Of all the ways to milk cows, milking in a stall barn provides the most contact with the cows. Most of the time this a good thing, but sometimes it presents challenges.
One of those challenges is allowing young children to "help" milk the cows. It seems as soon as they can step over the gutter, they want to be right in there with us wiping teats and attaching units. We let them help us milk the "nice" cows, all the while reminding them that they need to ask first and be careful around the cows.
I remember "helping" my dad the same way. When it came time for me to learn how to milk on my own, there was a lot more to the lesson than how to dip, strip, wipe, attach, remove and dip again. We had to learn how to communicate with the cows, too.
Of utmost importance, my dad said, was letting the cow know I was coming into the stall before stepping in beside her. (Now that I'm a parent, I realize my dad was probably pretty concerned about his pint-sized daughter being kicked or squashed.) Our signal to the cow that we were entering the stall was putting a hand on her back. As soon as we laid our hand on her back, she would move over and let us into the stall.
Little did I know, this hands-on signal would one day lead to meeting my husband.
The year I started college, I spent the last two weeks of my summer vacation working in the Minnesota State Fair Moo Booth. One of my Moo Booth co-workers needed someone to cover her hours in the Gopher Dairy Club's Dairy Bar, so I volunteered. I figured the next best thing to teaching people about dairy cows had to be working with ice cream. Plus, I had scooped hundreds of ice cream cones and made hundreds of shakes during my time as a dairy princess, so I felt well qualified for the job.
I might have been excited and qualified, but I wasn't prepared for the pace in the Dairy Bar. Or the population density within the booth. It was like someone took a dozen minnows and dumped them in a coffee cup. We literally wriggled around one another while taking orders, making shakes and scooping cones.
Glen was one of the managers in the Dairy Bar that year. He and the other managers kept the rest of us minnows wriggling in the right direction. They also filled the shake machines and managed the money. It was a job Glen took very seriously. So seriously, that my first impression of him during my first day on the job was, "Boy, is he unapproachable."
I don't think he even noticed me until one day, during an exceptionally busy shift, I had to retrieve a tub of ice cream from one of the freezers in the back of the booth. He was checking the fill level in the shake machine on the end of the row. To get to the freezers, I had to squeeze between him and the cooler. I put my hand on his back as I passed behind him to let him know I was there and keep him from backing up into me.
I didn't think anything more of the touch but Glen later told me that, at that moment, he thought I was trying to hit on him.
A few days later, a mutual friend of ours asked me what I thought of Glen. A few days after that, we had our first date. And, as they say, the rest is history.
It's been 12 years since I first put my hand on Glen's back and we still have a hands-on relationship. Now we're trying to teach our kids to be hands-on people, both with our animals and with their fellow humans. There's nothing more powerful than a touch to let someone know you're there.
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.