By Judy Garrison
THE OLD DAYS
My first job in Delaware County was as a caseworker with the Department of Social Services, where I was assigned a caseload of foster kids. Some lived with farm families and their grown or half-grown children. One of my duties was to interview and certify prospective new foster parents, some of them farmers. What difference would a couple of more kids make in a busy household with both parents on hand where the family culture was one of pitching in with the chores? Two of my favorite families to visit—salt of the earth, cheerful, and wise—were Jake and Lois Tait way up in the Cloves. Lois would sit me down in her convivial kitchen with a cup of coffee and molasses cookies (I still use her recipe) and share the news of the kids and the farm as if I were an old friend; and the Donald Kilmer farm on Telford Hollow, where it seemed as if their six as well as the bunch of foster kids were always happily engaged in 4-H projects or digging out arrowheads by the stream. Visiting the barn, and hearing the tales of their Brown Swiss came with the territory.
Later, in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, when I ran my own real estate business, I would especially enjoy getting farm listings. These included all the specs you can imagine about their acreage, the barn, and if cattle and equipment were included—generally the case—a full inventory of bulk tank, pipelines and barn cleaners, size of silos, the tractors and harrows and rakes, the milking history of the cows. I acted as agent on the sale of a few farms and also did appraisals for an estate lawyer. What a wide range there was: a couple seemed medieval in their primitiveness and the backbreaking labor by hand they employed; others were well-oiled, sparkling and modern operations.
My favorite farm to visit was my neighbor’s in Treadwell. I would go to the barn virtually every other day during evening milking with my trusty gallon milk can (my 3 children consumed a lot of milk!). I always enjoyed chatting with Roland Huyck, hearing the latest regarding his herd. (Once, slightly horrified, I witnessed him “assisting” in the difficult birth of a calf using his tractor and some unspecified instrument.) My motivations for purchasing milk this way were many: the milk could hardly be fresher than this; I had read (was it in Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet?) that unhomogenized and unpasteurized milk was more easily digestible, and I was reassured by the posted high marks the Huycks received on bacteria count from the state inspectors; if you wanted to make butter (I made it just a couple of times in my blender—simply for the experience of doing it) and yogurt (I made it regularly, letting the milk and culture ferment in the warmed brick indentation of our homemade wood oven) you had the ideal milk to start with. The price was right, too. Once, I escaped with a full gallon of cream. That would have been a bargain, but I did return to correct my blunder. I had helped myself as usual, but hadn’t realized the agitator had been long off and all the cream had risen to the top of the bulk tank.
VISITNG THE LIDDLE BARN
I arrived at the barn at a still-dark 6 am to find Roger Liddle gearing up for the morning milking. His father and partner in the farm, Dick, had, as always in the warm months, driven the cows down from the summer pasture into the barn and into their stanchions. (Dick had informed me that his pattern was to return to bed for a while, then join the crowd at Woody’s, after which he’d be up to work at his sawmill.) I expected to briefly revel in the atmosphere of a full dairy barn and ask a couple of questions and leave. But Roger was so amenable to answering my queries, and so pleasant and informed I stayed for an hour. All the while Roger—in his 34th year of this occupation, who will be 52 in October, but has the build and agility of a younger man—was in constant, sinuous motion, preparing udders, hooking up the 7 milking machines, and disinfecting udders on the 75 milkers representing an interesting assortment of breeds: Jerseys, Holsteins, Ayrshires, and their various mixes. The calf barn next door houses the calves, yearlings and bred heifers tended daily after his full time job by Cody Ruff. Roger could not say enough good about Cody, who took over the milking 3 years ago when Roger had 2 knee surgeries, and who will corral the cows into the barn and start the milking on those days when Roger is delayed with the haying.
Above each cow is a chart bearing her name—they are all named for a trait, or a notable occurrence—e.g. “windowbreaker”, positioned next to a cardboarded-over window—and some mysterious (to me) initials as well.
Roger gave me more information: about where the distributor sends the milk, the oscillations in the price of milk: $26 a hundredweight last year, this year only $16; the amount milked (over a million pounds a year), the Watershed Agricultural Council programs they have participated in, such as the nutrient management program which takes soil samples and advises how much manure to spread.
Here is something I puzzled over: How do you know if and how far along a cow is in her pregnancy when she has been out in the pasture cavorting with the bull, not artificially inseminated? The answer: Veterinarian Dr. Jess from the Delhi Animal Hospital does herd health pregnancy visits. She checks the cows who are candidates for freshening, determines just how far along they are in order to estimate their freshen date, checks for cysts as well. So with Roger’s explanations, the “mysterious” initials puzzle of the aforementioned chart was answered for me: FD stands for last freshen date; DB for date bred; and DD for date due. Ideally a cow is bred about 3 months after freshening, and therefore with a gestation period of 9 months, will have a due date close to a year after the earlier freshen date. Here’s another question I put: What do you do for a cow having trouble in delivery? Roger showed me his “calf jack”, officially known as a field extractor, which he had used recently in the barn to secure the delivering cow while pulling the newborn calf out by the feet. So add “birthing” to the many skills Roger Liddle, Andes dairy farmer, has to be ready to perform in a day’s work.~