Every year around our anniversary, I jot down the past year's happenings in a memory book that we received as a wedding gift. This year, I have a lot to record for the past 12 months. If I can find the book, that is. (The size of the piles in my office are proportionate to the amount of time I spend outside, and I pretty much lived outside this summer.)
On the top of the list of happenings are the renovation of our heifer yard, the installation of our calf feeder and Dan starting preschool.
The combination of those changes has brought about two more.
The first of those changes is that I'm back in the barn, milking, on a regular basis.
When we started farming, we almost always milked together. It was our time to plan and talk and, sometimes, debate. When we moved to this farm, it didn't work for both of us to milk - our vacuum pump was only big enough to run four units and we had a young son who didn't enjoy being contained for very long.
So I settled into a new routine of supervising children and caring for the calves and heifers. The two tasks had me running in so many different directions that, most days, my chores took as long as it did for Glen to milk.
We often talked about getting a bigger vacuum pump so we could both milk again, but we were more than a bit concerned about how we could keep track of the kids if we were both milking. Plus, we'd still have all the youngstock chores to do before or after milking.
The new vacuum pump went in last spring. And the calf and heifer chores take a fraction of the time they used to. So we took a gamble on the kids and added two units.
It was a good gamble.
To our surprise, Dan and Monika stay in the barn most of the time while we're milking. They play with the kittens or ride their bikes and trikes up and down the aisle and mangers. (Our cows are unbelievably unflappable. Only a couple of the new heifers back up now when our little tornados storm past their noses.) They color on each other with markers and steal my dip cups when I set them down. The other night, they used the dip as finger paint and painted the wall.
Even better, we have our together time again. The rhythmic whoosh-whoosh of the pulsators fills in the gaps in our conversations and moves us along like a metronome. Some milkings are filled with discussion or chatter with the kids, and some are filled with quiet thoughts.
As we hoped, milking with six units goes a lot faster than milking with four. It took us a milking or two to learn how to milk together again, but now it seems like we fly through the barn. Even with switching cows, we can finish milking in about two hours, compared to the 3.5 hours it oftentimes took Glen by himself. (It would take me even longer.)
Finishing chores faster means we're getting into the house earlier and getting to bed earlier, at least most nights.
We still have late starts and late nights.
A dry cow calves early with twins out on pasture and, by the time we get her and the calves home, we're late for chores. It takes longer to finish filling the bag than we planned and, just like that, we start chores late. Except for the one night each week a friend milks for us, there's nobody else here to start the vacuum pump.
Before school started, late nights for us were late nights for the kids. We'd snack in the barn to hold us over until supper. Supper happened whenever we happened to make it to the house and bedtime followed just as soon as we could finish eating and get cleaned up. (I always said that the irregularities in our schedule taught our kids flexibility.)
But now that we have a school schedule to follow, all of that has changed, which has brought about our second major change, at least for me.
Now, on the nights before Dan has school, I take the kids to house whether we're done with chores or not. And, honestly, it's been an adjustment for me.
There's an ethic ingrained in me, probably from years of always doing chores together with my family, that nobody leaves the barn until everybody is done and every chore is done.
But as hard as it is for me to leave the barn before chores are finished, it was even harder for me to hear my little boy say, "Mama, I'm too tired to go to school today." (Which happened the morning after we were up late following chopping.)
So now the mom in me has to override the farmer in me and do what's best for our children. Sometimes its hard to be both mom and farmer.
I'm guessing that next year when I jot down the coming year's happenings we'll look at these changes as the stepping stones toward a more stable schedule. Hopefully it's a schedule that allows me to spend some time in the barn with Glen and the cows, and get everyone to bed on time.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children - Dan, 4, and Monika, 2. When she's not parenting or farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.