A few of you may remember the time way back, when there were a lot of small dairy farms in Trumbull County, most dairy cows were out on pasture from spring until winter arrived. Many of these pastures were not very good, just annual grasses and some weeds. They were often in the far back part of the farm and the cows had to walk down a long lane to get to them. They were good feed in the spring when there was plenty of rain and they made a lot of growth. But when the heat and dry weather of summer came, they weren't much good. Cows didn't have enough to eat. Milk production suffered.
Then a few of you might remember what a "cow path" was. It was a wandering path that the cows would follow to get from place to place. They wanted to wander along the same paths when going from the barn to the pasture. Creatures of habit.
Early in the morning or at night when it was milking time, dairy farmers could be heard out back of the barn calling the cows to come up for milking. Each farmer had his own distinct way and voice to call his cows, usually small herds. So if you were awake early or near a dairy farm at night you might heat that distinct "c-boss, c-boss" or "come boss" calling the cows to come to the barn. And if they weren't too far back and could hear, usually they would follow their cow paths and slowly wander up to the barn.
But if they didn't hear, someone had to go back and get them. That was often the youngest member of the family. They might even have been barefoot and had to be careful where they walked.
Yes, that is an enjoyable nostalgic picture but one we rarely see today. We should be thankful it's a time of the past. If we were still dairy farming with small herds, not well fed, with milk production highly seasonal, we would need three time the number of dairy farms than we have today. Many of you would have to go back to the small dairy farm with all the hard work and subsistence income you would receive. Unless milk would sell for more than three what it does today. Even then, family incomes would not be good.
Today's modern dairy farms with cows that are fed balanced and controlled feeds produce milk at a much lower cost than 60, 70 or more years ago. Improvements in technology that include better breeding and feeding along with making sure the animals get the feed they need and are more comfortable have brought about dramatic improvements in milk production from each cow.
Add to that improvements in sanitation, cooling and transportation and we all enjoy a high quality products at a comparatively low cost. Just think about the choices of excellent dairy products that you have at the store today. It can be almost mind boggling.
So the day of the cow path and dairy farmer out calling his cows is past - but not quite. Last week I was in the Amish community and saw several herds out on pasture. It was wet but grass was lush with all the rain. And conditions are different than 60 years ago. These were mostly improved pastures that provided good feed and cows would be rotated to new ones when grass, maybe with some clover, got short.
Since I don't live in that area, I don't know if you can hear the Amish farmer calling his cows morning and night, but I bet you can. Or maybe you would see a younger family member bringing up the rear as he or she brings the cows into the barn. Yes, it is a nostalgic picture and does provide a source of food, but even my Amish friends know it is a lot of hard work!
Parker is an independent writer for the Tribune.