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Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Cow's Life

Each day, 6 days per week, my work morning begins leisurely at 8:00 am by bringing in each of the milking cows to feed and manually de-tick them.  Yes you read correctly, de-tick the cows.  At first the thought of removing ticks from each cow with my bare hands was slightly revolting; every morning each cow has acquired about 10-25 ticks since the previous day.  The revulsion continued when a tick accidentally squishes between one’s fingers.  BLEH!  The manual de-ticking occurs because the family farm ethos excludes any pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals on the animals or the land.  After two weeks? I got used to it, squish and all.
The family farm in the Byrne Valley
The family aims for a (mostly) self-sustainable lifestyle.  If they don’t grow It, harvest it, or raise it, they don’t eat it.  If it is not in season, then they’ll have to wait until next season to re-indulge.  Exceptions are made for personal hygiene items, flour, potatoes, peanut butter, and oatmeal, but not much else.

A few examples:
---While I was there, in winter, the cows were producing very little cream in their milk.  There was not enough cream to make butter and the family does not purchase cooking oil.  Cooking practically anything is tricky with zero fat, further complicated by old pans and a wood-burning stove.  Have you ever cooked on a wood-burning stove?   It is like perpetually cooking over a campsite fire: challenging, but you get used to it.  Baking yields a constant surprise output.  After a few days I discovered the family had some lard reserves from last season's pigs.  Score!

Tree tomatoes (tamarillo) - Great tasting, but nasty on oatmeal!
---I had plain oatmeal with cinnamon, sugar, and fresh goat’s milk 7 days per week.  With a self-sustainable philosophy, my preferred oatmeal accompaniments were not growing, harvested, or available for consumption, thus none of my favorite berries, bananas or other fruits were added.  The family does have a small citrus orchard of 50 or so trees comprising several orange varietals, grapefruits, lemons, and limes.  In an attempt to add fruit to my morning gruel, I tried segmented oranges… fail.  I tried a dash of orange juice… fail.  I tried tree tomatoes (tamarillos)… big fail.    Alas I stuck with daily cinnamon and goat’s milk additions.

--  Here’s a youtube video produced a few months ago on this family’s operations:

--My cottage did not have a mirror and I’m not sure I saw my reflection once during the two weeks I was there.  The eyebrows never got plucked.  Eyeliner? I haven’t put that on in months.  I can now identify all the nooks and crannies of my teeth while flossing without view.  I have forgotten what it means to shave my legs or have clean fingernails during the day.  I didn't really think the dogs, rabbit, cows, calves, goats, kids, piglets, roosters, chickens, or chicks minded.  Alas, they didn't.

Geese that chased me, honked at me, and terrorized me daily!
I spent two weeks total on the farm and learned some skills I had not expected.  I can now wield a bush knife (i.e. machete) with deadly accuracy, use a lasher (like a modern-day sickle), efficiently milk goats and cows,  detick cows, and hundreds of other farm-associated chores.  I was not planning to learn a lot of these skills, like the accuracy skills of using a machete and lasher, but there are very few skills that I don’t appreciate.  Speaking of appreciation, during my time on the farm I became very thankful for all the oranges I could eat (satisfying my raging sweet tooth), an abundance of fresh farm eggs with bright orange yolks that stood up tall in the pan, fresh goat milk every morning in my oatmeal, a wwoofing host family, the mountainous view from my room, and the quiet peacefulness of nature pleasantly interrupted by birds chirping, cows mooing, roosters calling, and goats mewing.  (We won’t talk about the terrorizing geese…)
Last story: There are several houses on the farm, one of which is occupied by the husband’s father, 80 year old Piet.  (Oh for peat’s sake, another Piet?!!)  When I met him he affirmatively instructed me to call him “Oom Piet,” an affectionate term for Uncle Piet in Afrikaans.  Shortly after I arrived on the farm, Oom Piet left for a week long seaside vacation with another son.  He returned during a day when I was on the farm doing chores while all of the family had gone into town for errands.  He brought seafood home with him, and with the family all in town for errands, I was nominated/volunteered to cook dinner for grandfather.  We watched a little TV, chatted, and devoured fresh mussels and shrimp.  He convinced me to watch an adventure/reality show on TV and tells me at the last minute, “Oh, it is in Afrikaans without subtitles; I’ll translate the important parts!”  After that, he tells me that I must watch the next show, a “soapie,” also in Afrikaans, but it has subtitles on the bottom.  “It is only 30 minutes long; it is very good.”  Ha!  “Soapies” are soap operas.  Just like American ones, it had bad acting, bad hair, and completely sucked me in to the hair-brained plot, subtitles and all.

My departure time had come, I had committed two weeks of wwoofing time to this family and finally it was time to leave.  Two weeks was enough, honestly, and during my time I was nothing more than a worker here.  Any type of integration never really occurred, particularly as I had experienced at other wwoofing locations with different hosts.  Indeed I learned a lot but was very ready to move on after only one week.  I had a chit-chat with myself, got past my irritations, and embraced the last week with an open mind.  I learned far more about myself that second week than I had in a while.  Alas my two weeks completed and it was time for a pure tourist vacation for 10 days before the end of my South African adventures!  Next destination: Cape Town!
Other posts from this two-week wwoofing adventure:
WWOOF post #1 Terrible Arsonist
WWOOF post #2 Farm Kid Strong!

"From mine it's a generation that's circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before.  So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome.  Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what?
It's probably worth it.
From The Beach

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