Confessions of an errant cow milker


Based on the e-mails, brickbats and live grenades sent me the last few weeks, it’s time to come clean: I kidnapped the Lindbergh baby.
Wait, there’s more.
I voted for John Anderson in 1980, don’t love John Deere green, am allergic to babies, prefer Irish beer to American and, in 1997, kept a crappie an inch under the legal size limit. OK, two crappies.
So go ahead, gather the firing squad.
‘Unmerited mercy.’ Before you do, though, please allow me one moment of unmerited mercy to clear up some of the comparatively minor crimes readers have accused me and my dog of this past month. (Just a second; I’m lighting my last cigarette.)
First, Maggie My Mutt has no discernible political leanings. She does, however – despite my best training efforts – prefer red dog biscuits to blue dog biscuits.
And while she is a yellow dog, the only party she endorses is a quiet one that doesn’t interfere with her 24/7 nap.
Former farmer? Second, some newspapers that carry my column explain my background as a “former farmer.”
Clever as the phrase may be, it is inaccurate and, in fact, was never supplied by me.
Truth is, I worked on the family’s big dairy farm for the best part of my first 24 years but I never made a living there. Some did, I didn’t; mostly because my pay was 50 cents per hour in 1967, then 75 cents per hour in 1970 and finally a flat $150 per week in 1977 when I began a two-year farming break from college.
Despite my meteoric climb, I never was, nor would I ever be, anything more than a cow-milking hired hand.
That point was made clear when, as a teenager, I asked my grandfather for a raise to $1 per hour.
“A dollar an hour is a man’s wage,” he noted without looking up from his book work. “You’ll receive a man’s wage when you do a man’s work.”
Goodbye cows, hello University of Illinois.
Holsteins and Republicans. Third, I was not raised by dope-smoking communist ex-hippies.
I was, in fact, raised by Holstein-loving, Republican Farm Bureau members.
That reality often escapes even longtime acquaintances, one of whom approached me before church not long ago to say she had met my brother
I have four, I noted; which one?
“The smart one,” the lady said with the seriousness of an undertaker.
I gathered she meant my oldest brother Rich who – are you ready for this? – is vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. Hey, we’re a family of varied beliefs.
Daschle and Thune. Fourth: I have never met Tom Daschle. I have, however, met John Thune.
Our meeting was informal and brief after a hot day at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron some years back.
After I spoke in the afternoon heat at the fair, some farmers in the crowd invited me and my hosts, friends from Aberdeen American News, to the nearby South Dakota Farmer Union’s offices for a barbecue-and-beer wing-ding.
Sadly, we arrived after the festivities were well under way; the beer was almost gone.
As I was, ahem, re-hydrating, Dennis Wiese, the state’s Farmer Union’s president, spotted me and asked that I come forward to say a few words to the 300 or so farmers and ranchers seated in the shade of some cottonwoods.
Reluctantly (because I knew the keg would be dry by the time I made my way back to it) I put down my cold cup and took up my hot sword.
In short order I publicly peeled the hide off then-Congressman Thune for his failure to endorse the Senate’s version of country-of-origin labeling.
I finished to loud applause and turned to Wiese who, standing behind me, had been chatting quietly to a lanky young man clad in blue jeans and a crisp Oxford shirt.
The stranger immediately stuck his hand out for me to shake.
“Hi,” I said as I grabbed it, “we’ve never met. I’m Alan Guebert.”
“No, we haven’t,” the man graciously allowed as a wide grin broke across his tanned face. “I’m John Thune.”
Guilty? I thought so.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.