a loss of income for our family farm.

As I reflected on the stress I put myself under, I thought, “I have milked cows before, what’s the big deal?”

It was all the preparation and cleanup that I had not dealt with when I was younger and milked with Dad. I was usually feeding bottle calves, cleaning freestalls, or feeding hay when he was setting up or finishing for the night.

I wondered how many women who want to marry (or wanted to marry) a full-time dairy farmer have actually walked in their boots and did all the work he did and not just help – because there is a difference!

I had a completely different experience milking with Dad as opposed to without Dad. Witnessing the hard work a dairy farmer does fails in comparison to physically putting your body in their place. Even if a husband’s tasks would not be something his spouse would typically do, the experience would be very telling as to her commitment to the lifestyle.

Every day I was completely exhausted. Walking to the house in darkness after a day’s work, I just wanted to take a shower, eat dinner, and crawl into bed. I wanted to be left alone, not socialize with others, and decompress from a full day of work.

After my two weeks in Oregon, I had an even greater appreciation for what my dad does every day. I wondered if I could milk cows, twice a day, every day, all year long, for anybody, including myself.

The simple answer is “no.”

Even if I was years younger, those weeks still would have been hard on my body – my shoulders, my back, and my feet were sore and tight.

I was glad that I could take the time away from my office job to help the family while Dad was in the hospital and recovery because there were no other options. I was it! But I am not too deterred; I will be back in the barn over Christmas, milking with Dad.


Patti Hurtgen

The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars, and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.