|The Cows are Out!
Two Decades on a Maine Dairy Farm
By Trudy Chambers Price
"Trudy Price's clean and lively prose make The Cows Are Out! both a vivid description of a dairy farm in rural Maine, where time flies like the wind across the fields, and a pure pleasure to read. Peter Scott, author of Something in the Water
"The Cows Are Out! is all
kinds of fun to read. This heartfelt memoir is full of interesting, gritty
details of that most-endangered of traditional New England enterprises
the family dairy farm."--Howard Frank Mosher, author of North
Family dairy farms are disappearing in Maine and with them, a way of life. Trudy Chambers Price has captured the daily joys and struggles of the family farm in a way that ensures this Maine way of life will not be forgotten.
Price and her husband raised two sons and hundreds of cows on Craneland Farm in Central Maine. The work was never-ending and exhausting, but also exhilarating and rewarding. In this bittersweet memoir of two decades of dairy farming, Chambers writes of the daily trials of haying, cow breeding and milking against a backdrop of gentle and entertaining rural life. She introduces kind neighbors, eccentric neighbors, visiting city folk and loveable pets. The Cows Are Out! is a tribute to hard-working family farmers and to an important part of Maine's historical and cultural heritage.
In 1966, she and Ron purchased a 150-acre dairy farm in Knox, Maine (about fifteen miles from Belfast), where they worked together for the next twenty-three years while also raising their children, Kyle and Travis. During her time at Craneland Farm, she also spent two years teaching third grade at Mt. View Elementary School in Thorndike to help pay the farm bills. She also began to write about her experiences as a dairy farmer. The Cows Are Out! is the result of that effort, begun on a typewriter in her old farmhouse on Knox Ridge.
Excerpt from The Cows are Out!
Ideally, cows should be milked every twelve hours. When we bought our farm, Ron continued the existing routine? milking at four in the morning and three in the afternoon. (Ron's timing varied only slightly depending on the season.) This schedule allowed time for daily work, such as gardening, haying, spreading manure and repairing equipment. It also left time for supper and evening activities. Other farmers have their own schedules. We knew one old-timer who milked his cows at noon and midnight. He was a night person for sure.
I was born into a night family. We stayed up late? reading, studying, watching TV, knitting, sewing or playing cards. Ron was always a morning person and doesn't understand night people, so we had to make many adjustments over the years. In winter, when he arose at three o'clock (as opposed to three-thirty during the summer) to milk the cows, he was happy and often hummed, anticipating the day's activities. Right from the start, I discouraged the humming, as well as turning on the light at that hour. I considered three o'clock the middle of the night, not morning. At 5:00 a.m., I arose grudgingly to feed calves, sweep cribs and wash milking equipment. I didn't speak to anyone for at least an hour, and that was a good thing.
When I agreed to become a farmer, no one mentioned feeding calves at that hour of the morning. I wondered why calves must be fed exactly at five-thirty. It soon became obvious: completing the morning barn chores as soon as possible left more time during the day for additional work.
Physically, it didn't take many weeks of this routine to change me into a morning person. I simply had to go to bed early.
I also discovered that starting the day early had its advantages. Soon, I felt cheated if I didn't see the sunrise. It's the most peaceful time of day. The phone has yet to ring, traffic is at a minimum, and the air is usually fresh, cool, and clear. I actually started to converse with the other workers. Rising early kept my bodily functions in sync, toned my muscles and enhanced my appetite. By the time I had worked three or four hours in the barn, I looked forward to breakfast. When I was a night person, I never had an appetite in the morning.
I napped every chance I got, even if it was for only fifteen minutes. I used to think that any nap of less than two hours wasn't worth it. Forget that.
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By Sharon Kiley Mack
Of the Bangor Daily News Staff
THE COWS ARE OUT! TWO DECADES ON A MAINE DAIRY FARM, by Trudy Chambers Price, published by Islandport Press, Yarmouth, 220 pages, 2004. Four-CD audio set $25. Call (207) 688-6290 or visit www.islandportpress.com.
Chambers Price pulls no punches in her autobiographical account of her life on a Maine farm. From everyday chores to the life and death issues that farmers face continually, Price tells it like it is, including the advice she and her husband, Ron Price, got from their banker when they wanted to purchase a farm in Knox.
"Mr. Osgood leaned forward over his desk and looked directly at me, then at Ron. ëYou both have a college education and could get good paying jobs. You don't want to go down on the farm and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the rest of your lives,'" Price recalled.
But the couple did and they bought a 150-acre dairy farm and began raising a family.
Each chapter in "The Cows are Out!" is a separate story of life on Craneland Farm over the 23 years. She writes about the simple pleasures of farm life, the never-ending work and the financial uncertainty in chapters titled "Ruts," "A Pig Deal," "Dreams and Sadness," and "Stuck in a snow bank," among others.
"If forced to explain in simple terms how all-consuming and demanding running a farm is, I might compare it to care for a newborn baby ó one that never grows up and must be watched round-the-clock, 365 days a year," Price writes.
"The days are long, the nights are short and the work is never done."
But as hard as farming is, it has its moments of beauty and splendor, which Price lovingly included, as in this excerpt that describes picking rocks from a field:
What a special place to just be, I thought. I belong here on The Hill, in this wonderfully isolated space, with the breeze blowing the clutter from my head, the sun warming my shoulders, renewing my spirit, and expanding my dreams until they seemed real. With every rock I touched, I felt a bond to this small parcel of earth, a bond so strong it seemed as though I had worked this land before in another time, another life.
This is a story of fears and forgiveness, hard work and hard playing, reward and disappointment, that stays true to the values and realities of dairy farming in Maine.
It doesn't have a happy ending --Price left the farm for good in 1989. "It didn't take long for me to realize
that my dream of owning the farm free and clear would never become a reality.
Security never came--only exhaustion. And the boys never took over the
farm," she wrote.