Raised in the Barn

I was in the barn as soon as I could walk. Growing up in the barn, near the cows, cats and dogs shaped my view and love for animals. There was also the occasional bat hanging upside down on the wall and a salamander meandering across the floor that allowed me to experience the wild. Here the wild meets the human realm. The barn is a wonderful place for a child to learn, filled with the five senses. It is intriguing to a young child. There are the sounds, colors, textures, smells and even taste. This memory that is printed in my mind isn’t a specific event but a summary of my early years in the barn before I was given chores to help with. Most likely I was between the ages of six and eight.

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Dad comes out of the milk house carrying a milker and hangs it on the pipeline, a few feet from the door. He runs his thick fingers through his dark brown almost black hair, as he goes back into the milk house to bring the other four milkers out. Glancing to his right he sees me standing by the giant fan in the corner, he picks me up in his strong arms and rubs my cheek with his prickly beard. I burst out laughing, and around my giggling I ask him to put me down. The cows start mooing, impatient to be milked. Dad placed me back on my feet and started milking the cows.

Dad squats by Mouse, the first cow, leaning on her soft abdomen so that she would know that he was there. Mouse is a sweet Jersey cow; her coloring is like cream with a hint of ivory. Dad puts a milker on her four teats. Then he went to four other cows doing the same routine, by the time he put a milker on the fifth cow, Mouse was done milking. He switched her milker on to the cow right next to her.

Seth, my oldest brother, is feeding the cows grain. Aleesha, is two years older than Seth, and has fallen asleep again; her thick blond hair is matted against the Holstein she is leaning on. She preps the cows ahead of Dad, washing their teats with a squirt of iodine in soapy water.  Amber, my oldest sister, is feeding the calves milk from a bottle.

Cows 1 030The barn is an array of colors. The herd is a mix of breeds. We have Guernsey, Holstein, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, and Milking Shorthorn crosses. The Guernsey cows are white and brown. They are very headstrong. Holstein cows are white and black. Ayrshire cows have red and white spots and speckles; they are one of my favorite breeds. Brown Swiss are actually grayish instead of brown. Although stubborn, they are very cute with big floppy ears. Milking Shorthorns are very beautiful and their colors are combinations of the other breeds. They can be speckled, spotted or striped and are my other favorite.

I stop to listen to the wonderful sounds around me. The first sound I hear is the radio playing country music, and dad singing along. Seth is whistling a tune of his own.  If I stand close enough, I can hear the cows chewing their cud. Sometimes screeches from cats fighting ring through the barn. The most comforting sound, other than dad’s beautiful singing, is the sound of the milkers. The swooshing is rhythmical and soothing.

I leave dad’s side as the sweet smell of hay suddenly drifts in and drowns out the smell of cow manure; a chilling draft comes in as well. I walk down to the north wall where Seth has set two hay bales. Already sitting on top of the two bales, stacked one on top of the other, was a big cat. I crawled on to the bales and set the cat on my lap, she started purring instantly. I stroked her soft gray fur, making it look smooth. The dusty smell of straw clings to her. I sit there observing everything. Seth brings in four more hay bales.

When dad is done milking, he comes over and gives me a bear hug, lifting me off the bale. Dad set me down, and we walked hand in hand down the walkway to the milk house. Seth feeds the hay to the cows, finishing his chores. In the milk house, Aleesha and Amber are washing their boots. Dad offers us some fresh milk that is still warm. I try it. But Aleesha and Amber aren’t interested. Amber opens the door, a blast of cold air spills into the milk house. Aleesha and Amber leave with the door slamming behind them. Quickly Dad finishes cleaning up the milk house, and then we open the door to head outside. We walk hand in hand to the house, looking up at the stars as we walk.

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