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Friday, October 29, 2010

Pure Jersey Cream, Part 3 of 4

10-mos old calf
Part 3 of 4 - The Dairy Farmers Life
Travel dates: May 17 – June 2, 2010

Day 6 (Saturday)
Morning and evening milking.  I’m tired.  Very tired.  Am I getting used to the smell of cow poo and urine?  I dream about cows nearly every night.  Last night I got up and looked around my room because in my dream, I thought there were cows in the house.  Cows, cows, everywhere! (but not in the house)

Day 7 (Sunday)
The morning started early despite more than an extra 30 min of sleep ().  It rained the entire night, and I dreaded climbing out of bed to head to the milk shed.  After milking Stu, two of his brothers & Peter headed to the deer paddock to round up the deer for culling.  The enormous 20-point stag was separated from the hinds (aka doe, NZ speak), and the others were corralled into a small shed.  Four men, me and 30 deer were enclosed into an area no larger than a standard size bedroom; I was shocked so many hearts could fit in one room.  Eighteen big does were separated and released (the ‘moms’) and as each left the shed, they galloped and gave a great leap of over 8’ high.  I was reminded of the grace and agility of these animals but looked around and was also reminded of their vulnerability as I was surrounded by 12 young females.  The plan: each deer would be shot and drug outside (while I stood carefully outside) and then eviscerated.  At this point I did not feel confident going in the shed to participate in dragging, nor was I exactly keen on looking into the soon-to-be empty eyes.  I stood outside as did Brother John.  Pop.  One by one a deer was lifelessly pulled out of the shed.  
One by one John walked over to the deer, slit its throat, and then pulled back its head pushing down and away until a distinctive ‘crunch’ was heard to break the spinal cord.  I stood motionless wanting to help and learn, force myself to new circumstances, but completely cemented in place.  Four more deer were drug out; I was still in the same place, in the same mud, still sinking.  Two more deer.  More shaking and kicking; not me.  Three more.  Still not sure.  There are legs, bodies, heads, fur, blood, all in one piece, all seemingly apart, being thrown into the back of the tractor trailor.  Twelve out, twelve on, still sinking in the mud, still unsure what to do.  Tractor drives away, we’re all walking, following it.  There’s jovial, everyday talk and I fake it, saying something about my father being a hunter.

Finally we headed towards the ‘gutting shed’ and one of the brothers mentioned there was a big quiche in the front seat from his wife.  Happily I volunteered to take the dish in and then realized I wanted to stay in.  I’ve never gutted any animal in my life; I’ve never taken the life of any animal.  How ironic – I’ve dissected more full-size organisms, small and large, than I can count, taught others how to do it, and thoroughly enjoyed and learned from it.  Yet I saw these last nerve reflexes, bodies shaking, and had difficulty moving.  I felt useless during much of this process, and I was not eager to leap towards any of it.  Instead indisputably embracing traditional roles, I baked banana muffins and prepared lunch trying to wipe away my thorny thoughts.
The deer herd post-culling

Day 8 (Monday)
Today marks day 1 of 5 of once-a-day milkings before the cows are dried-off for the winter.  Unsurprisingly the morning milking time persists; there is no rest for the weary.  Rising at could be worse: at least I’m not one of the cows with 4 teat cups attached to my nipples at that hour!

I still can’t stop dreaming about cows every single night.  This morning in the milking shed Stu told me I was talking in my sleep last night.  It woke him up across the hall, “It wasn’t so bad last night, but the night before you were carrying on for AGES!”   After milking, Stu & I had a breakfast feast of freshly steeped porridge (aka oatmeal) with bananas, brown sugar and fresh Jersey cream from the morning’s milking.

Let’s talk about this milk and cream from the cows…  To put it simply, it is creamy, dreamy, delicious, amazing.  Jersey cows produce milk of higher cream and fat than other dairy cows like Friesians and Holsteins.   Jersey’s average around 7% cream (fat), whereas others are closer to 3.6%.

