Contact: Helen Vater Blaha
----Sources: I wrote this for a
college composition class in about 1965. Helen (Eloranta) Vater Blaha
Morning Chores on a Green Grove Dairy Farm, Early 1960's (on the Ed and Elma Eloranta farm in Clark County, WI.
My dad and I would race through the snowy yard to the barn, and when we got there, chilled and out of breath, we'd turn the latch on the lower part of the door and pull the two-part door open just enough to slip in from the biting early morning air. Outside the air had been sharp and cuttingly cold, but inside the barn it was cozy and almost warm with moist air filled with the odors of corn silage, ground feed, hay, and shuffling cattle. Thick, spiky layers of ice crystals frosted the window panes and blocked off even a glimpse of the slowly-brightening January morning. Empty burlap feed sacks stuffed into the cracks beneath the door frustrated even the most vigorous blasts of the northern Wisconsin wind. The frosty air that sneaked in the door at our entry made our breaths turn into slinky white dragons in the streaks of light coming through cracks in the door. Without the constant wail of the wind at the barn walls, we could have been unaware of the whipping wind outside. The faded red barn made a cozy fortress. It was that cozy protected feeling, along with having my dad all to myself, that made me like to help with chores on cold winter mornings.
Our activity as we entered the barn would rouse the herd of about 20 Holstein cows, and what had been a light clinking of stanchion chains became a clattering of metal and clattering of hooves as the clumsy animals on either side of the center aisle rose to their feet. When my dad turned on the pump jack for water, the rhythmic clanking of the pump added to the cattle's eager mooing for feed to make the barn alive with sound.
Still rather sleepy and a little chilly for lack of activity, I'd look longingly at the pile of hay at the end of the barn where our collie lay curled comfortably, or at the hump of shiny yellow straw under the mow chute where a cluster of cats lazily lounged. But there was lots of work to be done, so as my dad put together the two units of Surge milking machines and the strainer, I carried feed to the cows. Soon the chuffing of the milking machine added to the muffled noises of the barn, and as I headed toward the silo room, my dad tuned WCCO from St. Paul in on the barn radio at the southeast corner of the barn.. Right below the radio, at the head of the east-side row of cows, a door led to the silo room where, between the cement silo and the wooden barn, an old water tank held the ground oats, corn, and vitamins that had been mixed at the feed mill to supplement the hay and silage diet of the herd. By giving the silo room door a sudden yank, I could break the frozen silage loose, and the door would swing open, letting in a dash of cold air filled with the sharp sweet odors of corn silage and molasses-sweetened feed. Taking a battered metal pail from a nail above the feed tank, I would scoop up a bucket of the fluffy mixture and step back into the barn. The cows were given an amount of feed calculated according to the amount of milk they produced, and as I'd begin to measure out the feed with a wide, one-pound coffee can, the cows would push at their stanchions and bellow in impatience. At least one overeager cow would thrash her head in the stream of feed as I poured it into the manger and powder me from head to toe with the itchy meal. Annoyed at this oft-repeated aggravation, I'd counter with a kick that hurt my toe more than the cow.
By the time I had finished feeding the ground meal, my dad would have the milking machines off the first cows, and there was milk to carry to the pump room. Since the milk provided our income, two buckets brimming with foaming milk was a pleasant sight. The smell was nice too--a warm, sweet fragrance that only fresh milk has. A pail in each hand, I headed around the cows in the west row into the pump shed. Stepping over a ledge and then down a few inches, I entered the cool, damp-smelling room where the water pump chugged away, where milk cans were stored, where a tank full of water cooled the milk. Frost covered the walls, ceiling and drain racks, and little, smooth, clear humps of ice made tiny mountains on the floor where moisture had slowly dripped from the pump shed ceiling. I carefully checked to see that the milk can under the strainer had room for the milk I carried. I poured one pail and, and then the other into the stainless steel strainer, watching the milk bubble away into the tall, tinned can. Then I'd take a few moments to kick at the ice on the floor to remove one of the smooth icy pegs. It looked good enough to suck on, and I had probably done that when I was younger, but now I knew these humps of ice weren't as crystal clean as they looked, and was satisfied just to admire it.
Later I'd climb up to the hay mow to throw down bales of hay. Once at the top of the smooth, worn wooden ladder that was part of the east wall of the barn, I'd slide open the overhead door. When the cold air that rushed down the chute hit me, I'd wish again to curl up in the hay in the cattle-warmed barn below with the dog and cats, but I'd climb up further and roll into the hay, trying to avoid brushing against the frost that hung from the rafters and walls like stalactites on the roof of a cave. The sun, now rising in the east, lit up rods of dust as it shone through knotholes in the old pine boards of the hay mow walls. I'd play with those rods--cutting them off with my hand and blowing into them to see my breath--but before my fingers became numb with cold, I'd tug bales of alfalfa loose from the stack of hay and push them down the chute. Then I'd climb over the snow fence partition into the straw, and push a pile of the smooth shiny bedding through another opening in the mow flow. When I'd get a big heap down below, I'd jump into it, startling the quietly feeding cows.
When I had the straw brushed off my barn coat, it was already time to leave the cozy, uncomplicated routine in the barn, and scurry to the house and join my brothers in arguments over whose turn it was to use the bathroom as we got ready for the school bus that took us to the Owen-Withee Schools.
Milking cows, 1963
Contact: Alicia Djubenski
Helen, What a beautiful picture. Thank you, Alicia
© Every submission is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.
Show your appreciation of this freely provided information by not copying it to any other site without our permission.
A site created and
maintained by the Clark County History Buffs