“Launer, the diesel’s gone out and they say the heat’s fried some electrical transformer. When can you get here?”
I’d been up since four tweaking the ancient contraption in the light of a flashlight. Fuel flowed, but the compression was off, and no matter how hot the glow-plugs got, the damned thing wouldn’t kick over. Without it, we were screwed. Launer could fix it, no worries.
“What do you mean, ‘not today’? I’ve got three thousand gallons in refrigeration. Another five hundred to collect by noon.”
The cows had to get milked. You couldn’t not milk ’em. Filtered and stored the milk must be cooled. I depended on the diesel engine to power the generator that powered the refrigeration.
“I’ll have to get Richardson out for an early pickup. What do you mean he’s ‘offline’?”
Every three days, rain or shine, calamity or no, we needed our cow’s milk to get picked up, shipped to the processing plant. Well oiled and lucrative, the system worked for all of us. Dairy products were in high demand.
“Heat wave? No shit, Launer. Sorry, sorry. I’m just drawn out. Yeah OK, well, as soon as you can, then.”
I’d ignored them as long as I could. From outside, their lowing echoed in the shack that housed the equipment. If I didn’t get them lined up and milked, what sounded bucolic shifted to stressful bellowing when their sacks swelled to bursting.
“Sy, what’s the temp on the big tank?”
Symon, the last of my hired hands, could coax milk from a ox. With his family grown and gone, his wife dead for years, he’d moved into the farm’s office, took it over, and as we’d sold off parcels to pay for tuitions, weddings and starter homes, ol’ Sy had become our only hand. We were down to four hundred head. With a couple of four-wheelers, and proper pasture rotations, the two of us managed just fine. My wife had sworn off helping when the first grandkid had shown up.
Sy gave me the news. Sixty degrees and rising. Twenty-five more than we wanted, fifteen more than was safe.
“When was the last time we dumped the whole lot?”
Sy shrugged and shook his head. The faded denim jacket he wore consumed his shape like a double-size sack. It might have fit back when he owned his own farm. Today, its shoulders cantilevered out in military starchness, yet his frame rattled like sticks within.
“Well, our dump pond critters are about to get one helluva shock.”
Every dairyman dreaded the day, but regulations insisted on proper handling. You couldn’t go dumping thousands of gallons of milk into any ol’ creek or stream. Maybe early on, the authorities, if they existed, would have looked the other way. These days, such an act came with steep penalties. Instead, every dairy farm was required to keep an oversized dump pond for just such unpleasant occasions.
“You get the hose connected, I’ll get the next milking started.”
When the first of the doe-eyed Jerseys had stepped into the milking carousel, I returned to oversee the release. Sy placed the end of the four-inch firehose into the cattails that had grown up in the moist end of the dump pond. The pond naturally collected runoff water, and so was host to turtles and frogs, and frequented by herons and the occasional owl.
I grasped the red-handled lever at the bottom of the ten-foot tall, stainless steel cooling tank and cranked it over.
“Let the wasting commence.”
Sy and I stood at the edge and watched the luxuriously white spout of milk splash into the green ooze of the pond. Swirls and streams of earth-tone browns, vibrant shades of seafoam and emerald green painted avant garde reflections of a twisted, unprofitable milky sky.
Nine AM and the heat already crawled down my neck.
“Should start to stink here in a few hours.”
Sy scooted away, returning with a plastic tub from his personal fridge.
“Well, hell, that’s a great idea—if it works.”
Sy stirred the contents with a stick and slung the gloppy contents out into the now three-foot deep pond of fetid milk.
We checked it that afternoon.
“Well, goddamn, Sy, if it weren’t for the sperm-like tadpoles swimming in this pool of gray semen-like yogurt, I might fancy a cupful. Maybe with a dollop of strawberry jam.”