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Growing up on the farm taught some tough life lessons

One of the things which made growing up on a dairy farm so great proved to also be a double-edged sword that sometimes cut a little too deep.

There were heifers constantly growing in various barns on our farm, each season putting them closer to the daily milking lineup. Each had once been one of the calves I was in charge of starting. I named each one, grew to have opinions and an emotional attachment. Some were so well-loved that I considered those particular calves a pet.

I was coming of age at a time when the milk tester became an integral part of each dairy farm, helping farmers to determine milk production by measuring both a morning and an evening milking of each cow in the herd. It was an interesting, and new, experience for us, and I was excited to study our report every month.

What I was not at all excited about was giving each cow in our herd a number instead of a name. “No way is that ever going to work, not in our herd,” I remember saying to Dad. I think it’s a safe bet to say he chose to pretend he didn’t hear me.

He ordered an entirely different type of ear tag than the ones we had always used. I heard him talking with the guy who came to our farm as our milk tester about these ear tags. It would also be a safe bet to say I chose to pretend I didn’t have a clue what was being put into motion.

I had taken great pride in helping name the heifers, and quite often it was a family effort. Dad had a love of old country music, so with his input, we had Loretta, Brenda Lee, Patsy, Dolly and Kitty.

One I had loved since nursing her along as a young calf was all black with a perfectly formed white star on her face. I named her Lyn, and she proved to be a top producer every time we completed our monthly milk testing.

She was large in build, a majestic Holstein who stood out. I didn’t have to worry about a thing — she would be around for a long time. She was an easy breeder, calving impressive heifers, boosting her own production with each freshening.

I named Doc and Alice, who were best buddies, the first two into the parlor both morning and night. Doc was the herd boss, but allowed Alice to believe that she was. I could, to this day, draw their markings on a blank cow side profile on a sheet of paper.

Snickers and Milky Way, lame Linda, kicking fool Phyllis … oh the list could go on forever. Naming each one was a big part of the fun.

So, imagine my disdain when I saw ear tags with numbers being placed in these established stars of the herd. A long talk over an early breakfast with Dad soon proved futile. I had no say. Doc was now #60, Alice was #55.

On one chilly Spring morning, I was bringing the cows from the freestalls into the holding pen. I watched in horror as Lyn slipped on frosty concrete, her legs splaying apart. Her agony was apparent and I knew it was surely her last day.

I made myself scarce as Doc Smith came, later followed by our livestock trucker Cliff Fulk. When I later saw Dad in the upper barn, he leaned against a beam and puffed on his pipe. “Hard day, DoBee. A cow that size going down the way she did … well, there was just no saving her.”

I quietly wiped my face on my sleeve, determined not to let anyone see me cry. “Just promise me one thing,” I said. He nodded his head.

“When you tell the dang milk tester or anybody else about this, her name was Lyn. She wasn’t #70.”

It was a battle I knew I was never going to win. But I was determined to never go down without a fight.