Dairy farmers don’t get a day off – not even Christmas. But their celebrations are just as warm and special as any. We asked four dairy farm families to give us a peek into their typical Christmas traditions.
The Van der Laan Family
How do we spend Christmas on the farm?
Cows go first, no matter what day it is. If the weather is nice – no bad winter weather, snow or ice – and all is well with cows, equipment, calves and employees, we come back in the house from morning chores around 10:00-10:30 a.m. 10:00 a.m. has been coffee time in our Dutch household for as long as we can remember as kids. Coffee with a good scoop of real whipped cream (not the canned stuff), pumpkin roll with cream cheese filling, and the kids’ hot chocolate with whipped cream, and presents. Yes, we open presents pretty late in the morning.
Now, if winter turned our place into a winter wonderland or ice paradise, it may not be until lunchtime for presents. We may run in to pick up a thermos with coffee and get back out until the cows and calves are taken care off. Cow care is the same on Christmas as any other day.
Lunch is something small, a sandwich and soup or something. Around 4:00 p.m., we go outside again for evening chores and to make sure all is well. We have Christmas dinner in the evening, usually around 6:30, which is always a ham with sides. We like it in the evening since we like to light the candles and the fireplace and linger around the table after dinner with coffee and pie for a long time. Eventually we move to the living room for a Christmas movie.
We have had snowstorms in which we shoveled snow out of 500 calf hutches and bedded them down on Christmas Eve instead of going to church. It is our policy to get all the cows who are ready to calf inside the maternity barn before they calve, but sometimes they still surprise us, and we have to get them inside in a hurry during blowing snow and sleet. We take precautions that our water lines don’t freeze; still, freezing happens. Most people hope for a white Christmas; we really don’t. Not too much anyway. Don’t get me wrong; I love snow, and ditch jumping (where the road ditch is filled with snow and you take a run and jump in), snowy landscapes and walking in a winter land. But it makes work on the dairy farm so much harder. With nice weather, everyone has a little more time with their families on Christmas!
The Van der Laan Family
Dorane Van der Laan
Van der Laan Dairy, Frederick, OK
The Brown Family
Christmas day on our farm is just like any other day. My husband starts his day bright and early, milking cows at 4 a.m. If our daughter wakes up early enough, we let her see what Santa has brought her, and take time to eat breakfast. By 7:30 a.m., we are all bundled up and out the door to start our chores. We start by mixing milk for our more than 80 calves. We bottle feed our youngest calves first, who stay in our barn for the first few weeks of life, then we head out to our older calves, who stay in their hutches, and bucket feed them. While feeding them, we make sure their hutches are bedded for warmth; they get plenty of milk and have plenty of grain as well. We also check each calf for any signs of sickness/illness and make sure they receive the proper care needed to get well.
After all the calves are taken care of, we head back to our hospital barn to milk any fresh cow we may have on the lot. In the meantime, my father-in-law has been feeding all the milk cows as well as all our heifers and wean pen calves a premixed ration of corn silage, cottonseed mill, dried distillers’ grains and alfalfa hay. After milking fresh cows, we head out to pasture to check for any cows that may have calved through the night, and bring them in with their newborn for warmth and to keep a close eye on them, since winter weather can be harsh on newborn calves.
If by chance we have received any ice over night (since Oklahoma is known for ice storms more than snow), we make sure all barn floors are thawed to prevent injury to any cows, and we check every water trough and break the ice if needed and make sure the water lines haven’t frozen. After checking water troughs we head up to the milk barn and prep it for the milk truck to come pick up our milk (because even the milk truck driver doesn’t get the holidays off).
Usually, by about 10:30 a.m. (if all goes well) we can head back to the house for warmth and let our daughter open gifts from us. The neat thing about raising her on the farm is that even at her young age, it doesn’t bother her to hold off on presents or special events because since birth she has been “raised in a barn.” She understands at her young age that our animals come first and the importance of it.
