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New Day Dairy GuestBarn

Confessions of a Dairy Farmer

I’ve been writing this post in my head and jotting down notes on my phone for over 2 months as I’ve been doing calf chores most mornings and evenings.  Now it’s here.  I have a moment to share with you how I really feel about calves and doing calf chores, which by the way, if you want to know what in the world these “calf chores” are check my post out from last week!  (A link will not insert, so I guess you’ll have to find it yourself in the Dairy Farming 101 series.) 

For one, I feel like I can truly say “I am a dairy farmer.”  Sure I would’ve said that before and I think it would’ve been true but now that I’ve really gotten dirty and sweaty, gotten to know my calves, and done it day after day for 2 months I think it’s a more legitimate statement.  And, for better (because now I can do it) or worse (because now I can do it & can’t plead ignorance), I also know a lot more about how to do things on the farm. 

Since I’m a beginner but am still dedicated to our farm and calves I feel like I can give you an honest perspective.  Now I say beginner because I’d done calf chores before and I knew our farm so I wasn’t a complete novice.  I’d help Dan out here or there when Dave and Pam were gone or the kids and I would visit and help for awhile but it was random.  Over the past 2 months I think I’ve moved from novice to beginner and maybe even a little bit into the basics, which is impressive for this suburban grown city girl! 

Even though I now can call myself a  basic dairy farmer I still have a shocking confession: 

I don’t really like calves. 

There. It’s out there.  I’ve said it.  I don’t really like calves or calf chores. 

Why?  But, Why?  You may ask.  Well, I’ll break it down for you, from the reason I least like calves and calf chores to the best part about it (yes there are some good parts).

Now I’ll be honest that this list has gone through some changes over the past 2 months because I’ve gone through some changes.  The first week after Dan had surgery a good friend asked how I liked doing calf chores and I said “good”.  At that point my mom was still around caring for the kids and my house and helping me take care of Dan, so calf chores were a nice little break and I was still in the “honeymoon” stage of doing something new. 

But it didn’t take long and the honey started to disappear.  Throw in a week of VBS and then my mom leaving (which she had to do – she’d given us 10 days!) and Dan not recovered enough to do anything but keep the kids alive and hopefully entertained while I was gone, and it went downhill fast.  My plate was overstuffed and overfull and that didn’t help my attitude toward the rowdy seemingly ungrateful calves I spent hours caring for everyday. 

The last few weeks the tide turned again as Dan had been able to help the kids eat dinner or breakfast, get them ready for bed or the day, and into bed while I was doing calf chores in the mornings or evenings.  With less responsibility on my plate I didn’t have to fight for joy quite as hard.  Going forward I’ll continue to help with calf chores to help Dan out when Dave & Pam are gone but thankfully for me it won’t be ALL. THE. TIME.

So here we go with our list of why I don’t really like calves or calf chores…

5. Calf Slobber, Kisses, and Nibbles.  Seriously, for some reason, this is the thing I have the least patience for.  No matter how I’m trying to care for a calf, whether giving her fresh water, some food, or trying to give her a dry place to lay down, I can’t get near her without her trying to suck and nibble on any part of body or clothes that’s available.  Calves have no discretion – they suck on my hair, my arm, my shirt, my leg, my elbow… you get the idea.

Truthfully this just makes my  job harder because it turns out I’m usually using my arms and body to take care of them and if they’re nibbling on me it means they’re in my way.   AND I just don’t really like wet warm slobber all over me….

When I told Dan’s aunt, who has been dairy farming her whole life, about my predicament she said she doesn’t even notice that this happens to her anymore.  So maybe if I did calf chores long enough I’d get use to it too… but I don’t really want to. 

I’d rather figure out how to train these little calves to stay out of my way and respect my body bubble… 

4. Messy, Misbehaving Calves.  Now obviously calves have to eat and drink to grow, which is what we want.  And obviously some of what goes in must come out but calves are not the smartest creatures when it comes to where they’re going to poop and pee (like, ahem, pigs).  No matter how much I’d tell them to make sure to relieve themselves in their yard not on their bed in their hut, they usually didn’t listen. 

And then related to #1, if I was providing them with fresh straw to lay on instead of ground papers, I had to climb into their yard and hut to spread it out all nice for them, which usually involved trying to get them out of their hut and into their yard so I could stoop down and go into their hut and spread out their straw.  While in their hut I often have to balance on one leg to keep the other leg out behind me to protect me from the licking, nibbling, slobbery calves – as well as a few rowdy ones who just want to head butt me (literally!). 

Dan thought he should take a picture of me doing this to insert here for your viewing, ah, pleasure… I don’t think it’d be pleasurable.  Instead just imagine yourself doing the above described acrobatics and you’ll probably giggle a little! 

Equally as annoying is when they decide to poop or pee in their water bucket, especially if I’ve just given them fresh water!  There are even a few chronic offenders who not only often poop in their bucket they figure out how to get their bucket out of it’s holder and then roll it around in their messy yard.  And then I’d clean it again and again and again and again…. 

