The end of an era

I thought it was appropriate to point out that my grandfather’s barn burned down last week.

Let me clarify. My grandparents both passed away in the mid 1990’s. At that point the farm was sold off. So, technically the barn hasn’t belonged to my family for a while.

In my heart, however, it will always be Grandpa’s barn.

Several members of my family had spent lots of time in that barn at one point or another. We’ve all milked cows, gathered eggs, fed calves, kicked around straw, and moved copious piles of animal manure in that barn. Goats, geese, chickens, cats, and cows lived entire lives in that gambrel building with the rough-hew posts and beams and the corrugated tin roof.

It was a class B milking barn, which meant Grandpa’s milk was used for cheese. His cows of choice were Swiss because they yielded a high milk fat and had a decent temperament (most of the time). He had a couple of Holsteins, but I recall they were always a bit skiddish and were hard to get the milkers on.

The gutters were cement grooves in the floor. The cows never seemed to actually poop in them, so it was a crusade to pace behind the cows during milking to scrape the fresh piles away before the cows were let back outside. Usually they’d also poop on their way back out for good measure. Grandpa had one of those old fashioned poop cradles (that’s not a technical term, that’s just what it looked like to me) that ran the length of the barn on a track. A person would drag the cradle along and shovel poop into it and haul full loads out to the manure spreader at the end of the track. In the winter the tractor never seemed to want to start, so Grandpa would hook up his draft horses to the spreader to haul it out to the fields.

It was never an industrial operation, never more than fifty cows at the most. My Grandpa died of a heart attack at the kitchen table after cutting up a pig with a hacksaw. He left 20 milking cows in the barn at that time.

That barn will always be a symbol to me of an almost extinct way of life. Family farms are still around. All you have to do is attend a county fair to see that. But the farms that were self-sustaining with messes of kids and multi-colored cows set out to pasture are a good two generations gone. In my mind they’ll never be forgotten.


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