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A Day on The Rice Lake Organic Farms

Randy (Grade 12 / Minnesota New Country) Originally published November 2003
Editors’ note: Randy is a senior at Minnesota New Country School (Henderson). He works full-time, part of the time at two dairy farms in Le Sueur and Norseland. This doesn’t leave much time for socializing, and, besides, his pal One-Eyed Sally hates movies.

I come to school and the first words out of some kid’s mouth are, “Aww, pew. What’s that smell?” Well, the smell is me, and you have no clue what I did this morning.

I got up at 5:30 and went to the wagon. No feed. So, I had to warm up the tractor, back the feed mill out of the shed… shoot, the tractor quit… warm up tractor, again. No, it’s not the tractor; it’s the battery terminal. Looks like it’s corroded. Fix terminal. Start tractor again. Golly. Now the auger, which runs the feed into the mill, broke last week. Shoot, forgot about that. Where was I? Tractor — fixed. Auger — not fixed. Cows–bellowing ferociously outside the barn.

I find the nearest five-gallon bucket. Lucky for me, we have more than enough buckets. So, I bucket the corn into the feed mill. Thank you: this works. Got the corn grinding in the mill. Add the buffer — that’s oats and barley for the rest of ya. Fill up twelve five-gallon buckets with feed. By the way, this is a labor-intensive job, not a very high-tech operation. I carry the buckets over to the barn, two in each hand. I’m careful not to drop them, watching out for my clumsy duck feet so I don’t trip over something stupid. Like our wonderful baling twine which, by the way, can fix anything — except for the auger. But it does hold the auger up.

Where was I? Oh yes, carrying seventy-five pounds of feed at 6:30 in the morning. I get the buckets to the barn and… where are the cows? I forgot the cows. Set the feed down. Go get cows and let them into the barn. They’ll get fed once the cleaning’s done, so they are calm. Now it’s time to sanitize the milk machines and pipeline. This is more difficult than just wiping them down. I fill up jars with pipeline acid. If you aren’t careful, you can lose a couple of fingers with that stuff. I screw the jars on and hit the switch to wash and “RRNNNGRRRNN” it’s a cleanin’. Now I feed and tie in our lovely cows. Have I mentioned that they are all named? Almost every one: Ma, One-eyed Sally (who is a darling and she asked me to put that in), Crystal, Mary, Claire, Maddy, Mindowa, Inga, Dorothy, Fran, Swirly, Freckle — I could go on forever, but you get the idea.

As we tie them in, I pet and massage them. I rub their faces and their heads, let them know that I’m there. With some of the new ones, we have another guy rub the top of their tails. By the way, it’s not just me up with the cows; there are two more of us. These cows get special treatment at this farm. They are not only organic dairy cows, but they get treated better than the owner’s wife. Almost every one gets some sort of conversation while they are being milked or fed; because the cows don’t talk back or argue it is usually a one-ended conversation. Sometimes, though, I’ll get a lap with a cow tongue. Loosely translated it usually means, “I agree with you, Randy, and I’m glad you are here. And I want more feed.” Every morning, the three of us milk eighty cows. We have a thirty-two-tie stall barn, so we do two shifts of milking’ in the morning and at night. That means I get to see my sweet girls twice a day. What can I say? I get around. And while getting around, I step in cow manure, which is why I sometimes smell different than some city folk are used too. But, I’ve done more before 8:30 then most people.

One-Eyed Sally will vouch for me.

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