Monday, August 2, 2010

Our milking experience.

Sunday went by as quick as it came. It was a regular working day. No, wait, not "just a regular" working day, a pretty "hard working day".

It won't be until January that Luke and Julie will get a break. The two months of the year, January and February, when the cows will be expecting their calves, there will be no milking. The only job for a farmer then is to feed them, which doesn't take up too much time. I have to trust Luke on that.

I was curious to find out what Julie's and Luke's parents think about their kids embarking on a farming life style choice.

"Oh, Luke's Mom thinks it's neat that we have a dairy farm operation here. She came for a visit earlier in the summer and spent a few weeks with us before she left for Taiwan, where she had just accepted a job to teach English. But she thinks we work too hard", Julie told me with a shy smile, knowing that she was absolutely right. "My Mom and Dad came and helped us out twice in the spring. They think we work too hard, too".

We were not that original to think that Luke and Julie work too hard as well. By far, Dairy By The Lake was the hardest working farm on our cross country trip, not to offend the rest of the hard working farmers we have met on our woofing cross country expedition.
Since there are no photos of me milking the cows, I will use the photos I took while being the observer. But I will write about MY milking experience to give you a first hand feel of it.
Mirek volunteered on the first day we arrived, my turn was the next day.

There were the three of us in the milking parlor, Luke, Guildas and myself. After getting quick instructions of what to expect, I then had to shadow Luke for a while to see how everything was being done. Words are just that, words. When you get a visual stimulation of what you had just heard, the information seem to seep into your brain sells faster.

Apparently, Luke and Julie have developed a system that works great for a team of two. Total 20 cows are being milked at a time, 10 on each side. First, we needed to prepare the feed. The grain is dropped from the grain elevator chutes and the feeder gates have to be opened. On one side the gates are easier to open and close because Luke had made them. They are crude kind of carpentry but easy to grasp for an inexperienced milk maid as myself.

The feeder gates on the other side are metal and it gets a bit tricky to close them quick enough so that when the cows come in and find a spot to munch on their grains, and stick their heads into the slot, we then need to close the gates in. Otherwise, the cows will start wandering around the parlor looking for more food. And you don't want that! Squeezing in between these big bodies was nerve racking for me in the beginning. A few times Luke had to come up and rescue me from turning into a Julia pancake.

"The Holsteins are the best in this regard. They are like gentle giants in comparison to Jerseys, for example", Luke told me loud enough so that I could hear him through all the noise in the milking parlor. He might call them gentle, I was petrified of them anyway.

We started from the left cow on each side. Every other cow (since there are only 10 milkers and there are 20 cows) gets worked on first. We dipped their teats in iodide solution. Then we wiped off the teats with a clean towel, disinfecting the teats and stimulating the milk flow at the same time. Then it was race again time as it should not be longer than a minute after the teats were cleaned that we attach the milkers on, because the milk will start pouring down on the floor.

That's when it got even trickier. The milkers had to be held in a certain way so that the cow doesn't kick them off and we end up dropping the milkers onto the floor. The milk from this cow will have to go into a separate bucket and given to animals.

Some teats were small, some were large. Some cows would have only 3 working teats out of four, and there was one cow with 5 teats but only 3 working ones. Luke, being a master farmer, knows which cow is a kicker, which one is hard to put the milkers on, so it was his duty to take care of them.
So while the first 10 cows out of 20 are being milked, we work on the other 10. It's the dipping the teats in iodide solution and wiping them off with a towel part. Then we switch the milkers onto the second half of the cows and while they are being milked, the first 10 are getting their teats dipped in iodide solution again. This time there would be no wiping with a towel necessary, but we had to make sure they go out from the parlor with their teats disinfected to prevent a harmful bacteria from getting in.

Then when the first 20 cows leave, we prepare the milking stalls for the second round, repeating everything again. Since now they have 78 milking cows, milking had to be done four times.
We started rounding up the cows at 8:30 pm. By 9 pm they were ready to be milked and we finished that evening at 12 am.
Being in a hot and humid place for a few hours, where the "ladies" have no shame and poop right into your face, literally, having sweat drip down your forehead into your eyes, lots of bending down, pushing, squeezing, being constantly alert to avoid being stepped on or kicked at, or slip on the manure, or hit by a tail into a face, these are all minimum requirements if you ever want to get a job at a dairy farm!
I did get stepped on and kicked at. And when I was walking up the hill to our Silver Maiden at midnight, I didn't want my milking experience to come down just to that, being kicked and such. I looked up, smiled at the moon, brightly twinkling on the starry sky, and felt very proud of myself for being able to pull it through and learn so much!

"Honey, you stink!" I was greeted by my dear hubby when I opened the door of the Airstream and stumbled over the threshold barely feeling alive .
As I was walking to the house to take a shower, I was happy the next day it was going to be Mirek's turn milking.


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