For my kids, doing chores means something very different than what it did for me as a kid. For them it is getting the dishes done and vacuuming and keeping their rooms cleaned. It also means taking care of the pets, taking the garbage out, and shoveling snow. When I was growing up on the farm, ‘chores’ were something entirely different. Chores meant farming, and in particular the milking of cows. My kids know nothing of the stinky hot mess that I think of as chores.
When I was growing up in the 70’s on a small family farm, there were not the luxuries of modern-day milking methods. We did not herd the cows onto a shiny stainless steel platform where automated machinery took hold of them and sucked them dry. There was no clean and tidy gutter system that removed an untimely dropping from a bovine’s behind. There was no complex system of pipes and tubes that carried the milk to a holding tank. It was work – pure and simple – done with buckets, shovels, brooms, and a strong back.
While we did have machines run by an air compressor, it was more like a big bucket with four rubber suckers attached to the top that you hung from a strap that was slung around the cow. Once the udders were washed and the suckers were in place you would plug in the air hose and the bucket would fill up. After the animal was dry you then dumped the milk into another bucket and brought it to the ‘milk shed’ where it was poured into larger milk cans and stored in a giant refrigerated cooler. Then it was on to the next cow. If I remember correctly, we had 2 or 3 of the sucking machines and 12 or so cows so the process wasn’t quick.
After the milking was done and the cows were set free into the pasture and the cleanup began. Because cows are cows and don’t much care where or when they do their doodie, there was always a mess. This is where the shovels and brooms come in; sweep out the stalls, scoop it up and put it in a wheel barrow, and haul it out the back door of the barn up a ramp and dump it onto the pile. Use the hose to spray down the floors and put fresh hay in the stalls for the cows to gnaw on at their next dissemination which would be in about 12 hours.
Because I was younger my job was usually to put the straps on the cows that the milk machine would hang from and wash their under parts with warm soapy water and then to do the sweeping afterwards and help distribute hay. My dad did all the bull work, (pardon the pun), hauling the milk buckets around and pushing the full wheel barrow out the back of the barn to dump on the manure pile. Once I remember him slipping on the ramp with a full load, ending up on the ground with the wheel barrow, now emptied on top of him. The odor around my dad lingered for days. As a matter of fact, no matter what you do, farms and farmers have a certain…aroma. You can smell it in the air as you drive by, especially in the spring, and can often tell what kind of animal they take care of by the scent in the air.
I read a book a long while ago called, “They Smell Like Sheep” by Lynn Anderson. It is about pastors and how the best ones always ‘smell’ like they’ve been in and among the flock then tend. They get pushed and kicked and ignored. They get talked about, grunted at, and are expected to have all the answers. They spend their time calming fears and building courage and cleaning up after. Most sheep stay together, but when some run off the shepherd chases after lest they get lost…and if one does get lost they never give up the search. Shepherds are often tired, their bodies are sore, and often their hearts are breaking for those who are hurting, helpless, or hopeless. They wear weariness as a cloak, accept loneliness as a consequence, and are content in knowing their flock is safe and secure. They are always ready to brandish their rod and staff at any marauding predators seeking to steal or kill or destroy. I have known only a couple of these shepherds who smell like their sheep – I have known many preachers in pulpits.
It does not take long to tell the difference…