During one of our daily walks together last summer, my neighbor and I found ourselves talking about fresh milk. She shared that she and her husband had long dreamed of having their own cow, so that they would have their own source of fresh milk for their family of six. 

I completely understood their desire. Being able to provide my family with unlimited fresh milk is one of the top reasons I'm a dairy farmer. So-called experts might claim that fresh milk has no benefits over pasteurized milk, but I'm guessing those experts have never actually tasted fresh milk. Compared to fresh milk, pasteurized milk just tastes dead.

Our conversation about fresh milk resumed again the next day. My neighbor asked if I knew where they might be able to buy a Jersey cow. I told her that, in fact, I did.

A few phone calls and a few days later, our neighbors had their very own family cow – a docile, little brown cow they named Bess.

Bess spent the rest of the summer grazing around their farmyard. As winter approached, they made a home for her in their barn. It had been a long time since their barn had housed a cow.

Last month, Bess gave birth to a healthy little bull calf. I'm not sure who was more excited about the calf's safe arrival – us or our neighbors. While Bess was dry, our neighbors got milk from us. At every pick up, we would get a progress report on Bess. Then, one chilly morning we got the call that Bess had calved. The kids named him Frosty.

I had been meaning to go over and see the little guy since he was born. Last weekend, I finally got my chance.

Our neighbors asked if I would be willing to milk Bess for a couple days while they went away to a family gathering.

I showed up for the first milking with a bit of trepidation. I've been around cows my entire life, and I've stripped out plenty of individual quarters, but I'd never completely milked a cow out by hand.

As I knelt down and leaned my head into Bess's side, a surreal feeling started to creep over me. I found a rhythm and milk was soon streaming into the bucket. 

The cadence of the milk pinging against the pail transported me back in time. I found myself thinking about my grandparents and all of the generations before them who had harvested milk this way.

The cats gathered around, waiting for a stream to miss the bucket. Bess stepped forward, kicked the bucket, and a little spilled, much to the cats' delight.

After Frosty finished nibbling his grain and inspecting the chickens, he came over to rub his horn buds against my shoulder. 

I switched from kneeling to squatting. My hands got tired. I finished the first two quarters, and thought to myself, 'ugh, I still have two quarters to go.'

But as I continued, I began to think about how much the process of harvesting milk has changed. About how modernization has changed our industry. About how that modernization has allowed fresh milk to become a foreign substance to most of our society.

For a moment, though, it was just me and Bess and her fresh milk. And life was simple.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children – Dan, 3, and Monika, 1. When she’s not parenting or farming, she’s writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.