Now this isn’t number one because every so often it can be helpful.  During my first week one of those chronic offenders happened to pee in her water bucket and it wasn’t yellow but red – which means bladder infection.  Thankfully we were able to catch it early and get her the treatment she needed fast and now she’s doing great!  If she’d peed anywhere else we wouldn’t have caught it as early. 

3. My Body.   There’s some good and bad here, so it rightly falls in the middle.  Even though I haven’t been milking cows just carrying buckets of water and feed, it has caused my wedding ring to no longer fit and for callouses to form on my hands.  Now that I’m not as actively helping with calf chores the callouses will probably fade away and hopefully my hands will shrink back to my wedding ring size.  Either way I still love my husband unconditionally but I’d hate to see my beautiful ring just sit around! (PS… the ring is already back on!)

And I’ve lost weight and for sure some inches with all the physical lifting and walking twice a day.  I took a strength and weight training class in high school and my teacher would be proud.  I’ve been using my knowledge to lift with my legs and  engage my abs while lifting and carrying buckets.  Hopefully I’ll be able to keep being active and eating right to stay in shape now! 

2.  Getting to know the calves.  Now honestly, I’d probably feel a lot more lovey fuzzy feeling toward my calves if I got to know them even more than I have.  If I’m truthful my 2 and 5 year old have some of the same issues I don’t particularly like in calves – getting in my body bubble, having to feed and then clean up after them, and caring for them in general.  Thankfully I spend a lot more time with my kids and I know them and all of their amazing attributes too – like cuddles and “I love you’s”, funny faces and phrases, learning to help, saying “thank you”, and so much more!  

But I’ve still gotten to know the calves I’ve been caring for and each one has a personality – even if it’s a rowdy in your face personality.  You know who will drink their whole bucket of water as soon as you give it to them so you’ll have to refill it right away. You know who will stand in the door of their hut so you can’t get any bedding in it.   You know who is going to get their bucket out of it’s holder. You know who thinks she’s the boss and always gets the first drink of water (one of my calves, Peyton, I renamed PrimaDonna because she’s thinks she’s number 1 and the most important in her big hut group!).  And thankfully you know who’s just going to be chill and laid back, although you might not notice them. 

1. Experiencing God’s Creation.  My favorite thing of all was getting to experience God’s creation each morning and evening.   Now on those hot humid days this wasn’t my favorite but thankfully I knew I’d get to take a shower as soon as I was done working, something they didn’t have the luxury of when Dan’s Great-Great Grandparent’s started farming our farm over 125 years ago! 

Since I was helping through summer which was turning into fall I usually got to experience dawn’s arrival and evening’s dusk settling.  For around two hours each morning and evening I’d be in and out of the barns and caring for the calves at the huts, getting to both see and feel the new day’s arrival or the day’s end.  I’ve watched the sunrise and set before and can usually see it from inside my house but then I’m on to the next thing on the to-do list – usually inside, missing the beauty of the slow change as the days come and go. 

Perhaps my favorite morning was after a stretch of hot humid summer days I drove to the farm at 5:15am and it was still icky and sticky out with my car’s thermometer at 72 degrees.  Over the next two hours I experienced the weather shift like I never have before.  The wind picked up and spent a good 30-60 minutes working on blowing away the hot heavy air mass, bringing with it cool crisp refreshing fall air.  Driving home a bit after 7am that morning my car’s thermometer had dropped 8 degrees and more importantly the humidity had been pushed away. 

The weather and our atmosphere is truly amazing.  I so appreciate that we have meteorologists who really are pretty close when it comes to telling us what’s coming our way but I think most of us usually miss out on the wonder of our world and getting to really “feel” the weather and the way it shifts and changes.  Being outside in God’s creation to see how many different beautiful ways the sun can set and rise, experiencing the changing weather, feeling rain drops on your head but continuing to work has given me more of an appreciation and awe for this amazing place we live called earth. 

Sunrise over the barn on the prairie

No picture could really do the morning & evening beauty justice… but this is attempt!

In the end I really am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn the day in and day out pattern of calf chores as well as get the farm through a tough time, being down a more than full-time worker! I may not have said that one month into doing calf chores but that’s what perspective is so important!

What are the blessings and annoyances of your job? They all have ’em!

One thought on “Confessions of a Dairy Farmer

  1. Praise to you, Linn, for finding time to continue your blog, with photos even! I remember the summer I worked on my uncle’s farm when I was 16. He gave his Holstine dairy cows cute names: Lightfoot was a kicker. My uncle pointed out the unknown world of bovine hierarchy and communication, how Boss, the lead cow, led the herd single file to where she chose to graze that day, then to the pond for water, and when my uncle called, back to the barn for milking.
    Even as a 16-year-old, I realized what a blessing it was to be outdoors in God’s beautiful world and not stuck in a windowless room all day.
    I am glad I discovered a link to your website on Facebook — I’ll be back to keep up with your news

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