“These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do…”
    Oh, the things that popped in my head as I made my rounds through the post-fresh cows, searching out the ones to graduate to the next pen. It was my first time doing this with just Carmen and myself since the beginning of March. We’ve still got it. Or so we thought. Then, we turned around to sort them into their pens and a missing spring on the gate helped it swing wide open, letting them sneak back into the post-fresh pen. We looked at each other with eyes bulged in surprise, I squealed, and he scrambled up the other alley to cut them off before our work became completely undone. Such is life. We laughed about our oops and carried on, this time double-checking the gate latch.
    When our world became upended due to COVID-19 in March, I walked my boots out of the barn and into the shop to teach kids every morning. Stacy slid into her pink Udder Tech bibs, threw on her boots, and grabbed a clipboard and set about working with the cows. It went well, and throughout the summer she was in the barn most mornings before I was, and I would look to her for the plans for the week. She has the computer system down to a fine science, and I have been taking notes on how she works her magic when it comes to moving cows. I’ve been constantly reminding myself that I must try harder to keep the computer up to date, knowing full well it is not my strong suit.  
    I am back in charge of watching the gate on this sunny Thursday morning and catching the girls as they cruise by. I’m struck by how many names I can recall. I even tested myself by writing them down on the clipboard before I saw them – and then gave myself a pat on the back when I was right. Then, there are the cows that I don’t recognize at all anymore. Time seems to fly between their freshening and their moving-out date of 35-plus days in milk. Usually I can refresh my memory as I vaccinate them, but Stacy has been doing it for months now. I peek out the end of the barn, giving me a clear view of the house, and just when I start to become overwhelmed with being back in the barn full time, I spy the laundry on the line. One of my favorite household chores; it requires patience, and watching it blow in the breeze settles me in an instant. I can do this, I tell myself.
    I’ve been in the barn, but without some of the responsibilities for the past six months. Stacy has shouldered the weight of computer work, vaccinations and cow movements. There have been mornings where I stroll in and clean, take care of newborn calves, and help wherever I am most needed. Stacy’s trying to get her mind back on school and all of the new restrictions, and has been leaving her bibs on the hook a bit more in the past week. This means my bibs are seeking out the wash machine, especially after moving 40 cows around. It’s OK; I do like to do laundry.
    We interrupt this Thursday’s edition of moving cows to bring you another episode of “Cell Phone Search and Rescue.” Dane comes to the gate on his bike with a crooked grin and informs us that Grandpa is getting his iPad out to pinpoint his phone’s location, and Dane is supposed to ride around and look. While this isn’t a frequent show, let’s just say he’s getting good at using the app. This got Dane out of cleaning off the bunkers. I can hear the steady forward and backing of the payloader while Ira takes on the weekly task himself.
    I’m anxious about doing as good a job as Stacy does on the record-keeping and cow counting. She tracks their movements as they sneak out of pens and is far more diligent than I about getting them put back the next day. That has never been a job at the top of my list. I also have a few weeks of big family meals to concoct before we move back into school mode. Working cows means no more meal prep in the morning, and better planning on the day before.
    Watching Cora and Henry cruise the feed alley with their dump trucks makes me brood over how Cora will fare when the boys leave her in the mornings again. Will she miss them? Will she delight in being the only child after all this time? They are giggling, tickling and rolling in the feed, happy as farm kids should be. Then I turn to catch a few more cows as a child’s scream and the slam of a truck echo through the barn. Well, she won’t have anyone to fight with; this may be OK.
    My boots are still made for walking cows, and that’s what they love to do. My old boots have a hole in them, and because my feet are stubborn and don’t like the new, hole-free ones yet, I bag up and wear them to the barn. My overalls still fit, and the highlighters I have in my pockets are so handy when moving cows. I have plenty of pockets to hold others’ problems and even a few with solutions in them, as I remember that listening to life’s struggles while moving cows is part of the gig. My clipboard with its million notes (like the ones for this column) still fits in my hands and I haven’t forgotten how to zap cows with a vaccine gun. I did forget how much I like being able to let my mind wander as I move cows, and how lovely it is to have paper and pen in my hands to catch the words that float around.
    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 (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (3), 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.