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Cow Tales from the Dairy Farm – Giving Thanks

Dairy cows on Kathy's farm

My favorite time of year is fall. The leaves are changing, the days are cooler, and in New England, all of our crops are generally harvested.  Thanksgiving was originally the time when the pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated the harvest, and even now, as a farmer, it’s great to take a breather and remember to be appreciative of your family and friends, be grateful to have the privilege to farm, and to be thankful for the folks that work with and around you.

One thing that “non-farming” folks sometimes take for granted is that farming is not a job, but a lifestyle.  You don’t always get to take all of Thanksgiving off to sit around and watch football and stuff your face full of delicious turkey (although we make sure to have that fill the majority of the day, if possible).  Surprisingly though, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days to be out with the cows.  I get up extra early to do chores, because I have to get the turkey in the oven to have dinner ready for 2pm.  My favorite Thanksgiving mornings are nice crisp ones.  I like to do my chores alone on those mornings; no need for anyone else to get up, I let them sleep in.  I get the cows up, milked and fed generally before anyone else wakes up.  This way I am back in the house, cleaned up, and ready to watch the Macy’s Day Parade with everyone else.

Old tobacco shed on Kathy's farm

Last year, I went to my parents’ house to start cooking dinner.  After enjoying watching the parade, preparing the meal and sitting down for the Thanksgiving feast, my cell phone starting ringing. “You better come back to the farm, the calves are out!”  After excusing myself rather quickly, I ran out to get into my truck, only to find it blocked in by 2 cars and a minivan.  I found myself several minutes later speeding back to the farm (which is about 15 minutes away) in a silver minivan.  Seeing as I left very quickly, I happened to be in a sweater and skirt (Dad likes us to look nice for dinner).  Pulling into the driveway, I found the culprits; 3 of my milk-fed calves were able to jump out of their hutches.  I tossed my heels in the van and threw on a pair of rubber boots, chased the escapees (who ran right up to me looking for extra food, just to run away again when I got close enough to nab them), and was eventually able to get them in their pens.   After returning back to my parent’s house, I found that my brother was kind enough to save me a spoonful of mashed potatoes and some of the turkey.  I was also told that I smelled like the barn, and needed to change if I was going to sit next to him.  I have to love family who remind me how I am the oddball farmer.

Dairy cows headed to pasture

My parents do not farm, never have, and as my dad reminds me, “never will.”  When I was younger, he used to protest the loudest the night before Thanksgiving (or any major holiday), because I always volunteered to milk.  It was tough for him to have his youngest daughter get up and work on a holiday where we should be focused on family, and being thankful for what is “really” important in life.  I think he just liked to see me take a break.  I know now that he realized I am being thankful for what is important in my life, as farming reminds us of the basics in life and the miracles in life, too.  Being able to feed a cow, work with her and have her give back to you reminds you that hard work pays off.  I think that is true for all aspects of farming, not just dairy.  Give all of your energy to the earth, and she pays you back with a generous harvest.

I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season.  I hope that you will be able to reflect on what has been good this year, while not forgetting those lessons you learned when things didn’t go so well.  Hopefully your holiday is a joyous, safe time and your livestock stay in when you are about to sit down for dinner!  Happy Thanksgiving!

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving on your farm?

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