A Tie-Stall Barn at Night

December 5, 2021

Editor choice…from the past.

A few weeks ago, the kids and I were driving home when we passed by an old abandoned dairy barn that was clearly a showstopper back in the day. You know the type I am talking about. Red barn, small square, white trimmed windows, and a milk house attached on the front with a neatly painted white door.

I sighed and said something to them about how I missed the days of milking in a tie-stall barn. Of course, they asked why, and I replied, “because it’s just so cozy at night.”

And there was silence, as all three of them stared at me, perplexed.

So I went back…

The steam spilled out into the snow as I opened the milk house door with my foot clad in its black Tingley rubber boot. Once inside I set down the stack of black calf buckets that I had carried in my arms and was greeted by a moist warmth that enveloped me upon entry into the barn.

The moan of the milk pump marched on, bouncing off the walls inside the small cement floored room. I picked up the white-handled scrub brush and reached for the hose next to the stainless steel sink.

I stuck my well-washed, pruned hand into the detergent bag and pulled out a measuring cup of white granules, and sprinkled them carelessly over my pails as I began washing and stacking them one by one on the drying rack.

Stainless steel pipes and the old, deep double-sided wash sink sat in the far corner and the sparkling bulk tank reached deeply into the middle of the small room.

The familiar smell of dampness filled my nose. I looked down at the pool of water, sitting where the cement had been worn away from years of hose pressure that had washed over soiled boots, bucket milkers, and calving chains.

I pushed my way through the swinging door and was greeted by the familiar faces of the cows, foraging through their hay as they sought out one more pellet of grain.

A hint of fresh wood smell filled my nose, coming from the newly spread sawdust and the clunk of the grate sounded as I walked over the gutter cleaner.

The steady rhythm of pulsation filled the barn and a milker was suddenly kicked off by a fresh heifer over in the corner. She still had that wild look in her eyes, as she was adjusting to her new life in the milking string on both ends of the day.

I ducked over, under the fan, and rested my hand on her rump, helping the farmer steady her as he stuck the kicked-off teat cups back on her udder.

The cats scurried from stall to stall in search of the leaking udders where they could find milk pooled underneath to lick up every drop before the sawdust soaked it up.

Hanging on the old whitewashed post, a blue iodine cup dangled on a nail, and the country music station played “Silent Night”, in the background.

Heifer milked, the end is near and supper is in sight. I head back out into the barnyard to the calf hutches where I have just a few more pails to gather and wash up.

I trudged back to the milk house, toward the warmth of the light, streaming out through the square windows, and hear the moan of the milk pump; it’s sound being familiar, regular, and the same…

With my empty 5 gallon buckets in hand, I looked up as the sound of the pump suddenly stopped. Milking was over. My eyes lifted toward the vast, cold, star-filled sky above and I breathed in, fulfilled. Another day has passed, another to begin tomorrow… and I knew, that this wouldn’t last forever.

My children will know milking parlors and heated shops, fancy calf barns, and big truck trailers that sit outside the milk house and get picked up daily. Years from now they will look back and remember too.

They won’t have my memories, but they will have their own that conjure up that warm, nostalgic feeling that way back when, there was comfort, simplicity, and heart.

Oh, how I love a tie-stall barn at night…