St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Milk House Memories

Showing it's 63 year old age with 30 years of disuse, the farm milkhouse is getting a cleaning this week with plans for a new door and a new use.  The ventilator in the roof needs a new cover too. 
Dad bought the farm in 1941 and married mom a year later in 1942.  With World War II underway and everything geared towards war production, progress on the farm stood still.  No electricity came as copper was needed for the war effort; no tractor as the metal all went into tanks, planes, ships and ammunition, not even fence wire was available without special approval from local rationing boards that controlled tires, gasoline, food, and just about anything you had to buy.  
When the war was over and peacetime production resumed, the pent up demand created a manufacturing and housing boom that lasted many years.  

Dad wanted to go to Grade A milk production.  That meant a Grade A milkhouse and other improvements for the barn and regular inspections for producing high quality milk.  

Early on the list was a milk house next to the barn -- but not part of the barn.  After the cow was milked, the milk had to be filtered, cooled and stored for once a day pickup by the milk truck.  

There were plans available in farm magazines for milk houses and not only that, but some neighbors already had them and others were planning too.  

Milk was put in 10 gallon milk cans which were then put in a cold water tank and fresh cold water from the well pumped through the tank to keep the milk from spoiling.   So one part of the milk house was the below-floor level concrete can water tank.  The tank overflow was piped out to a large cattle watering tank in the pasture as it was pure water flowing through inside to the outside.  

Another area was for a hot water heater and double sink to wash the milking equipment.  A rack for standing the cans before use; places to store the milkers, pails and washing brushes, soaps, etc.  Windows with screens and panes for extra light as well as electric lights.  Hot and cold running water.  A floor drain for gray water to run over the nearby hillside.  

Today, after making sure that Margo and Scott forever gave up the idea of milking cows again, (I had already made that decision back in 1985 when Dad gave up his dairy operation and offered it to Margo and me) I started the remodel of the milkhouse into a maple sap storage building.  Brothers Ev and Marv had already said no milking cows for either of them and I did not want to push any of the next generation into a 7-day a week, 365 day per year job that starts at 5:30 am and ends at 9pm at night.  

First was to inventory the items in the milkhouse.  As we took items out I took some photos and will end today's story with the photos.  
On the left is the milk "bulk tank."  It is connected to a big rusty looking refrigeration unit above and behind it.  This replaced the milk cans in a water tank when the Cushing Creamery closed and cans were obsolete.  Dad bought it used from Russell Gustafson (I think).  A motor on the top stirred the milk slowly (slowly so it wouldn't churn butter) to help it cool.  The tank is double stainless steel walls with insulation and cooling coils between the walls.  To the right is the galvanized (stainless was too expensive for Dad in 1952) washing sink.  Surcingles (belts to hold the Surge milkers under the cow's belly hang from the compressor) and a few old milk cans are on the floor.  The room has been unused and essentially untouched for 30 years. 

Looking the opposite direction as the previous photo.  We have taken the two covers off of the tank and removed the milkers, which were stored inside.  When it was in use, the milkhouse had to be spotlessly clean, white and everything sanitary for food production.   The old rack standing in the corner at one time was mounted on the wall to hold milkers, pails and strainer to dry after washing.  Along the wall on the left was a set of pipes making a framework to hold two high layers of milk cans -- maybe 16 cans total.  That was taken out when the bulk tank was moved in.

The washing sink and to the right, behind the cans is still the covered water cooling tank used for can cooling with fresh well water flowing over it.  It has a wooden insulated cover that was to keep it cool in summer and to keep "the boys" from falling in and getting cooled too. 

Stored in the milkhouse was this electric heating iron (like a round soldering iron) that was used to burn a ring around a calf's horn bud -- it was supposed to stop the calf from growing horns.  Horns were dangerous to farmers and to other cows -- cows would hook another cow and rip open their belly at times. Dad got this as a gift from his sons in an attempt to "nip in the bud" the dehorning process.  Otherwise removing the horn from a full grown cow or steer was fraught with blood, gore, pain and suffering on both the part animal and human.  Other devices and chemicals were used too.  Castration was another removal process that seemed to hurt us boys more than the little bulls.  

