Ask the dairy farmer's daughter

Inspired by this thread about cow tipping in GQ and the number of cow questions in it, I thought it might be nice for the city folk to get a chance to get some questions answered. Since I’m moving off the farm for good this summer, this will also be a nice way for me to get all misty-eyed and reminisce about all the crap that I’ve done (and not done) on the farm.

Want to know how to milk a cow? Want to know how to feed a calf? Want to know what calf-pulling is? (Doesn’t have much in common with taffy, I’ll tell you that much!) How about what the grossest thing I’ve ever seen is? Want to know some jargon? How about milk grades? Want to know why neither my brothers nor I have any intention of becoming dairy farmers? And why I hate California cheese? Oh, ladies and gentlemen, I am your girl.

A little background: I am, of course, from The Dairy State, Wisconsin. The farm I grew up on was officially established by the McKnittingtons in 1848, but we were probably there some time before that. We’re Cornish. The farm buildings all date from the nineteenth or early twentieth century. The main barn underwent renovation in the 1940s, expanding it from a fourteen-stanchion barn to a thirty-stanchion barn. (Stanchions are the things you tie cows in. There are tons of different types.) We milk about sixty cows twice a day–it’s a small farm. Pipeline systems have come and gone since the expansion of the barn, and right now we have one that runs via vaccuum pump.

I can’t promise that I’ll be able to answer all the questions, but I"ll try to answer them to the best of my ability. Any I can’t, I’ll either field to Pa McKnittington or maybe some kind Doper who knows more than I do will be kind enough to step in. I’m long on family history and funny stories, but kind of short on the elaborate science behind animal husbandry.

So ask away!

Wow…I think all the possible questions are interesting (and I’m not awake enough to think of more). Hmmm…where to start…?

More backgound, I guess: Why aren’t you and your brothers growing up to be dairy farmers?


I am posting to this thread because:

  1. I live in a former cowshed (built in 1855 but now thankfully refurbished)
  2. You have a great username
  3. I want to know what is the grossest thing you have ever seen.

I think the family history and funny stories would be very interesting. So regale us w/ some stuff.

What’s up with whole farmer’s daughter and traveling salesman thing?

CMC fnord!

Got milk?

Is it true that the milking machine doesn’t stop until it gets 20 gallons?

Got any good pasty recipes?

Sorry, sorry. Dairy questions, dairy…um…

What kind of milk would you serve with pasties, and do you have a good recipe for both?


Only 60 cows? How on earth do you make a profit?

Do you really use Bag Balm on the cows’ udders?

A coworker used to use udder cream on her hands.

I am still debating whether or not I want to know the grossest thing you have ever seen. It could be pretty gross.

Here are my questions:

  1. Did you(r family) ever have a cow that was particularly personable? I guess I’m thinking of a cow version of Babe the Pig – like a cow that made you say “wow, that cow is a lot better/smarter/friendlier than all the other cows!” This is my romanticized city-person vision of life on a farm. I’m willing to admit that most cows are probably pretty mundane, but was there ever a special cow?

  2. Is milk all the same, or do different farms produce milk for designated things like drinking milk, milk for cheese, milk for ice cream, etc?

  3. Does cow milk have any other purpose other than feeding humans? Duh, it feeds baby cows. But in terms of a market purpose?

  4. Do you buy your milk/dairy from the supermarket like everyone else, or do you set aside milk for your own family’s use?

  5. If (a) there is a special cow, and (b) you and your siblings do not intend to become dairy farmers, then do your parents want me to come live with them and take care of the special cow and be a dairy farmer?

Does homo milk come from gay cows?

psst…lesbian. Lesbian cows. smacks NoClueBoy upside the head with a trout

Thanks for the questions. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw them. Obviously I went to bed last night when I realized it was five in the freakin’ morning, only to be waken up in an hour and a half by my sister’s cat, who wanted to play fetch. Thank god I wasn’t home–Dad would have made me go out and help with the morning milking as long as I was awake. I’ll answer these questions the best I can.

Short answer: Because it’s a crap job that pays peanuts. Oh, and you can die doing everyday stuff.

Long answer: The prospects for small family farms are grim. The prospects for family farms in general are grim. While the trend for organic milk has been a boost, unfortunately not everyone can go organic. When this is coupled with the children of farmers pursuing interests outside of farming . . . well, it’s hard to put someone back on the farm after taking them off. (Although the old chestnut, “You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy,” does have some truth.) It’s a hard damned job. There are harder jobs–I’m not about to say that farmers have it harder than Alaskan King crab fishermen, because that would be a lie. It’s one of the hardest ones that doesn’t raise an eyebrow when you tell people what you do.

