Prayers at Maple Tree Medows

Prayers at Maple Tree Medows
Three Rivers, MI

Monday, January 3, 2011

Post and Shenk Dairy Barn: Between Love and the Numbers

Steven Post and Pam Shenk are friends whose farm is on US 12, just five miles south of church. I spent a Sunday afternoon with them and their barn, ending with a great play dough time with their three year old daughter, Mable. They are one of very few small dairy farms in St. Joseph County.

I am a happy old barn!

I never would have imagined being this content at age one hundred or so. You know, they say when you turn eighty everything just starts falling apart. Sure enough, I stood ten years empty, from 1995 to 2005. The old herd had been sold, I was half full of horse stalls, my exterior was flaky, my hay mow lay empty. I ached and echoed.

But for the last five years I have been full of cows, calves, love and warm milk. You see it’s not only the forty and more cows that are milked each day, not only of their calves in small pens right nearby, but Pam and Steve and, my favorites, Mable and Hank, and star show cow, Martha, make me, well, a home!

I have forgotten a lot over the years.

I am sure there were little girls like Mable and farm dogs like Hank wandering around in me before. But it’s kind of like I entered a temporary state of senility in my eighties. Now it's like a second childhood. And that Mable! She knows every cow by name.

Why almost everything about being a dairy barn has come back to me!
Stand tall above the herd! Keep some hiding places for cats to keep the mice down. Some insects in summer for the chickens are good, but not too many flies, please. And be sure to keep the pipes running to the milk house, even in blizzards…
Oh, that reminds me. There is one kind of embarrassing story…

Why back in July 2005, when Pam and Steve moved in, they were thrilled to find land and a barn and house and buildings for a small herd – that they could afford. Land here was running one third the cost of the land in Elkhart and LaGrange Counties. And Steve was tickled to buy this place that he had passed so often his whole life long on car rides to his grandfather’s house.

But, I digress…What was I going to tell you? Oh yea, about keeping the pipes running.

That first Thanksgiving, you know, in 2005, there was a blizzard like you would not believe. Without hay in the loft, and with my poor worn out sides, the wind and snow was whipping through like all get out, and those milk pipes were in danger to freeze and bust.

But that Steve and Pam! They climbed up in the loft are ripped apart whatever they could find, any old bales, old chaff, and stuffed up the cracks above the stalls. Got some Salamander heaters going. And we made it through.

Maybe due to all that hubbub they have done a lot to shore me up. Why, viewed from the south or the west I look like a whipper snapper of a barn, all glowy and red, neat white trim on the windows and doors. And inside the walls are all white with thick foam insulation.

The stalls and mangers and floor, well, they are about the same. There’s only so much comfort a cow needs, you know. So my inner workings containing all those cows -- Mildred and Miracle, Izzie, Blue and Starlet, Vasha and Velvet – why Mable knows all their names.

(Am I repeating myself...)

They keep me down to earth and manure and warm milk and all that good steamy stuff. Just like the old days beyond memory.

Now, I do admit, when I glance down on my north side and my south, I am reminded of my age. Kind of a rough character, you might say. White. Peeling. Cows don’t seem to mind. And that young family, they keep chipping away at me.

There is one thing that puzzles me. I don’t know if when you get old you forget the number part of your brain. Or if, back in the day, there just weren’t so many numbers for a barn to remember. But I hear them talking down there about the price of in-puts just rising and rising every year – fuel, fertilizer, seed corn, feed, and all – and the milk numbers don’t go anywhere. Something about corn going up to supply ethynol Price of corn and soy went up with the demand.

But what about milk? Hey, I’m talking about “mother’s milk” of all things. Wouldn’t you think that might be worth a pretty penny? Do you know that they get for milk these days? Anywhere from $9 to $16 for one hundred pounds of milk, and that price varies, up and down. They say, if you do the math, when milk in the store was three dollars a gallon they got eighty four cents a gallon here at the farm. Now even for an old barn like me, it’s a no brainer that it doesn’t make sense – or cents – or money, that is. Not much money at least. I guess enough to keep going.
They might promise that milk will go up to $20 a hundred pounds, but it never has, not this year.

So it’s got to be a guy like Steven to stick with it. He loves those cows of his.

I notice things. Since Vasha has been down the last day, and not able to get up, Steven and Pam and Hank and Mable and even the chickens, are hovering around her.

Why even Velvet, her buddy in the next stall, seems to be nosing her on to try to stand up.

The vet will come tomorrow to see what he can do. Milk fever. Seems to happen from time to time after calving. And some cows I’ve known, once they are down they seem to just give up. Good thing I didn’t take after them! I’d be a fall down barn by now. And Steven and Pam will do whatever they can to keep the cows and me on our feet.

As I think about it, now, with this new wave of life, I’m determined now to stay young. I mean, I have the heart of a calf! Why that new one, they call him Little Jersey (‘cause he is a little Jersey calf), he up and ate some grain today. Why he’s just a few days old. Made everybody smile and made Steven’s day. New life just keeps going on like that.

Well, I guess I have rambled on enough. Glad to be a barn. No happy, really happy, to be a working barn on a family dairy farm and have the whole mix of moms and dads and granddads and kids and calves and cows and chickens and cats.

I heard Pam say, and I take it as the highest compliment,

“Barn, you are the hub, more than the house. And we work hard, but we have a lot of fun in you, you old barn. Why, I think if you could speak for yourself you’d say,

‘I’m a happy old working barn full of love. And I’m going to stay that way.’”

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