Cows Come First: Christmas on a Dairy Farm

Dairy farmers don’t get a day off – not even Christmas. But their celebrations are just as warm and special as any. We asked three dairy farm families to give us a peek into their typical Christmas traditions. 

Van der Laan Dairy

Frederick, Oklahoma 

Cows go first, no matter what day it is. If the weather is nice – no bad 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 a.m., which has been coffee time in our Dutch household for as long as we can remember. Coffee with a good scoop of real whipped cream (not the canned stuff), pumpkin roll with cream cheese filling, 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 of. Cow care is the same on Christmas as any other day.

Girl feeding cow

Around 4:00 p.m., we go outside again for evening chores, then have Christmas dinner in the evening, usually around 6:30 p.m. We enjoy our holiday meal – which is always a ham with sides – in the evening because we like to light candles and the fireplace and linger around the table after dinner with coffee and pie. 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 wonderland. 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


Brown’s Dairy

Blanchard, Oklahoma

Christmas day on our farm is just like any other day. My husband starts bright and early, milking cows at 4 a.m. 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. While feeding them, we make sure their hutches are bedded for warmth, check each calf for any signs of sickness/illness and make sure they receive the proper care.

After all the calves are taken care of, we head back to our hospital barn to milk any fresh cows while my father-in-law feeds all the milk cows, heifers and wean pen calves. Next, we head out to pasture to check for any cows that may have given birth 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.

Person with cows

If, by chance, we have received any ice overnight (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. Next, we head up to the milk barn and prep it for the milk truck to 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 she understands that our animals come first. 
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, seven 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.

– The Brown Family

Okie-Bow Dairy

Glenco, Oklahoma

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 cared for 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.

Cow with girl

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 (one of our favorite recipes), rolls and apple pie for dessert. After lunch, we check heifers and 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!

– The Bowman Family

Learn more about dairy farming and the families who do it.

By Susan Allen

Susan grew up on a farm in northwest Oklahoma and has over 30 years of experience working in agriculture. She has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2007 and has worked with schools, health and wellness professionals and farmers. When she's not working, Susan is usually helping one of her kids with a 4-H project. Learn more about Susan

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