It was hot! It was humid! It was August in southern Minnesota and I was assigned to bring the cows home (with a little help from my sisters, Dorothy and Elda) in time for milking. The cows were allowed to graze in the "far pasture" during the daytime because the grass was, indeed, "greener on the other side of the fence". They liked it there and needed some encouragement to return to the barn.
We solicited the help of our trusty herd dog, "Charlie", to get the job done. But, first we needed to get to the far pasture ourselves. There was a big gate which we could open to leave the barnyard but we found it easier to jump into the pasture at the junction where the fence met the cow tank (the tank serving as part of the fence, making it convenient for the animals to easily find a drink of water).
Toward the end of summer it was not unusual for a green, fetid smelling algae to cover most of the water in the tank. Some of the algae even found its way to the bottom of the tank (not harmful to the animals, but nonetheless unattractive and very smelly).
We would grab onto the fence post next to the tank to assist getting to the top corner of the junction, then pivot and jump down to the other side. We had done it many times without mishap until on this August day sister Dorothy made a misstep and fell backwards into the algae covered water. When she came up, she was green, smelly, scared, crying and devastated! After we helped her out of the tank and watched her crying and running to the house, Elda and I could not help but bend over with hysterical laughter -- yet, we felt some empathy because it could have happened to us, as well.
Now there were only two of us and Charlie left to bring the herd of Holsteins back to the farmyard pasture to be ready for evening milking. Charlie ran ahead, as usual, and did quite a show of "rounding up" the herd and getting them on their way. I have no idea how that dog learned that skill, but he simply knew how to go about the business of bringing the cows home. The buzz of farm flies met our ears as we followed Charlie and the Holsteins.
It was quite a hike from the far pasture and the cows moved slowly, not wanting to give up their opportunity to graze the choicest section of pasture. When they got to the barn pasture, we closed the gate to hold them in readiness for their evening ritual.
When Dad and Uncle came after dinner to begin the milking routine, they opened the gate from the farm pasture to the barn. The cattle always knew where they were going and easily found their very own assigned stanchion; amazing how they did that. When they were in place, Uncle would go in front of each cow and close the stanchion collar, but I don't think the cows would have left if he did not. Next to each stanchion was a metal bowl which contained water if the cows felt thirsty. There was a coolness in the barn, along with the smell of alfalfa and manure. Now and then you would see a farm cat wondering through looking for a handout of warm milk.
Mom, Dad and Uncle each had their assigned cows -- mom milked only two. Dad and Uncle had five each -- a total of 12 black and white cows. Mom would sometimes get help from Dorothy with the milking. When I was about 10, Dorothy tried to teach me to milk the gentlest of all the cows. I did try, but I never felt proficient at the job. When a cow was milked, the stanchion collar was opened, the cow instinctively backed from her position and returned to the barn pasture. The milk smelled different when you sat on a stool milking the cow. It had a heavy, sweet smell that was not there after the milk was cooled.
It was important that we had that herd of cows for it did bring income to the family. Dad would load the '31 Chevy with cans of milk and take them to the creamery about three miles away. Sometimes he took me along for the ride.
We never told anyone what happened to Dorothy in the cow tank, but Elda and I got the giggles whenever we thought about it.
Laura W. Berglund
Copyright August 2018
Laura Berglund is a former Afton area resident who writes post-depression stories of her childhood living in rural southern Minnesota. Her husband, Harold, (other than two years in the Army), has spent his entire life in the St. Croix Valley/Afton area, never living more than 12 miles from his birthplace.