After my family built our new farmhouse in 1953, my Dad decided to make the transition from selling Grade C milk over to producing Grade A milk for milk companies that did milk for pasteurizing, homogenizing and drinking. The idea was to begin selling Grade A milk to help us pay off the loan from building the house. The house had cost us nearly $6,700, which was quite a bit of money for a farm family in 1953.
I remember that before beginning to build our new milking barn, we went all over the county looking at the setups that other dairymen were using, their buildings, the equipment they were using, and so on. I was 14 years old in 1954, and I took a great interest in the design of milking barns and various brands of milking machines. At the time, Surge brand milking machines and milking parlor stalls were popular, and we were attracted to them, but Surge equipment was expensive. I was also interested in McCormick milking machines, as well as DeLaval, Hinman and a few others. We ended up purchasing a DeLaval pipeline milker from the Huenfield Implement Co. in Rogers.
For weeks I would draw up floor plans for the milk barn and show them to my Dad. I finally came up with a plan that was compact, economical to build, and he liked the way it would work. So we took that and went to work. We built the new milk barn in the area that had always been our garden sweet corn patch. That down-sized our garden by about one-fourth. Our milking parlor area had two walk-through lanes, one on each side of a lower operator's pit area. The milkers would be put on the cows on the north side while the cows on the south lane were being shuttled out and a new pair brought in, then the milkers would be moved over to the other side. It worked pretty smoothly -- eventually.
This story is mostly about the time before "eventually."
The new milking barn featured all concrete floors, and a concrete porch on the east side where the cows would enter. If you are familiar with cows, you may know that cows like things they are used to. If they are not accustomed to something, or someone, they are unsettled and disturbed. As I have seen it, cows especially don't like new concrete. They avoid walking on it. When a building is new, cows are afraid to get on that dreaded gray floor.
I recall the day when all the equipment had been installed and tested, the building was basically finished, and we were deciding whether to do our evening milking, "or not," in the new milking barn. We had milked the cows that morning in the older barn, with the cows in stanchions, milking by hand. If we went ahead to do the evening milking in the new barn, everything would be new. I remember that Dad had a hard time deciding whether to go for it or not. The normal 5 p.m. milking time passed by, and we were still waiting to decide. Then company came and we needed to visit with them for a while. Finally, about 8 p.m., Dad decided that we were going to do the milking in the new barn. Looking back, I was grateful that we were only milking about 20 cows then, nothing like the 70 to 90 cows that later would be the norm. But, when the herd of milking cows are facing new facilities, noisy milker vacuum pumps, and strange sucking air sounds, 20 is more than enough.
As I already mentioned, cows don't like new concrete. Our cows didn't even want to get onto the porch outside. We had to surround each one, pushing, shoving, swatting and yelling persuasively in the effort to get each cow inside. I remember with some of the smaller cows (we had several Jerseys and Guernseys and mixed breed cows at the time) I physically had to set my shoulder against them and push with all my might to get them to go into the new barn. Once they were inside, we could begin doing things that would eventually make coming into the barn a positive thing for them, like giving each one a good scoop of tasty feed. They would even eventually go from tolerating the milkers to welcoming the milking, but it wasn't good if one of the cups came loose and fell off. The rush of air scared the cows and might even set off some kicking at the apparatus. Interestingly, two of the cows were real rebels. When we tried to force them into the barn they just jumped the fence and escaped. I'm not sure what significance there was in which ones did that, but both of them were "my" cows. Dad had "gifted" each of us boys with a cow when we were about 12 years old. Each of us, myself, Ben and John had a registered Guernsey cow. I also had a Holstein cow named Daisy. Both Daisy and my Guernsey decided that they weren't going to have this new concrete business, so they jumped the fence and ran off.
I think it was about 11 o'clock that night before we finished that first milking in the new milking parlor. The milking the next morning was not much easier, but through the day we let the cows mill around the entry area of the barn, and that night they were surprisingly receptive to the idea of going in for feeding and milking. My cow Daisy became the boss cow of our herd, and she soon came to insist on being the first one to enter at milking time. If other cows were in the pen first, she would push her way through them all and would be waiting for the door to open for her. I thought she was a pretty smart cow, even if she could be a bit independent.
Editor's note: This column was originally published Feb. 20, 2008. Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge, is an award-winning columnist, a retired Methodist minister with a passion for history. He is vice president of the Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] centurytel.net , or call 621-1621.