1 Liter of cream atop 1 L of milk...
Now let’s talk about this sinfully delicious Jersey cream…
If you are a good friend of mine, you are probably aware of my lactose intolerance.  Yes, that’s right, the #1 soymilk-drinking lactose intolerant individual in New Zealand came to a dairy farm where shunning cow’s milk is seen as a sin.  The second day at breakfast I dipped a spoon into the jug of cold milk sitting on the table.  Holy cow.  This tiny teaspoon sip was more velvety than any other milk/cream that I had ever tasted.  Put a few tablespoons on some cereal; I’m in heaven.  This quantity of regular store-bought milk would make me wildly digestively ill within a few hours… we’ll see…  The day passed uneventfully and comfortably!  Last year I read a few non-scientific articles about the ease of digesting raw milk (no pasteurization or homogenization) for lactose intolerant individuals.  I was extremely skeptical as to these claims but didn’t feel like searching out raw dairy milk in Georgia; it was easier to keep buying soymilk in the grocery store.  From this first day forward I sampled this raw milk until the last day I was on the farm; I consumed raw milk every single day with ZERO adverse effects. Personally these types of changes (welcomed!) were shocking and thought-inducing.  What is happening on the molecular level during the pasteurization process?  Is the difference related to Stu’s healthy all grass-fed cows versus the all-corn/grain fed US factory farm cows that are pumped full of antibiotics and bovine growth factors?

Day 9 (Tuesday)
The day started with a standard early wake-up call for morning milking, which I still enjoy just as much as the first milking.  Today, however, was a little different...  When the cows come in to the milking shed they line-up 21 on each side in a sort of angled parking spot.  We give them a “Move up!” call or nudge their backsides if they park themselves prematurely early or crooked until everyone is lined up.  After washing up their teats the teat cups are hooked up, and the molasses button is pushed.  Each cow gets molasses out of a drip trough in front of them, which they lick with relish.  If you don’t get the molasses flowing soon enough then lots of provoked mooing occurs to alert of the oversight.  That’s a standard milking session.

For the past three days the molasses motor has been broken and thus no molasses  to quench their savory-sweet tooth.  Consequently there has been so much chatter in the milking shed from the disgruntled cows drown out us humans with mooing.  Yesterday afternoon a savior came in the way of an electrician, and this morning the cows were silent except for lapping tongues.  A curious experience was noticed this morning, however, which was really impossible not to notice:

While in “the pit” of the milking shed, you learn to recognize the signs of a cow about to relieve herself.  You duck, turn, move, and look to your left and right to make sure you don’t walk into another girl relieving herself.  Splashing is inevitable and you kind of get used to it.  Kind of.  This morning it seemed that molasses worked like an elixir similar to coffee in humans.  Let’s just say that there was A LOT of ducking and moving quickly all morning long!

Day 10 (Wednesday)
I really wish I could stay on this farm come August/September as calving will start.  Can you imagine that work and those miracles every day?

Did you know that some cows have more than four teats?  I am getting to know the cows by their teats, udders and butts, a feat I thought near impossible.  Stu told me on Day 1 that he recognized all of his cows by their backsides; I thought he was crazy.  I can now identify at least 25% of the herd by these same characteristics.  I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’ve probably written enough about udders and butts.

Day 11 (Thursday)
Milking in the morning.  After milking we separated a few of the “old girls” from the herd.  These girls are headed off to “the works,” which in farm speak means “the meat works” or slaughterhouse.  These cows are all above 13 years old, tired, and ailing.  I ask Stu about the meat from these cows, and if he gets it back in sausages, steaks, ground?  Stu tells me, without a doubt, that he would never eat the meat from these old dairy cows.  He doesn’t eat meat from most any dairy cow that is older than 2 or 3 years old.  He receives very little money from cows sent to the slaughterhouse, which after processing fees is about $15.  That meat, as he understands it, is shipped off to the United States in ground format.  That’s appealing.  The lesson in this?  Buy meat from a local farmer in your county or state that raises beef cattle!

Later in the afternoon we clean up to head to town 45 minutes away (Hokitika) for farm auction, grocery shopping, and internet use at the library.  45 minutes away is my closest internet location one time per week.  I am slowly getting used to the disconnection, and am using the time I save on useless internet surfing by writing this journal!

Day 12 (Friday)
Celebration time!  Today was the last milking of the season!  This was a beastly long milking, 6-hours in total holy moly, and highly intensive.  Unfortunately cows can easily become infected with mastitis in their teats at the end of milking season, which can be fatal.  Their teats remain open for several days to one week during “drying off” and during this critical period bacteria can easily enter through their teats to their bloodstream.  (This is the same infection that can infect nursing human mothers.)  After milking each cow we injected a ‘dry cow penicillin’ into each of 4 teats, which is a delicate and time-consuming task.  First, the cows were in the milking shed for a lot longer than normal, and Second, were treated to a double-shot of molasses (thanking them extra for their patience).  As a bonus this morning the cow’s were not given their normal “waking time” in the pasture, but began their walk to the milking shed after a mere 10 minutes.  All of those inputs lead to one very distinct outcome: A very shitty outcome, indeed.  What a long morning.  What a LONG clean-up.

“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Hilaire Bello


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