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0907 PD: Baxter Black: The Russian dairyman

Baxter Black Published on 31 August 2007

I don’t think of myself as a dairyman, though my first cow was an Ayrshire milk cow complete with long horns. Goldie was her name. My father milked her in the morning and it was my chore to do the evening milking. I was in the third grade when I began.

My younger brother’s job was to feed the chickens. His nemesis was a big red rooster named Oscar. Brother would have been 6 years old then, and he was no match for Oscar. So we made a deal. I’d carry a stick and keep Oscar at bay while Brother gathered eggs and scattered chicken feed. This was in trade for him holding Goldie’s tail while I milked. In the warm months, he’d slap my bare back with a wet rag to keep the flies off of me. Mother made butter. I recall we had a small electric churn. Brother No. 3 was born, and Goldie kept our family supplied with dairy products.

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Steve told me the story of his Russian immigrant grandparents coming into Montana in the 1920s, like my grandparents did into Oklahoma. They milked several cows and traded cream and butter in town for sugar and flour.

Steve’s Grandpa Ivan took pride in his small dairy herd. He invested in good cows, at the expense of creature comforts for himself and his family. He developed a reputation as a good farmer. So when he started getting complaints about the “quality” of his milk, he was concerned.

Ivan discussed his problem with Joe at the feed store. Was he keeping his cans clean? Did he keep it cool? Was he washing the teats before milking? Joe agreed to come check out Ivan’s operation and inspect his barn.

Upon arrival the next morning, Joe saw the lights burning in the barn. In the fresh snow he saw footprints leading from the house to the barn. It was clear the tracks were barefoot. Joe shivered. He realized how much Ivan was sacrificing to build his herd; he didn’t even buy shoes in order to save money. But, he figured, Ivan was a Russian and knew about cold weather.

Pulling his coat around him, Joe traipsed out into the barn, passed through the cooling room and entered. He could hear the regular whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of fresh warm milk being drawn out.

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“Mornin’, Ivan,” he greeted, “It’s a cold one.”

Ivan looked back but kept up the rhythm, “Mornin’, Cho, it iss colt, but it dozn’t bodder me none.”

Joe spoke, “I’ve come to…” Then he noticed that Ivan had both hands on the bag, squeezing away – and both feet in the bucket! PD

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