That Time I Worked on a Dairy Farm

Most people who have gotten to know me over the past few years find it impossible to believe that I worked on a farm as a teenager. I don’t know if it’s because of my love of Starbucks or my penchant for using mildly intellectual words like “penchant,” but people rarely accept it when I say that I am well versed in farm culture. Since this will probably continue happening, I figured that the best way to explain this era of my life would be through a blog post.

I grew up in New York, so let me start by setting the scene of what I mean when I say “New York.” I am not referring to the city; rather, I am referring to Perry, a rural town of about 5,000 residents. 5,000 is pretty small, right? Well, I didn’t even live in the town; instead, I lived on the outskirts of the town in a county that has more cows than people.

I was looking for a job during the summer of 2009, and I caught wind of a farm hiring down the road from my house. I thought that working on a farm could be an enjoyable experience, so I contacted the owner and set up a time to meet him.

The day of the interview came, so I donned my best pair of Wrangler jeans, button-down rodeo shirt, and cowboy hat for the occasion. I must have thought that I was interviewing for the O.K. Corral instead of for a job at a manure-filled farm. I guess I was leaning into the whole “dress for the job you want” mindset.

I arrived a few minutes before the scheduled time and waited patiently outside the small shed that was used for the farm office. After waiting for what felt like an agonizing amount of time, the owner, whom I shall call “Dennis,” walked over to me. He grunted what I assumed was a “howdy” and ushered me into the claustrophobic shed.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “It’s so nice to meet you, Dennis! I’ve always admired your farm whenever I walked by it! Thanks for meeting with me!” *I was exuding as much energy as possible thinking that it must be energy that he was looking for in a farm helper. It wasn’t.*
Dennis: “Mhmm. Have you worked on a farm before?”
Me: “Nope! But I have lived around the stench of cow manure my whole life.” *I chuckled at the thought and waited for him to crack a smile at my endearing response. He didn’t.*
Dennis: “Can you work early mornings on weekdays?”
Me: “How early is early? I’m pretty used to sleeping in! Haha.” *I cracked up at my one-sided attempt at establishing a repartee with Dennis.*
Dennis: “4:45 a.m.”
Me: “Oh, wow. Um, yes, that shouldn’t be a problem…” *I briefly wondered what I was agreeing to, but my desire for a job trumped that thought.*
Dennis: “Ok. Can you start next Monday?”
Me: “I sure can!” *My excitement returned with a vengeance as I received my first official job offer.*

I thanked him for his time and left the hotter-than-hell shack that we had been standing in for the past ten minutes. I was practically jumping out of my Justin Cowboy Boots as I walked home and began excitedly thinking about the things I would be able to purchase with my impending wealth. The happy thoughts persisted throughout the rest of the week until work actually began.

Many things happened during my time working on the farm, so I have decided that it would be best to summarize the main points rather than try to detail day by day what I experienced. Here are a few things that I learned:

You will hate whatever song you wake up to | In an effort to successfully wake myself up at 4:15 a.m., I tried to use catchy country songs as an energetic kick-off for the day. Many songs were used (and subsequently ruined), but the one that stands out is the song “If I Died Today” by Tim McGraw.

Maybe my subconscious was telling me that I would be better off dead than waking up that early, but I kept that song as my go-to wake-up tune for a majority of the time I worked on the farm. It was never a great song, but it has been forever ruined because I can no longer hear it without cringing at the thought of milking cows. Speaking of milking cows…

Milking cows is not my best quality| I truly wanted to enjoy milking cows, but I didn’t. I would stand on a lower level than the cows, and they would trundle through the gate to the milking station that was at eye level. Once they were in place, I would clean the manure off their udder, dip it in iodine (yes, IODINE), and hook up the machine that would extract the milk from them.

Even though it is necessary to milk a cow (otherwise unpleasant things happen to their udder), they are not thrilled to be there. They would switch their tails in my eyes, kick at me, and routinely crap when I was standing behind them. It was after I had been defecated on for what felt like the one-thousandth time that I concluded that farming wasn’t something that I could see myself doing long-term.

It is miserable to work with a boss who hates their job | I had the distinct “honor” of working one-on-one with Dennis most mornings, and through these long shifts together, I was able to piece together how much he hated his life.

I found out that his son had somehow lured his father up to New York and then promptly took off to some warmer state, leaving Dennis with a farm that he didn’t want. He would rant and rave about how awful farming was and on the especially bad days would emphasize his point by showing me the frostbitten remnants of his earlobes (which he blamed on milking in the winter).

Sometimes, when merely complaining wasn’t enough, he would yell and kick at buckets and other odds and ends throughout the parlor, and I would silently wonder if he would ever become angry enough to murder me. Thankfully, he did not.

You meet some interesting people on a dairy farm Let me start off by saying that some of my dearest family friends are lifelong farmers, so I by no means believe that all farmers are odd. Ok, now that I’ve cleared that up, let’s dive in.

One of the farmhands who was responsible for the non-milking duties on the mornings that I worked was…bizarre. His name was Ben, and I had heard from Chris, the other farmhand, that Ben was “a little off.” I didn’t believe him at first, mainly because I was a naive thirteen-year-old, but I soon learned that Chris was absolutely correct.

One day, I was taking a brief break from milking while Dennis brought in the next group of cows, so I stepped out of the milking parlor and into the central barn area. It was there that I saw something that was genuinely unsettling in the distance. Ben was on the far side of the barn spinning around in circles. Did you catch that? A grown man was spinning in circles for an extended period of time while at work.

I was horrified by the odd sight and talked to Chris about it as soon as I could. I thought that he would reassure me by saying that I had been mistaken, but he did not. Instead, he informed me that spinning was “just something that Ben does.” He told me that he had been initially weirded out by it, but he soon came to accept it as “Ben being Ben.” Shocked, I went back to my work and did my best to forget it, but I couldn’t shake the image of Ben blissfully spinning in circles at the farm.

Needless to say, farming was not something that I hoped would bloom into a career, so I did my best to hunt down another job all throughout that summer. Thankfully, as I was reaching my wit’s end with the farm, I was offered a job as a cashier at a locally owned restaurant. It was nothing special, but after the early mornings, verbally abusive boss, and psychotic co-workers, I felt like I had just received my dream job.

I am no longer a farm boy by any stretch of the imagination, but I do see it as an integral part of my teenage years and a strong reason for my developed work ethic. Would I ever milk cows again? Not in a million years. But I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn so much while I was there. Plus, it gives me a wealth of stories to share with you, my readers.

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