I have no interest in taking over the family farm because I hate seeing my dad dog-tired all the goddamn time. He’s usually working within two miles of the house, but there are times of the year when we don’t see him aside from milkings (and sometimes not even then.) He gets up before me and generally falls asleep right after dinner–no time for chatting. I don’t want that sort of life for my future family. I’d like to actually be able to sit down with my husband and have a conversation without one of us falling asleep in the middle of it, or being able to take a bath without falling asleep during that. Put that together with having to manage a small business (accounting? yech!), and I can’t imagine a less desirable job.

As for my brothers, they have other passions. Namely, cars and computer programming. (I know, I think they’re kinda weird too.) And they think farming is too much work for the return, too.

Is your barn red?

Can a barn be a barn and not be red?

Is a checked pattern, ripped-at-the-sleeves, tied-at-the-waist shirt (hiding large breasts) and daisy dukes shorts the uniform for the hot farmer’s daughter?

More importantly, how often do you wear it? How many innocent passerbys do you end up seducing?
How badly does Big Agribusiness make it for the small time farmer to survive?

Perhaps it’s obvious, but why *do *you hate California cheese?

If you and your brothers move off the farm, will the farm stay in your family?

Did you guys ever take vacations? Who would take care of the cows if you did?

I imagine milk is a product that needs to be sold pretty frequently and/or quickly. Is your family’s farm contracted with a co-op of some kind, or one particular dairy brand?

Is the milk produced on your farm organic?

I read an article in our local paper a year ago or so about many of the local farms having sand hauled from one of the local beaches to use as bedding because it’s cleaner and more comfortable. I’d never thought about bedding for cows and until then had figured straw was used. Is sand common in WI (and well, everywhere) as bedding? Are there other materials used? Is sand really better for the cows?

  1. Heh. I used to have nightmares my family had been forced to move into the barn. You, sir and/or madam, are living my worst nightmare.

  2. Thank you very much!

  3. Score. I’ve been looking forward to answering this question. There are a couple of things that have been pretty disgusting, so I’m going to share one human one and one cow one. The cow one was really hard to choose.


A few years ago, my dad was trimming a cow’s hoof by himself, which wasn’t very intelligent of him. The cow took exception to it, and started moving around. The blade Dad was using slipped and he cut his hand pretty badly. You could see the fat in his hand kind of just bulging behind the cut. Cue him running up the house from the barn with his hand clutched in his other hand, with blood leaking out from between his fingers. His shirt was covered in blood and there was a pretty good amount of it on his pants.

He was calling Mom’s name in way that could either mean he wanted her to bring him a bottle of pop or he had just amputated something. (My dad, he’s a cool-headed guy.) I heard her say, “Oh, honey, how did you do that?” and walked in just in time to see the fat bulging out the cut. He wrapped an old towel around his hand, but he insisted on changing out of his barn clothes before going to the emergency room. Needless to say, it’s kind of weird to watch your mother put your father’s shoes on for him, while he holds a bloody towel over her head and tries to tell you everything’s going to be okay. Sometimes it’s hard to believe it when he says that. I love my father very much and I hate it when he hurts himself like that.

And now the cow TMI, which I assure you is very gross indeed. So much so, that I’m putting it in a spoiler box. It concerns bony lumpy jaw, which sounds like it shouldn’t be a disease at all, but it’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen.

We had a cow develop bony lump jaw. What happens is that something like a sharp stick in the fodder punctures the tissues in her mouth, and bacteria moves in and sets up an abscess, either in the tissue or in the bone. It’s really hard to notice in the early, treatable stages and it’s nearly impossible to treat.

[spoiler]The cow we had with bony lumpy jaw was fine. Even though the abscess was absolutely huge, it didn’t bother her at all. She was eating fine, not losing any weight, and she was pretty perky for a cow. As long as she was happy, there wasn’t any reason to get rid of her, especially since she seemed to be responding to treatment and I hoped maybe she’d get better.

The lump on the side of her jaw just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It was surreal. But she was happy and healthy in all other ways. And then one day, the skin on the side of her face split. Oh, god, it was awful. Perfectly composed cow face above, four-inch long gash dripping pus below. Complete and utter surprise on everybody’s part. She had a black face, too, so the red of the flesh and the creaminess of the pus stood out really clearly.[/spoiler]

She was such a sweet cow, but we had to have her put down after that.

Wishful thinking! The only traveling salesman I know sells insurance, is in his seventies, and is my great-uncle. I’ll stop there.

[QUOTE=Miss Purl McKnittington]
Wishful thinking!


On your part, or on traveling salesmen’s?