A very sad item--a branding iron that was welded up by Brother Byron and used by him and Dad when they quit dairying.  With huge overproduction of milk and an expensive government support price program, the govt decided to "buy out" some farmers.  The farmer agreed to sell his herd for beef (ship them to South St Paul stockyards for slaughter) and quit milking cows for the next 20 years (or maybe it was 10 or something like that).  Anyway, Dad was 72 and thinking about retiring, and Byron and his family were realizing that dairying on a small scale was not very prosperous, so they made the decision to be bought out.  Once that was accepted and a payment negotiated, the farmer had to brand each dairy cow on the cheek with an "X."  Dad not only hated to have to do this -- he really was attached to his cows and didn't like to see them in pain (although it really was not very painful to them), but he had been breeding his cows to very good bulls (the artificial insemination route) and had over 45 year gotten some very excellent cows.  It was hard, but, unknown to him at the time, he was advancing into parkinson's disease and at age 72 was so tired that he "could barely drag himself through each day."  Of course the amount of work he did in one of those days was greater than probably anybody does now as he still did most things the hand way including cleaning barns. 

Rigid long pink straws that, I think, were part of the bull replacement pregnancy method.  Byron and Dad had a liquid nitrogen tank with selected bull semen frozen inside that they bred each cow to when they were "bulling."  These are unused, so may save them for a birthday party when special straws are in order

Cows liked to have their backs scratched and part of the Grade A was to keep a cow's rear legs and tail clean and well groomed to assure clean milk.  When we were otherwise unoccupied, it was our job to lime the floor bright white or curry the cows.  I think they liked having their back scratched as much as I do!

The milking machine pulsator pulsed the vacuum going to the milker on each teat to make it suck like a calf taking a drink.   Suck, relax, suck, relax pulsing probably about 60 pulses per minute.  The vacuum is not directly on the cow's teat, but rather on the rubber milker "inflation"  pictured below.  The vacuum causes the rubber to squeeze the teat and squirting out the milk, then relaxes -- like the mouth of a calf.  Works quite well, and is efficient.  However, you do have to get the cow "in the mood" to let down her milk, usually down by washing the udder with warm water to get everything clean and stimulate the cow.  We farm boys are notoriously expert at foreplay, having our dairy production dependent on our skills!

The milker inflation -- the teat squeezer that takes the place of hand squeezing or calf sucking.  When cars first started having the narrow gasoline opening to the gas tank to use unleaded gasoline only, Dad carried one of these along to adapt leaded gas to the unleaded narrow opening, calling it a "lead filter."

Top of a Surge milking machine with 4 inflations in teat cups with hoses.  A bulk tank cover and to the right bulk tank hole cover and stainless milk pail cover.  The milking bucket is at the top -- Surge brand that hung under the cow's belly.  The big wrench is for the opening drain on the bulk tank.  More stuff in the milkhouse to be removed tomorrow.  
Scott and I plan to remove the compressor and bulk tank to regain most of the space.  The small electric hot water heater from 1953 is still in the room.  We have to open up the cover of the concrete water tank still holding water from when it was closed  back in 1970 or so when the bulk tank was moved in.  I think I will bring my friend and biologist, Walt, down to help me discover what life has evolved in 45 years in water filled darkness.  I think we will open it cautiously before sending Margo to swim to the bottom and remove the drain plug to let it drain over the hillside (assuming the drain is still functional).  

The milk house was a center of activity on the farm from 1953 until it closed in 1985.  Although we are enjoying the memories, we hope to bring it back to life as the place we clean and store our maple syruping equipment.  Rather than a dusty and dingy room that we tread cautiously into, it should be a pleasant, bright, clean, and vital part of the farm again.