By Sarah Holm
As farmers we have to do our farm chores morning and evening, no matter what the weather is or if we feel like it or not. Sometimes such a confining schedule can be frustrating but usually I enjoy it. It is nice to have a pattern to your days, to know that wherever the other family members were during the day, we will all be together at evening chores.
While my mom and two of my sisters clean the house or yard and make dinner, the rest of us kids put our school books away and grab a snack before we go to the barn. Dad comes home from work and stops to talk to Mom before he changes into his barn clothes.
I step out the door and am immediately greeted by our outside dog, Puppy. Going to get the cows is the highlight of Puppy's day.
The contrast between the last of the warm afternoon outside and the dark coolness of the barn hits me as I walk in. As I am the first one out here I get the little red lime spreader and spread the white lime in the cow stalls and on the walkways. The lime keeps our barn nice and dry.
I hurry to get the cows before one of my sisters comes out and claims the job. I grab a stick from the shelf as I leave the barn, Puppy runs excitedly ahead to open the door by jumping on it. He always does that; it is another rhythm in my life.
The cows aren't waiting by the gate as they usually do. Even when I call them (co' boss, come boss, come here babies!) they just look at me guiltily and pretend not to hear me. They are enjoying the grass and the sun too much to come in for the milking. Eventually they come though, reluctantly admitting that they heard me call. Then some heifers think it would be fun to race. Their games excite everybody and soon they are all running at top speed.
Even the cows that are hiding in the woods come running out, bucking and leaping and mooing ridiculous moos that sound more like a duck's quack than anything. As the cows hurry past me to the barn, a few stop to lick me and snort in my hair. 'Did you see that?' they seem to ask, 'did you see us stampede?" I laugh at them and tell them I know they were just pretending. Suddenly five or six are around me, licking me and asking to be petted. I try to keep up with all the chin scratching, (our cows love it when you rub their necks and chins!) but I can't. Pretty soon a young cow named Columbine gets impatient for her turn and starts butting the others away.
"Okay, girls, break it up. Be nice, won't you?" I slap the offender on the rump, which sends the whole group on their way.
My sisters, Erika, Laura and Rachel are in the barn with Dad; we let the cows in together. Then Erika, Laura and I start milking the cows while Dad sets up new pastures and water tanks for them. Rachel sneaks away to take care of her old white horse, Penny. She is supposed to feed the calves first, but she usually doesn't.
We start to milk the cows. Laura leaves off washing a cow to 'Go get something I forgot.' Presently she comes back, a triumphant cat named Toad riding on her head. Toad always rides on Laura while we milk, and it is another comforting rhythm in the day for me.
We three girls laugh and talk as we milk the cows. Erika wants to make a costume for the fair. Laura is worried that our 4-H Club's softball team will lose all the games again this year. They laugh remembering their unbroken record of losses last year. We decide to practice after chores.
Then Rachel comes in, laughing and red faced. Erika starts to scold her for disappearing, but stops as Rachel gasps with laughter and falls against Erika to catch herself. We ask her what's the matter and start laughing, even though we don't know what the joke is.
"The thing with Penny is," Rachel says as she blushes and laughs, " is she holds still while I clean her hooves and she lifts her feet up for me, but she grabs me." We ask what she means by 'she grabs me'. Rachel brushes at the mud on her jeans and says, "The whole time I was cleaning her feet she kept feeling around with her lips on the back of my pants, and every time she found the waist of my jeans, she would grab it in her teeth and pick me up and throw me!"
We all shout with laughter at that story because we can easily picture Penny, who is a big horse, picking our slim little sister up and throwing her.
"That's not all," Rachel said, "so then I turned around so she couldn't get me, but she kept grabbing my boots! She kept pulling on them and making me fall down, so finally I took one off. Then I showed it to her. Penny grabbed it and... oh, you should've seen it, she looked so funny with my red rubber boot in her mouth! Then she just looked at me... and threw it over her head!" Rachel demonstrated with a toss of her blond head.
We all laughed and Rachel laughed too, but she finally stopped laughing. "I got my sock all wet and muddy trying to get my boot back!" she said disgustedly. That just makes us laugh harder.
We are almost done milking and Rachel stays to dip the cow's teats with an iodine mixture for us. Erika chases her away later because she starts singing opera and upsets the cows. She comes back later though and then Erika gets mad because Laura starts singing it too. So while Laura and Rachel improvise an opera duet and Erika yells at them to be quiet, I move the milkers and dip the cows and laugh.
Later we clean the milk house up, let the cows back outside, clean the barn and feed the calves their bottles. Dad comes back from outside to help feed the bottles and he looks around and tells us we did a good job with chores.
We don't play softball after chores instead we have a campfire. Andrea and Mary bring out some 'Organic Prairie' hotdogs and we roast them over the fire. Dad sits at the picnic table with his arm around Mom's shoulder.
"Well," he says, " I know you girls wonder sometimes why you don't get to go camping or things like that. But we don't have to go camping, because we have it all right here."
Rachel starts to tell her story about Penny again and I am truly happy as I listen to everyone laugh and watch the bluebirds go to bed and the little brown bats come out.
Farm Fact: Organic farming has been found to have five times as many wild plants in arable fields, 57 per cent more species and several rare and declining wild arable species found only on organic farms.