A standard large cow herd had 16 cows, according to Anita Lee (Hartman) Palmquist while describing her childhood chores on the Hartman family farm in Pleasant Valley near Hokah during the late 1920s and early ‘30s. Cows were milked by hand, and milk was carried by hand in pails from the barn to the milk house to be separated. Someone kept the separator tank full of milk while someone else would hand crank the separator. The cream was spun off the top and came out one spout while skim milk came out of another spout. “It was important to crank the separator at a steady speed to ensure the cream was skimmed off properly.” On some separators, there was a bell that indicated an acceptable speed.
Someone had to carry the full pails of skim milk away from the separator – some of which was toted back to the barn for the calves and the cats’ dish. The rest was then carried to feed the pigs.
“How the animals loved that warm milk,” remarked Palmquist. “Sometimes a pail of skim milk was saved to make cottage cheese. The milk was placed in the back of the wood stove until it soured and curdled. The curds were then strained out, and the whey was another gourmet treat for the pigs or chickens.
After breakfast, the separator tank, milk dishes, disks and both spouts had to be cleaned along with the milk pails, cream cans and calf pails. They were all cleaned with a chloride of lime solution and then placed in the sun to dry.
Hay for the cows bad to be pulled loose and thrown down from the mow in the barn and then carried “forkful by forkful” out to the cows. The straw for bedding might also be stored in the hay mow or stacked near the buildings.
“Every process required hand labor,” recalled Palmquist. “We (children) ate heartily but did not gain weight. In the summer, we all slimmed down from the constant walking, lifting, climbing on and off wagons, carrying and fetching. Dad always took the heavy end and tried to limit our lifting. He showed us how to use our legs to lift, so we wouldn’t hurt our backs. He didn’t want us to carry more than three-gallon pails. But if he wasn’t around, we grabbed the five-gallon ones, so we didn’t have to make so many trips.”
In the summer, the cattle roamed the hills on the farm. That meant someone had to go find them every evening. In really hot, dry weather, thirsty cows might head home on their own. However, if it rained, they might decide not to come home at all. “Sometimes, we had to go up and down two or three hills before we found them.” A clever “bell cow” might stand very still in the brush so the bell would not ring.
Sometimes, there might be a new calf to bring home. “If a calf had difficulty walking, we would shove it along or take a hold of it by a front leg, and the calf would hop along on three legs. One evening it was getting dark, and young Anita and a calf were the last ones heading home. She had helped the calf for about a mile. Progress had been slow when her father met them at the top of the first hill. “Sometimes, mother cows did not like you messing with their babies, and you had always to be on your guard.”
One summer, a new barn was under construction, so milking took place outside in the cow yard. The cows learned to stand without being tied when they saw one of us come with pails and a stool. It became a messy task when rain resulted in mud.
One autumn afternoon, the family allowed the cattle to graze in the apple orchard. In the evening, the children became frightened when they saw their cows “falling, lunging, snorting.” But in a day or two, the cattle had sobered up after feasting on fermenting apples
Source: “My Story: Memories and Writings,” a book by Anita Lee Palmquist.
Personal note: Last week, I was reminded of one the first things I ever saw on television – at age seven or eight. We did not yet have a TV, but at a neighbor’s house in 1953, I saw coverage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.