Growing Up on Muddy Creek:

| February 2001

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    A Dairy Man Remembers
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    The milk bottle

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The milk business is a three-tongued creature: production, processing and delivery. I have worn all three hats in my life. As a producer, the Piper Jerseys gave me a great deal of experience; too much, in some instances. In the winter, they seemed to drink an inordinate amount of water that had to be pumped by hand, after thawing out the pump. Then the bulls had to be watered in their box stalls, and that meant carrying the water to them, and then ditto the baby calves.

Then, come spring, all that hay and straw that had been fed to them, and used as bedding, had to be dug out and hauled into the field, and spread out by hand with a manure fork. There is an aroma surrounding a winter-long accumulation of cow manure that is never to be forgotten. Nor is the back-breaking work of digging out the thick, woody, sweet clover and timothy stems that have been cemented into a near-solid mat by the endless trampling of a 1,500-pound Jersey bull to be forgotten soon. At such times I was thankful that Dad had chosen Jerseys over the huge Holsteins as a milking breed.

The milking chore is not one to be slighted, either. In the days before milking machines became common, all milking was done by hand. Uncle Walter did most of our milking for several years, until the Piper clan grew big enough to assume the task. There was never a hand-milker who suffered from lack of strength in those digits. Dad used to say he could tell a fellow milker by the way he shook hands. I served my apprenticeship in the production phase of the dairy business with a dozen or so jerseys to milk before school. When one of the Jerseys stepped on my foot or into the milk pail, I was again grateful that Dad had selected the lighter breed. Why is it that a cow never, but never, sticks her foot in a half-full bucket of milk, but always waits until it is nearly full before doing her one-step dance? Then 'Kerplunk!' One old timer once told me 'I just strain the spilled milk through a dish cloth. The people in town drink it, we don't!' My, how some things have changed for the better.

For many years, the milk on Muddy Creek was separated, and the skim milk fed to the calves and the older kids. Only babies got whole milk. People think it strange that I never tasted whole milk until I left the farm, but the cream could be sold, or made into butter. Those things had cash value, and in those days, cash was a commodity in short supply.

Hauling milk was one of the facets of the milk business that I skipped. Later on, when Dad and a bunch of hardworking promoters got the creamery going, and it started to bottle milk under the Producers Creamery name, the milk was shipped in 10-gallon cans to Olney. Let me tell you, those milk haulers surely earned the two bits a hundred they got for taking that milk to the creamery. The milk cans weighed about 20 pounds, and 10 gallons of milk inside added another 86 pounds to the total. Heaving those cans out of a tank of water, and then tossing them onto a platform bed truck, was a real developer of muscle. One of the arts to the business was the ability to roll a full can of milk down the path with one hand. Some haulers got so good they could roll a full can with each hand.

The early trucks were just flat beds. Later on, canvases were thrown over the cans. About 1950, the van-type truck came into use, with the cans double-decked, and as many as 120 cans of milk hauled at one time. Then came the bulk coolers and the tanker trucks. In 1934, I became the field man for Farmers Creamery in Bloomington. One of my jobs was to attempt to improve the quality of milk being produced. I obtained a bunch of 55-gallon condensed-milk barrels, sawed them in half, and put one half under the pump, so that the farmer could cool his milk in the fresh water. The overflow then went into the horse tank or cow trough. I had a dickens of a time selling these half-barrels for a dollar a piece, and when the bulk coolers came along some 20 years later, with their $2,000 price tags, I just knew they wouldn't go over. Boy, was I wrong. It might be interesting to note that in 1945, I helped draw the blueprints to convert the Olney Prairie Farms plant from producing butter to fluid milk. I was instructed to plan on a maximum capacity of 2,500 gallons a day, an unheard of 10,000 quarts of milk. I have just been told that during the first week in December 1990, the plant produced over 120,000 gallons of milk per day. Wow!


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