April 6 2018 08:00 AM

Helping her father with milking was the highlight of a young girl’s day.

I awoke with a feeling of anticipation mixed with distress. As a girl of 4 years old, taking naps was simply a necessity, but I was not about to sleep through the most exciting part of my day. I was lying on our great, enveloping couch snuggled in blankets. I could feel the radiating warmth of the wood stove in the corner of the living room comforting me and urging me to fall back asleep.

The clomp of my dad’s work boots in the mudroom and the rustling as he pulled his large winter coat over his shoulders echoed through the house. This was the signal for something that became a very important part of my life and taught me many life skills, although I did not know that at the time. It was now time to go milk the cows.

I leaped off of the snug couch and rushed to throw on my little coat and boots. As I delightedly followed my dad outside and grasped his hand, I could feel the crisp winter air pricking my fingers and turning my cheeks bittersweet red. I did not have a care in the world, though. I adored the feeling of the cold, fresh air. The snow crunched beneath our feet as my dad and I made our way to the cherry-colored barn where some of the most memorable of my childhood memories had taken place.

The lights flickered on in the old stanchion barn; all 50 of our milking cows that lined either side stood up almost in unison, knowing that it was milking time. As my dad got the milking machines equipped for milking, I fled to the calf pens toward the back of the barn to acknowledge and spoil the little wonders with affection.

My dad always told me that by giving the calves attention when they were young, I made them calm and accustomed to human interaction, which made milking the cows easier as they got older. I took that to heart and made it a part of my daily routine to visit the calves.

I could hear grain crumbling into the worn fiberglass feed cart in the manger as my dad opened the chute in the ceiling leading to where the grain was stored. I raced to the manger and snatched a metal feed scoop from the cart to help my dad measure the proper amount of feed for each cow, petting each one as I progressed down the manger.

Finally, it was time to begin milking the cows with udders filled with milk. My dad flipped a switch in the milk house, and the milk pump hummed to life. The milk cart shook as he pushed it, with the milking machines, dip bottles, and towels hanging on it, to the farthest end of the barn. I could not carry the milking machines from cow to cow, for I was not strong or tall enough; however, I helped in every way I could.

The dark liquid of the iodine dip dripped between my fingers while I prepped each cow for milking. Recognizing the touch of my warm hands on their sides, the cows welcomed me to step in between them to do my work. I continued to help my dad as we moved from cow to cow down the barn, pushing the milk cart with us as we went.

“You are a really great help,” my dad spoke to me and smiled. “Do you want to feed the babies?”

I nodded excitedly. Feeding the newborn calves their milk was my favorite part of helping my dad in the barn.

The warm, creamy milk flooded into the pail with a splash as my dad measured enough for me to feed three calves. He carried the pail to the calf pen area and handed me the bottles to feed the calves.

“Thanks, Dad,” I said before getting to work. My dad only smiled and walked away with a smirk on his face that made me feel like he was proud to have me as his little farm girl.

The calves suckled on the bottles until no milk was left. The last few droplets dripped down from their fuzzy little chins, and they circled and pranced around me in the straw-bedded pen with sudden energy similar to how a child acts after given caffeine. I closed the gate to the pen and pet the calves one last time before proceeding back to help my dad milk.

My dad and I worked together to finish milking, him trying to teach me new things along the way such as how to tell when a cow is not feeling well and how to know when a cow is going to have a calf soon. I soaked in this information like a sponge. I was always interested in the things he told me.

When we finished all of the work, my dad shut the lights off in the barn, reached for my hand, and smiled as we progressed over the crunching snow back to the house. I could hear the faint “moo” of one of the cows in the barn as we got farther away.

Spending this time with my dad still means the world to me. He has taught me that I need to work hard for what I want, and he never accepts less than my best. I still go through a very similar routine to this every day — minus the napping — and I am strong enough and tall enough to carry the milking machines now.

Still today, I never fail to walk arm in arm with my dad as we walk back to the house once we have finished all the hard work involved with farming. It is not only our occupation, but our way of life each day.

The author is a high school student who farms with her family in Juda, Wis.

Join us for our upcoming webinar on April 9, 2018:

The webinar “There’s a new calf killer in town” will be presented on Monday, April 9 at noon (Central time).

Veterinarians Donald Sockett, Rachel Klos, and Jason Lombard will discuss what producers should know about Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak in humans and cattle and the management practices associated with its introduction and spread in a herd.

The webinar is sponsored by Land O'Lakes Animal Milk Products Company.

Register here for all webinars.