The Big Barn

By Thelma Marie Wurzelbacher

It was a good barn. A barn with character. A barn with soul. It was the sanctuary of a full-time farmer and of his children’s memories.

Built before 1914, wooden pegs held the hand-hewn hickory and ash timbers together. It was a bank barn with a lower level pushed tight against a hill and a loft above. A rutted and frequently muddy track led up the barn hill to the loft level. The lower level had a foundation of stacked and mortared stone on the hill side while the back was open to the barnyard. There was an attached concrete block lean-to for the young beef.

Wurzelbacher Farm, December 22, 1986

In 1950 the lower level had nine pairs of stanchions that faced each other and a third row of six stanchions for the milking cows. There was a center aisle where the silage was fed to the cows and where their noses brushed against your legs. There was a trapdoor from the upper level that you stood clear of when each winter evening bales of hay landed with a resounding thump from high in the loft.

There was a cornmeal chute in a far corner by the steps that led to the loft. When the 8” wide board was pulled, cornmeal flowed into buckets from the seven-foot pyramid of cornmeal on the loft floor. A bucket of meal was divided among three or four cows — a pile for each, bucket after bucket. Grinding corn was a weekly chore, but it was necessary for maintaining high milk production.

The lower level had the newborn calves tied to the sidewalls and bedded in clean smelling straw. Sometimes they nursed; sometimes they were fed milk and formula from a special bucket with a long rubber nipple protruding from the side. In hunger or playfulness they pushed and butted small unsuspecting children to the concrete floor. They were beautiful calves holding the promise of a future milker, or if bull calves, a short time at our farm before going to Uncle Blackie, the livestock buyer. Next to the calves the dry cows and heifers jostled in a large unpartitioned space. They shared in the warmth of the big cows.

A ledge on the south side of the stable area provided a place where we kids could stand or sit, depending on your size, to watch the cows and Dad do his repetitive work. The big Holsteins were milked before breakfast and after supper, bags always full, teats swollen, always needing to be drained. A twice a day job, every day, even Christmas — bending, hand milking and later with milking machines, carrying the filled buckets to the milk strainers in the neck of the 10 gallon milk cans, and lifting the heavy filled cans into the coolers.

Years later, the milking unit was attached to clear glass pipes in front of the cows and ran the milk into a bulk tank in the milk house. This was the routine, twice daily, 356 days of the year until 1975 when Dad retired cows and equipment and my brother Dave reorganized the space into pigpens.

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