It's good day to work on that "to do" pile

John Oncken

Another year has come and gone and for the next 350 (or so) days we will be complaining about the weather or the economy. It’s a new year and our hopes are high.

As always I’m left with a pile of things I was planning to write about, questions to be answered, and photos that didn’t find a home in this weekly column. Today, the first day of below zero temperatures since near a year ago seems like a good day to begin to empty that “to be done” bin.

Cows coming home for milking time on the Truttman Dairy near New Glarus, Wis.

C’m Boss

The phrase “waiting until the cows come home” was often used in conversations when dairy herds were small and spent the summer days grazing in a pasture far from the barn. They came home for milking when you called “C’m Boss, C’m Boss” and the boss cow got the urge to answer the call and lead the herd, all in line, back to the barn. In conversation it meant your wait might be awhile or longer as the cows were never in a hurry.

A finished silage pile with plastic and tires in place.

Why tires? A a common question

Why are there piles of rubber tires stacked alongside the silage piles being made with tractors running up and down the pile?

The piles of silage are being packed by tractors to create an air-free stack of corn or other forage for winter cattle feed. After the pile is complete it is covered by thick plastic and then stabilized with tires (often truck tires) usually sliced into halves. The purpose is to keep the plastic firm and tight to keep air out and prevent spoilage. 

The driver injects manure into the soil through the use of a drag line system. The manure is piped from the storage system miles away using a hose.

What is that?

One will often see a tractor hitched to a big hose working in a field.. What they doing is a question that mystifies many. Chances are it is a manure irrigation operation where the liquid manure is being pumped from a farm lagoon perhaps a mile or two (or more) away. The liquid comes through a hose, under roads, through culverts powered by pumps and inserted into the soil by the unit attached to the tractor. (It works!)

A slotted floor in the new freestall barn at the Hinchley Dairy, Cambridge.

What is a slotted floor in farm barns?

Most people (including some dairy producers) are unfamiliar with what are called slotted floors in livestock buildings. The segments of pre-stressed concrete are made with slots about 1 inch wide, the idea being that liquid manure will drop down into the basement (or lagoon) and be treated as a manure holding area and periodically hauled out. Such floors are mainly used in free stall barns in Wisconsin. The Wieser Company of Maiden Rock is well known for such construction.

Direct tanker loading is common on large farms where the milk from the cows is cooled rapidly and loaded immediately onto a tanker trailer.

Tankers by the barn?

By now most folks have noticed two, three or more semi trailer milk tankers backed up to dairy barns. "Why are they there?" they ask. Of course, they are there to haul milk to the milk processor. The larger producers have found it more profitable to install milk coolers in the barn and immediately pump it into a tanker than to go from bulk tank to truck.

The tankers may be owned by the producer, leased from a hauler or operated by the processor. In any case, tankers are a long way from the days of the 100-pound milk cans and the milk hauler with a strong back.

A square silo

Have you ever seen a square barn silo? I have, but it was some years ago on a sort of wandering trip into the St. Nazianz area of Manitowoc county. I had no idea it was there and was a bit startled when I passed it. I turned around in order to take some photos with the intention of returning to get some history for a column but never did. 

I do know it was built of fieldstone from a neighbors stone fence in 1933 on the Bill Christal farm. And as far as I know it remains in place yet today. Square silos were never very popular because the four corners tended to promote spoilage. It’s a unique site and worth a trip.

The Triangle Troopers 4-H Club had its beginnings in the 1940s and thrives yet today.

Triangle Troopers

I really enjoy my yearly visit to the Stoughton Fair every July 4th weekend. It's a fair like fairs were and should be: family togetherness, young children running about without caretakers and the starting place for showring beginners.

I also get to see the Triangle Troopers 4-H club signs reminding me that my mother and several others combined three small 4-H clubs at local rural grade schools into one bigger one. Eighty years later the Triangle Troopers still thrives. I’d guess it’s one of the few to live so long.

Note: A caller asks where she can buy the “Round Barn" books mentioned in last week’s column. Answer: You can find them on several websites including Amazon at and the University Press of Wisconsin at

John F. Oncken can be reached at 608-837-7406 or at