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Ryan Dennis

Ryan Dennis is the son of a New York dairy farmer and a literary writer whose early essays were originally published in Progressive Dairy.


We rubbed our hands between our knees, waiting for the present batch of cows to milk out. I sat on an overturned bucket; my father was on the steps that led out of the pit.

It was the middle of February, where the cold still crept through the edges of the window panes to frost the glass and froze the manure at the end of stalls. It was still the type of weather where your toes got cold through the boots and might not warm until much later in the day.

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Several years ago, my friend brought me to her house in the suburbs. I can’t recall the rows of houses we passed to reach hers, only that it seemed indefinite because I couldn’t tell them apart.

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This article was #5 of the Top 25 most well-read articles on in 2013. It was published in the Feb. 11, 2013 print issue.

Click here for the full list of the Top 25.

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There are various theories on how they came about, depending on what coffee machine in Canaseraga you were leaning on and what old-timer you were talking to. Some would say they’re hippies who had moved into the woods and gone native. Others think they’re offspring of Bigfoot.

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Milk flashes into the claws, crashing against the plastic windows in steady pulses. The inflations squeeze each teat that they hold, gently, and then release them in perfect unison. Yellow hoses shake along the pit. The vacuum is the unseen force that drives it all in a deafening throbbing sound that you, if you didn’t know any better, would assume was your own heartbeat.

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I learned forward, hunched over the buzzer, as if the closer my brain was to my hands, the quicker they could react.

Omaha, Nebraska, 2004 – Junior Holstein Association National Dairy Bowl Finals.

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