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Talking it over: Bringing in the cows

Every June, during dairy month, I am reminded of my youth. Growing up on a dairy farm, the month of June was often special. My dad served on several dairy council boards and promoting the product was a big part of his job. Therefore in June, he had a lot of extra activity with the meetings and promotion events.

However, long before he was on those boards, the dairy industry was developing on small family farms such as ours. Each morning and evening the cows had to be milked and fed, the milk stored safely and cooled and equipment cleaned for the next milking. After the morning milking, the cows were let out into the pasture to graze during the day. About 4:30 in the afternoon, those cows had to be brought back to the barn for the evening feeding and milking.

My dad would often send the kids out into the pasture to bring in the cows. At times you could just walk out a little ways and call to the cows with "come Bossy"and they would head in. Other times, especially if they were further away, you had to walk to them and guide them back to the barn.

In the pasture there was also a slough area that the cows walked through. I would carefully balance from one clump of grass to another, in order to cross but quite often ended up in the mud. Whenever possible I tried to follow the beaten paths that the cows would follow.

I was always surprised at how the cows came to understand what was expected of them. Maybe it was the promise of food at the end of the trek or the relief gained from the milking, but they readily went back to the barn as directed.

My husband and I now live in a portion of that same pasture. An area near the lake where the cows liked to graze and lie in the shade. It is sometimes strange to think of the times that I walked that same ground for a different purpose. My garden in this pasture does wonderfully probably because of the years of natural fertilizer spread over the ground.

The dairy industry has changed a great deal and there are very few dairy cows grazing in pastures these days. Most dairy cows spend their days in large lots with the food brought to them, not them looking for the food. They don't have a lot of human contact and probably would not respond to someone yelling "come Bossy."

We drank the milk from the cows without pasturization and sometimes even before it was refrigerated. Mom skimmed the cream off the milk and made as many things as possible with it simply to use it up. I can't recall the milk ever making us sick and was even fed to the babies. We all had strong bones and teeth because of the milk that we enjoyed with every meal.

I am a firm believer that milk is one of the best products we can purchase and things made from milk should be a regular part of our meals. My dad was on the dairy board when the 'Real' seal was introduced and I find myself still looking for that on certain products, making sure that the item contains real dairy products and not substitutes.

Enjoy the rest of dairy month with some delicious dairy products and thank the hard-working farmers and their families who bring those products to us.