When the electricity goes out on a dairy farm, all hell and milk break loose. I was reminded of this during a recent Sunday morning thunderstorm, when the power went out in my little house in town.
The outage was widespread, affecting more than 5,000 customers in my community. But I had working flashlights and it was bright enough to read and write at my desk next to the window, even on a dreary morning. All in all, it wasn’t a big deal. The power was back on in about two hours.
As I watched the rain and listened to the thunder that morning, I was transported back to my childhood on my family’s dairy farm. Then and there, losing electricity for any amount of time really was a big deal.
If we were milking cows when the power went out, we had to take action immediately. The six milking machines would fall off the cows’ teats and onto the barn floor. Some of us would quickly retrieve the milkers before the cows kicked them into the manure gutter. Someone else would hightail it to the milk house. Without electricity to run the vacuum pump, all the milk that was flowing through the hundreds of feet of stainless steel pipeline would begin spewing out of the overflow valve in the milk house. It wouldn’t take long before the strategically placed pail under the valve would be filled to the brim. Somebody had to get there quickly to monitor the situation and swap out pails, one full for one empty, as many times as necessary. If we didn’t catch that milk, that meant our family’s income would be flowing down the floor drain.
When the milkers were accounted for and the milk had drained from the pipeline, we waited for the power to come back on. We didn’t have a generator then, so there wasn’t much else we could do. I’d usually head to the house, grab a book, and read. We couldn’t finish milking the cows until the power was restored, even if that restoration took several hours. It made for some late nights in the barn during thunder and lightning season.
In 1975 or so, Dad bought a portable generator. It connected to a tractor and the electrical box on the light pole in our yard. When the power went out (and after we’d taken care of our milker retrieving and milk catching), he’d hook up the generator, start the tractor, and the power would return. We were back in the milking business.
These days when the power goes out, I don’t have much to lose. So it doesn’t bother me at all to sit at my desk during a summer storm, listening to the thunder, watching the rain, and writing stories as I wait for the power to return.