Balancing holiday/family time with the farm can be a juggling act at times. Sometimes, family time gets cut short due to unforeseen issues that may arise on the farm. We are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. After all farm work is done, Christmas Eve night is spent with my husband’s family and Christmas day is spent with my side of the family.
Then at 4 p.m. every day, we start all over again with milking cows; checking for new heifers and babies; feeding calves, cows, and heifers; and, depending on the weather, checking water troughs and lines for re-freezing.
The Brown Family
Jamie, Lance, Baler, and Kemper Jean
Brown’s Dairy, Blanchard, OK
The Bowman Family
Christmas Day at Okie-Bow Dairy begins the same way as every other day. No days off here for our family! I'm up at 5:00 a.m. prepping the barn for morning milking while my husband gathers the cows from the pasture. We milk our 50 Jersey cows together, our daughter feeds calves, and our son checks water and cleans up after milking.
Our kids have always understood that the cows have to be taken care of before we celebrate. When they were smaller, they had to stay in their rooms until all the chores were done. I remember them pressing their faces against the windows just staring at the barn, waiting. They would call me 10 times before we were done, asking “how much longer?” Now that they are both teenagers, they are a little more patient.
After all the chores are done, we celebrate. We open presents and I start lunch. We normally have Christmas dinner at the farm; there's really no time to travel or go to grandma's house. Dinner is usually ham, A Very Dairy Potato Casserole, rolls and apple pie for dessert. After lunch we check heifers, dry cows and sometimes help deliver calves. We try to maybe get in a nap, ‘cause at the end of the day, it's time to do everything again!
One of our favorite dishes to have at Christmas is:
A Very Dairy Potato Casserole
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 2 cans cream of chicken soup
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 8 oz. sour cream
- 2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese (divided)
- 1 bag semi-thawed hashbrowns
- 1 Onion (chopped)
Preheat oven to 375. Melt butter and pour into the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Mix together soup, milk, sour cream, and 1 cup of cheese. Mix in potato and onion. Spread into pan and top with the rest of the cheese. Bake for 50 minutes.
The Bowman Family
Tony, Lee Ann, Ali and Cash
Okie-Bow Dairy, Glenco, OK
The Amezcua Family
Christmas traditions vary from family to family, but for most they all include opening gifts, having breakfast, and family time. Christmas in our family is no different. We start Christmas Eve off with a big glass of cold milk for Santa and warm chocolate chip cookies. In the morning, we wake early and open gifts at our house, but before we go to grandparents to enjoy gifts and breakfast, we stop by the dairy and make sure the cows are being fed and milked. We sample the milk and wish everyone a Merry Christmas before we go about our morning.
Cows don’t know that it is a holiday and still expect to be fed and milked no matter what the calendar says. This is made possible by our dedicated employees that take time from their families to come and help us make sure all the necessities are taken care of. Most Christmas’ run smoothly and everyone does their work and then goes home to their families. But some years haven’t run so smoothly. As a kid, one of my most memorable Christmas’ was when we had a white Christmas, which for most families is a dream come true, especially living in the desert. But on a dairy, snow is more of a nightmare. Our one and only feed truck broke down, and after spending the day trying to get it fixed and cows fed, Christmas dinner ended up being pizza from the only restaurant open on Christmas Day. But at the end of that long day, my family gathered around that pizza (still finding a way to add dairy to our Christmas dinner) and we were just as blessed and thankful, as if we had a huge Christmas dinner.
One thing we try to teach our children is that Christmas isn’t just a tree full of presents and a big dinner at the end of the day. It’s so much more than that. It’s about a birth of a Savior and time and memories spent with family. Thank you for taking your time to see how our family celebrates this most joyous of holidays. We want to wish you and your family a dairy good Christmas and a Happy New Year.
The Amezcua Family
Tim, Katie, Mia and Sophia
Beetstra Dairy, Hobbs, NM
Learn more about dairy farming and the families who do it.