I have always loved the fall time, but the past 12 years have been especially wonderful. You see, my husband, Dustin, and I fell in love in the fall. I remember the beautiful fall leaves, crisp apples, harvest time and freshly weaned calves bawling, their foggy breath making white clouds on the crisp mornings. All of it led up to the best move I ever made. I said “yes” on that snowy December day to the man I thought only existed in fairy tales, and forever looks better every day.
Life back then was happy, simple and exciting! Little did I know it would soon get more challenging – still wonderful – but more difficult in ways I didn’t anticipate.
Shortly after becoming engaged, Dustin and I were visiting his mother’s family in the town of Beaver, Utah. After hearing that we were engaged to be married, a sweet, little, old woman took me aside and (after congratulating me of course) said, “Whatever you do, don’t milk the cow. I’ve been married for 60 years and although I am very good at milking cows, I never once showed my husband I was because as soon as he knew I could milk the cow then guess who would be taking the late night milking, with a baby on each hip, when his church meetings ran late.” She smiled at me and shuffled off.
I remember considering her advice for a while, and on the ride home, I told Dustin about the encounter. I thought her advice a little silly. I was, after all, a strong, independent woman who could handle a milk cow as well as any man, maybe better. I did not think of the old woman again for several years, when I would finally understand what she really meant by “don’t milk the cow.”
My realization came slowly, more and more with the birth of each of our children. I will never forget Valentine’s Day ’06. I had a new baby and the weather outside was bitter, bitter cold; the wind was relentless. Dustin was called away on business and left his very capable wife – me – to take care of two of the range cows who had just calved. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there was a problem: both cows were “big teat” cows, which means the teats on the cows udders are too large when full of milk for the small calves to be able to nurse. To remedy this problem, the cows must be milked until the teat is small enough that the calf can fit its mouth around it and nurse. Still sounds relatively easy right? Until you do some baby calculations…
First off, I had a new baby. How often does a newborn baby eat? Every few hours, right? Which meant I was spending much of my time feeding her. Then there were the new baby calves. How often do newborn baby calves eat, especially in below freezing temperatures? You guessed it! A lot! Add to all those times the babies needed to eat the fact that these were not milk cows, but beef cows on the range that were not used to being milked by human hands and you can see I had quite the challenge.
So, I would feed my own baby, pile all my kids into the car and then drive my car to the corrals. I turned the heater on full blast for the kids and told my oldest to roll down the window and yell if the baby got fussy. Then I ran the cows into the chute and milked them while managing to dodge the hooves of disgruntled mother cows expressing their displeasure at being milked. It was miserable! I couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand with my little ones in the car.
Was I a capable mother? Yes! Was I completely capable of handling the cows and calves? Well…were Dorothy’s shoes red? Did Moses part the Red Sea? Are John Deere tractors green? Of course I was capable, but when I mixed the two the situations, they were almost more than I could handle. To add hail to my parade that was already being rained on, it was Valentine’s Day! Where were my dozen roses?!?
I laugh now as I remember having the thought, “It’s lucky Dustin was smart enough to take the truck and trailer with him because if he hadn’t I would load those cows up and haul them to the livestock auction!” It was then I remembered the old woman and what she had told me: “Don’t milk the cow!” That wise woman had been trying to spare me this day. She knew how hard farm life could sometimes be for women trying to balance the needs of children, husbands and the farm.
So now the moment of truth: If I could go back to the day the old woman imparted her wisdom, would I still have shown Dustin that I could milk the cow? Would I have ridden right alongside him every day, over rivers and mountains and meadows?
Well…do Dalmatians have spots? Do mules wait 50 years to kick you good and hard in revenge for a long ago mistreatment? Does my husband think the bovine is the most amazing animal God created? The answer is yes! And yes! And yes! Do I understand now how small children can make the work of a farm wife a bit more challenging – more wonderful a hundredfold – but still more challenging? Yes I do! I am so grateful for my five daughters and that they are “milking the cow” on our ranch every day. They have loved to work right alongside their dad from the time they were big enough to toddle to find their boots. I wouldn’t change it. I’d milk the cow again.
So, here is a shout out to all the farm mom’s out there and for all your “late night milkings.” I think of my own mom, a mother of nine, who grew up in urban Phoenix. She adapted and did amazing!
To all you farm husbands out there: remember to treat your farm wife like a princess at least once a day. She may be wearing muck boots, but she deserves a crown of jewels.
And to all you single women in agriculture who are amazing and running the farm as well as any man could: keep a steady eye on the horizon, prince “farming” may be right around the next windrow. He’ll come and carry you off with his 150 “green horses.”
My prince showed up in cowboy boots and rode a horse named Bess. Yes, I’d milk the cow again and again!