November 29, 2017

The Christmas Present That Said, “Moo-ey Christmas!”

By John & Joan Maxwell
Cinnamon Ridge Farms

Growing up on a farm, Christmas was a time of great celebration. Since our cows needed to be milked every day, even on Christmas, we didn’t venture away from home.  Instead, extended family all traveled “over the river and through the woods” to gather at our farm near Walcott. Even though we still had to do chores, extra hands from siblings and cousins made them go faster. When we kids finished chores, we’d play hide-and-go-seek or basketball in the warm barn. If there was snow, we would play outside, sledding, building forts and waging snowball battles. When our fingers got numb, we’d go inside to warm up, and Mother would have warm cookies ready for us.

When I was 8 years old, Christmas morning was bitterly cold. Dad and I were the only ones in the barn doing chores – the rest of the family was sleeping in, preparing breakfast, or had yet to arrive. I desperately wanted to go back to the house and open the presents I’d spied under the tree on my way out the door, but milking seemed to be taking forever! My job during milking was to carry the full milk cans and dump them in the bulk tank. Then I would return the empty can, ready for the next cow.

It was also my responsibility to feed several pens of calves and young heifers. Usually I fed them after milking, but this morning I knew I would finish faster if I fed them quickly between dumping cans. So, I decided to wait until the milker was on a particularly slow milking cow, then dumped the full can and returned it as I hustled out to feed the heifers. Part of my job when feeding the pen was to count the animals and make sure each one looked in good health and came up to eat. Being in such a hurry, I just dumped the feed into the bunk and rushed on to the next pen. Everything seemed fine to my hurried glances. Counting could wait until the night feeding. Whew! I made it back just in time to dump the next can of milk.

“Did you count all the heifers?” my dad asked.

I mumbled a non-committal response as I headed to the bulk tank with the next full can of milk, hoping he’d forget about it by the time I returned. He had not, and repeated the question. I begrudgingly admitted I hadn’t, and he sent me back out into the bitter cold to do the job correctly. I grumbled as my feet crunched through the snow, wondering why on earth my father felt counting was so necessary. One by one, each pen had the correct number of animals, which just confirmed to me that this was a complete waste of my time—until my count of the last pen came up with one extra. I counted again, and sure enough there was one more. There weren’t any missing in any other pen, a calf had just appeared overnight!! I raced back to the barn to tell my dad. Dad grinned as he told me the calf’s name was Lassie. She was my Christmas present!

Lassie went on to have several heifer calves of her own. As the years went on, my herd continued to grow. When I graduated from the University of Iowa, I decided to return home to the family dairy farm and milk cows. As I reflect upon that decision, I realize that the Christmas I received my first calf shaped my life forever. Not only did it teach me the value of doing a thorough job the first time, but it also was the start of my own dairy herd. Some of Lassie’s descendents are in our milking herd even today.

May all of you have a blessed Christmas. Although probably not as special as a first calf, Cinnamon Ridge Cheese makes a great Christmas gift! You can find many flavors in North Scott Foods in Eldridge, along with Freight House Farmers Market and Cinnamon Ridge Country Cupboard.

Filed Under: Featured, History, Humor