On occasion, I am fortunate enough to be called on by my dairy farming neighbor, Joe, when he is in need of some time off. On those occasions, I delight in the tranquility of assuming the responsibilities of caring for his small herd of Guernseys. My duties include feeding, milking, manure removal, fetching cows from their pasture, feeding and watering heifers and feeding kittens.
My children take turns coming along to help during evening milkings. The kids like the idea of coming along for morning chores; but they usually roll over in their beds and sleepily decline the invitation when morning rolls around. I love sharing the intense duties of the dairy industry with my kids. I have many fond memories of helping alongside my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Alan in their dairy barn as a child. My hope is that my own children are making memories that are equally as wonderful as mine.
During my most recent stretch of milkings however, one of my worst nightmares came to life. I will painfully re-live the moment in order to allow you to share in my misery — or, perhaps to give you a chuckle.
I had to run a water hose from the small, clean milkhouse out to a pen of thirsty youngstock. I was feeling proud of myself for remembering to shut the water off before overflowing the stock tank and creating Lake Pontchartrain in the middle of the heifer pen. Little did I know that as I was proudly reeling in the length of hose I was creating the perfect storm.
While cranking it in, the hose had draped over the bulk tank outlet valve and clamp. With the last jerk, the hose end caught the outlet valve, unfastening the clamp, sending the entire valve, clamp and gasket crashing to the floor and behind it came a white geyser of cold, creamy, fresh milk.
Almost instantly, I dove to the floor, feebly attempting to cover the bulk tank outlet with one hand and gather the valve, clamp and gasket in the other hand. Twice I attempted to re-assemble the fittings. Both attempts left me sitting in a deluge of cold milk. I kneeled on the floor, soaked from my chest to my toes (my boots had inadvertently become milk vats) keeping one hand firmly over the tank outlet so as not to let any more of the liquid money circle the drain and disappear.
My mind raced, wondering how I was going to assemble the newly-dismantled tank outlet without spilling even more milk than I already had. My hands were shaking from the adrenaline which was now pulsing through my body. Using my mouth, I removed the milking glove from my hand and in pure desperation, reached for my phone and automatically called the one who I knew would come to my rescue. Within seconds I was speaking to my Dad, begging him to rush to my aid.
As I kneeled on the floor, hand covering the outlet and waiting for my Dad, I started to cry. A day and a half worth of milk was in that bulk tank and I was on the verge of watching it all go down the drain. I was hopeless and desperate. Through two failed attempts, I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to do this alone. I needed an extra set of hands.
As I waited for what seemed like an eternity for my Dad, I called Joe and told him of this series of unfortunate events. He chuckled and brushed it off as no big deal, saying that some time ago a similar thing had happened to him. In that moment I was so thankful for his extension of grace.
When my Dad arrived with my brother Sam in tow, we worked together to quickly assemble the outlet valve while spilling a minimal amount of milk. Instant relief came over me.
Still soaked with milk, I finished my duties, emptied my boots and headed towards home. On my short drive home I thought back to the previous incident still fresh in my mind. I had found myself in an impossible situation I could in no way fix on my own. On my knees, I called my Dad to come to my rescue. And with his help, we were able to put back together the disassembled parts. And Joe, in his kindness, extended grace to me.
There is a song out right now by Christian artist Cody Carnes called “Run to the Father.” The lyrics read,
“I’ve carried a burden
For too long on my own
I wasn’t created to bear it alone”
The lyrics go on to say,
“I run to the Father
Again and again
And again and again”
How often I find myself in situations and circumstances where I perilously try to shoulder wearisome burdens alone! Only after a few failed attempts to do things solo do I run to my heavenly Father — remembering I was not created to venture through the ups and downs of life alone.
I aspire for my spiritual life to emulate my spilled milk catastrophe. When I find myself in desperate or impossible situations, I want my automatic response to drop to my knees and call out to Jesus — knowing that, over and over, He is waiting to come to my rescue — knowing that He will offer grace to the fullest extent.
Whitney Nesse is a sixth-generation livestock farmer who is deeply rooted in her faith and family. She writes from her central Minnesota farm.