Growing up on a Farm with Milk Cows

Airdates: March 1, 2, 4

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

Milk cows played an integral part in the average farm in early twentieth-century America. As well as steady sources of dairy products, milk cows dictated a family's daily schedule and could bring in extra income.

Judge John F. Onion Jr. of Austin grew up on a farm in the San Antonio area in the 1930s and describes the abundance of milk:

"When you get four or five milk cows, you get an awful lot of milk. And after a while, we had so much milk—and I always remember the cream rising to the top on all the old bottles—that my mother decided that we didn't need all that cream. She bought a separator, and that separator had so many parts, I lost count—and particularly when you're having to try to clean it. And she sold milk to a local creamery called Knowlton's Creamery for a number of years. And we got milk in the icebox that was skim milk. And that's where I learned to like skim milk, and I never could go back to the heavy—the whole milk or anything of that nature."

Onion explains that the cows had to be milked, even in rough weather:

"The cows had to be milked twice a day. We had a creek, the Huebner Creek, that ran behind the house, and it had kind of a high outcropping of the rocks. And the water would go the other way most of the time, but sometimes you'd get these cows on the other side of the creek. And they couldn't cross the creek because of the swollen water, and they had to be milked. And, of course, they liked to eat when they were being milked, too. And I've seen, on a number of occasions, my mother, as short as she was, would go down to the creek and put a bucket on her head and wade across the creek when it was running rapidly and get on the other side. And she would have some food in there, enough to keep them eating while she milked them. And she'd, a lot of times, let the milk go on the ground because she wanted to relieve the cows of the pressure on their udders."

But milking cows is not for everyone, as Onion recalls:

"If I could avoid it I did. I didn't particularly like milking the cow. (interviewer laughs) Sometimes those cows didn't milk just the way the other people milked cows. It took a lot longer for me to get the job done. We had one cow named Dolly. I always remember that she had a terrible habit. You would milk her and get a whole bucketful of milk. And just as you were getting through, she would take one foot, put it in the bucket—manure and all. And so we finally had to put a leather strap around her leg and a big metal loop so we could snap it to a post so she couldn't get that leg up."

Nowadays it's novel to hear of people getting milk products from any place other than a grocery store. But locally produced milk is gaining popularity again, especially among a growing number of raw milk advocates who want to keep in their diet the beneficial bacteria and enzymes affected by the pasteurization process.

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