Farm chores showed value of work


“Do you know what a strip cup is?” asked a silver-haired man who still considers himself a dairy farm boy. I am beginning to feel like an old-timer, knowing the answer to such things.

One day while at work, this fellow began telling me stories about his jobs on the farm when he was a little boy. Before he was old enough or strong enough to carry milk cans or throw hay bales, his primary job was to put the strip cup to use.

“Most people wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what I’m talking about anymore,” he said.

Been there, done that. He was quite surprised that I knew exactly what his first chore had been, as it had been one of my first jobs on the farm, too. The silver cup with a flat, black lid hung by a short handle in a special spot in the milking parlor.

The longer handle, slightly rounded, was intended to be held while hand-stripping the dairy cow’s udder to check for any irregularities in the milk. Mastitis or even off-colored milk would show up on that black top, and this was to be done after the udder had been washed, but before the milkers had been put on to milk the cow out.

There were times we were taught do hand-stripping both before and after the milkers came off, mostly in the case of a cow that was just recovering from a case of mastitis. It made me feel pretty important to be able to report a faulty finding, describing “the right rear had pink in the first few squirts.”

I didn’t get a bonus for knowing extra stuff because I wasn’t getting paid anything at all, but it sure made me feel like a hero for a minute or two. My second job was to use the dip cup, treating every single udder with a medicated liquid that stained us all slightly orange.

My own bragging rights. It is interesting to talk to farmers of our oldest generation who imply that those of us who never carried milk cans or totally hand-milked a herd are just young whipper-snappers who don’t know what real milking is.

But I can remember the thrill of watching the pipeline milking system being put in our dairy barn and feeling like we were on the cutting edge of something new and big. I may not have carried milk cans, but milking cows in a straight-eight stanchion parlor gives me a few braggin’ rights of my own.

I’ve been kicked, stepped on, whipped by tails and squeezed pancake-flat. I’ve also learned every trick in the book to get a hesitant cow in to a stanchion and quietly latching it before the cow can kick herself in to reverse.

This type of experience has served us well. Each one of us knows how to work from early morning to as late as needed and to appreciate the job.

Over the years, when co-workers have complained about some mundane thing, I think of my very first job and smile. Nothing else really seems so bad.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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