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A town ‘taste’ event brings out the flavor of farm life

Column by Marie Johnson

There are only two dairies left in Carson Valley. One is on Waterloo Lane. The other is along Centerville. Both are family operations. There were about nine dairies in the Valley 10 years ago.

Steve, a partner of the dairy on Waterloo, was thrown against a fence by a bull. After Steven’s upper palate was broken, the bull rubbed Steven around on the ground until three ribs were busted, a lung punctured and his shoulder ripped apart. After over a week in the hospital and a couple of surgeries, Steven gets to come home. While he was in the hospital, we jokingly asked if he was staying in the cow business. He answered, “Good question.”

When I had shoulder surgery, a form given to me said, “Don’t make any major decisions while on strong pain medication.” I cautioned Steven with the same advice; it is so easy to take the “out” when you don’t feel so good. I know. We took it. Your body hurts, prices are down, costs are up and friends are taking vacations while you’re busy trying not to lose money.

But then things happen, like last weekend when we were going to go to a “taste” event with Chris and Val, the folks operating the dairy along Centerville Lane. Kent and I, late picking up Chris and Val, apologize for our tardiness as Chris opens his front door. Looking out, he has a clear view into his calving shed, where a heifer has one hoof protruding from under her tail. We’ve calved heifers, we know the evening could take a turn any time. In no big rush, Chris gets his coat and we follow him to the barn, stepping carefully in our dress shoes.

Chris calls out, “Get Crystal (his 18-year-old daughter)! Tell her there is only one foot showing.”

I go to the house and repeat the information. Crystal gets her shoes as she jumps up from the couch. Jesse, her 16-year-old brother, starts scrambling for his coat and shoes too. Val, also known as Mom, gets her coat and we all head back to the barn. Jesse gets the chains and warm water while Crystal checks inside the heifer, informing us she feels the other foot and the nose too. Dad oversees as daughter wraps chains around calf’s front hooves. Jesse gets the calf-puller, a device used to crank the calf out of the cow. Val and I spectate. Kent holds the tail out of the way, wanting to help. After a brief tension, nervous chatter on my part and advice from Chris, Crystal and Jesse calmly get the calf out and breathing. As we leave the barn, Chris gives final instructions to get the calf onto clean straw and the cow fresh water.

We were just a little bit late for the “taste” event.

Steven’s two children, Jeff and Brenna, are about 10 years younger than Crystal and Jesse. I hope Steven doesn’t make any big decisions while recovering from his injuries. Farm kids learn a lot from what they see around them. And we gain some very valuable human beings.

Marie Johnson is a Fredericksburg, Calif., resident and is married to Kent Neddenriep. They have two sons, Kyle, 11, and Bradley, 8. Her column, “Fence lines,” appears once a month.