It’s the most wonderful time of the year to be in the barn milking cows.
Stepping between cows, I catch an old familiar tune on the radio and start singing. I know most of the words and melodies to every song. What I don’t know, I just make up. The time seems to fly with an extra spring in my step rocking to the beat of the Christmas party hop, up and down the barn aisle. The cows’ neck chains jingle, and Mark will even sing or hum a few bars. But, I just can’t get him to dance with me in the barn.
Christmas time is always a special season when the urge to be with family pulls us home-ward. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been home for Christmas in the last 35 years. I thought we could sneak a quick trip south to celebrate my brother-in-law’s 60th birthday and an early Christmas gathering with my family. It was going to be a run, run Rudolph dash through a winter wonderland between Minnesota and Illinois. It all depended upon the weather.
The forecast was troublesome. A major rain-sleet-snow storm was rolling across the whole country. We were going to have a white Christmas, but how much ice would be buried under the snow? We scrambled to get ready. All the equipment was tucked away in the sheds, ready for a long winter’s nap. Austin and I hitched up the snowblower to the back of the tractor. We were ready to win any snowball fight. Let it snow. It did for two days.
Luckily, we didn’t get any rain before the snow. The only ice underfoot is from the previous snow pack. We did end up with an 8-inch blanket of heavy, wet snow weighing down the pine boughs and outlining the oak tree branches. It was the perfect snow to bring Frosty the snowman to life. By the light of the moon, I started rolling up a couple of snowmen to greet drivers along our road. They stand next to our homemade “Noel” sign decked with bright, shining lights to bring a bit of joy to the world this holiday season.
The snow event was casting a shadow on my chances of getting home for the holidays. What happened in the next 48 hours sealed the deal. You could call it our eight days of Christmas breakdowns.
We started off with 8 inches of heavy, wet snow. I found seven kittens snuggled in an empty stall of straw. Soon the stalls would be filled with six fresh cows and five broken rings. One new heifer decided she didn’t like her stall, so she broke her neck ring and wandered throughout the barn. Apparently the only place where there was room for her to sleep was away in the feed manger.
Four broken barn cleaner and feed conveyor links; three bull calves.
All Mark wanted for Christmas was a red heifer calf carrying the Ralma prefix. With a sparkle in his eye this past March, he bred a Rager-Red daughter (red carrier) to a red bull using sexed semen. The odds were in his favor, 50% chance red and 90% chance female for a perfect Christmas gift. Well, Jolly Old Saint Nick arrived in the middle of a calving spree dressed in his red suit carrying a bag of chestnuts for roasting. So much for good odds. Could this be the coal in Mark’s stocking or a hard candy Christmas?
Two broken skid loaders and one appendectomy. All are being fixed and on the mend. Everything and everyone should be in working order before Christmas morning. So, it was a good thing we didn’t travel through the snow and over the hill to grandmother’s house. There will always be another Christmas trip in the works.
Here’s an eggnog toast to you and your family. May your days be merry and bright. May you jingle your bells and deck the halls and have yourself a merry little Christmas. Cheers!
    As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.