As I mentioned in my last column, Peter had big plans for the boys and any extra pairs of hands on the farm during spring break week. The plan kicked off last Monday morning. Stacy and I had to sort cows for phase one of the moving and renovation scheme. We rushed to the barn, leaving the posse of kids in the house with instructions to eat and get to the barn fast. While the last pen – our low milking group – was in the parlor, we needed to sort the grandma pen. All of the things had to happen in a timely fashion to accommodate cows, and now was the time. We pulled 26 cows out of the grandma group. The grandma pen was becoming the low pen, as the current low pen was the one in dire need of updating.
    While these girls wandered around in the alley, the time was right to move the dry cows to pasture. The roar of the Gray Ghost, our old farm truck, let Stacy and I know the kids had made it to the barn. We zipped down to the dry pen to help fill the gaps in directing the dry cows out the door and down to their home for the next few days. Only two clever creatures escaped our makeshift moving lane. Now we had the room needed for moving the remaining 90-plus cows from the grandma pen to join their cohorts in the senior living center.
    Stacy and I hurried back. We chose to put these cows in a pen closer to the parlor, with more and bigger stalls for their stature. We call them our grandma cows with fondness, as they are the oldest and biggest girls on the farm, and we appreciate their years of service. The low pen of cows was filling the back of the holding area near to bursting, so the need for speed was eminent. We tried to explain this to the cows; they clearly did not care. They were definitely more perturbed that we were disturbing their morning naps. I held back the 26 cows while Stacy walked the pen pleading with the cows to move faster. Instead of taking their typical right turn into the parlor, they were to get to the end and hang a left into their new home. They were so pokey in getting there I thought we would never be done.
    They didn’t find their steam until they were stampeding back after making a lap around the new pen. There was a moment when I was close to abandoning my station to sort cows again later. I screamed. I yelled. I bellowed as loud as possible. I only let one cow sneak through into my group. They turned back, and with a quick swinging of gates, we let the 26 back into their pen and released the low pen. There were some moments of mass confusion as the cows booked it up the alley and found the only turning option was right instead of their usual left. They made a few hot laps around the pen while Stacy and I held our breath that no cow would fall. But, as the mixer came by, they all calmed down. We sorted out 10 cows to go dry, so our pen numbers would be where we needed them to be, and took a deep breath. Phase one completed.
    The next step was to divide up our pen four cows. These are the middle-aged ladies of large stature. Twelve of my choosing went down to the tunnel barn to join their comrades in pen six. Then 10 went into the low pen. Phase two, check.
    For the next three days, Peter and his team tore out old loops, pipes, half-busted pieces of cement, and loosened up sand with the mini-excavator. As fast as one section of the barn was ripped out, they started hauling in new loops and replacing old brisket boards with heavy-duty fiberglass tubes.
    To give you an idea of his work force, one day for lunch, I fed 11 kids ages 14 and under and four men. The weather was in our favor, both for having dry cows on the pasture without worry and for getting inside work done. By noon on Wednesday, it was ready for cows. After a rushed lunch with the crew, Stacy and I left the children to their own devices and went back to the barn to sort our post-fresh pen as they got milked. Peter joined us at the barn with lists, and we got busy. We had decided that the post-fresh cows should be the lucky girls to get the newly restored pen three.
    Not only are there 10 more stalls than before, the smaller pen will help us not to overcrowd these cows. Their previous home in the tunnel barn is where the pen four cows and 37 of the longest fresh and biggest girls now call home. The dry cows are back in a freestall barn with locks on the gates and a stop sign to prevent any potential mix-ups.
    From the kids to the adults, we shared the feeling of accomplishment. Quite a productive week it was. The icing on the cake was to see the cows lying comfortably in the new stalls and everyone calm and happy. Peter put it best when he said, “You know how they say you should put people in a place where they can be successful? I think we are putting all of the cows in places where they will succeed.” So far, the cows are in agreement, at least judging by the milk tank.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (14), Dane (12), Henry (7) and Cora (4), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.