Thursday, December 15, 2011

Milkin it

Evenin’ ma’am!

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Finally got onto the dairy farm. AC’s friend’s family owns a dairy farm just down the road and he called us over to help milk the cows tonight. That was about 5 hours and ten hand washes ago and I still have the smell of farm on me. Mm mm.

You press a button on the button of that contraption to start the sucking and then slip them on starting from the back left going clockwise. The little jar at the end of the sucker things is see through so you can see when they’re done being milked. Excuse the poor terminology I'm using throughout this post (e.g. "sucker things")

We thought it was going to be a quick tour, but we stayed for an hour and a half asking all sorts of questions and getting the behind the scenes look from our expertise tour guide. I even got to drive a tractor! :O

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An insanely huge tractor!! He was very trusting of me backing this very large and I assume expensive machine up and playing with the arm chomper thing (actual industry terms). There was a lot of yelps and giggles on my part.

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First we milked about twenty eight cows. They’re ready.milkin cows 033

The bars block any kicks, but you’re still sticking your hands under these massive animals so it’s a little unnerving. My hands were covered in poop trying to feel around for the udders to get them into the sucker things. My body language reads as hesitant as I felt.

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Just standing down in the milking area I was a little nervous. They are MASSIVE animals. I was also a little nervous we were going to get a shit shower, which eventually did happen, the only warning was the cows tail raising straight into the air so we had a split second to turn and try to run out of the way. One night he was standing with his back to the cows with a hoodie on and a cow filled up his entire hood with shit. Can’t picture that without laughing. And then how he had to get it off.

Once they seem like the milk is not coming out you pinch the line and the contraption releases off the udders. You then spray them down with a little antibacterial thing and let them on their way out to feed.

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I tried out old school milking them with my hands. Doing this work with the contraptions in the freezing cold was enough, I can’t imagine being out here milking so many cows two udders at a time.

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The ladies were a little out of sorts because AC and I were there. He said that they know strangers and get a little on edge when new people are around. They were good enough for me to get the hang of the machine.

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When I opened the gates to let em loose they wouldn’t look up at us at all. Stranger danger!

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We went out to the “dry cows” cows that I think are not producing milk at the moment.

AC said this lady is the friendly cow who usually goes up to him for a pet, but she was staying back since I was there. We walked into the barn to see the slurry shovel on the ground and they all promptly got up to leave. They are not fans of unannounced visitors. Hey, Kate just like you haha. They also didn’t have tea and cake ready :) rude. They actually started hustling out of the barn as we made our way to the back. It was a bit exciting to be so close to the massive creatures and having to jump up on the fence to get out of the way. Something knocked into my back while they were scurrying around us and I yelled “what was that?!” …it was a cow, dumbass.

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It was freeeeeeezing. All we could think about was how he had to be up in the morning in probably colder weather doing it all again. He said he can’t be more than 12 hours away from the farm. Sheesh, and the work is 7 days a week.

The milk is filtered out of that room into the cooling room into a tank

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That pole sticking down mixes it around until it cools off and shuts off automatically. They wouldn’t bring this right into their house. They could, but it’s full fat and the lady of the house likes her skim. As the milk sits the fat molecules separate, the top layer being the thick sweet cream part and the bottom layer being essentially skin milk. I got a swipe of the sweet cream on top using my finger that I had just used to milk the cows because I was trying to be tough. It was tasty. I remember being really grossed out by milk here when we were little thinking about how it just came out of a cow. I really liked the separation between my food and it’s origin. Now I’d be more inclined to drink it straight from this vat than from a generic store container.

The milk is raw before it leaves the farm, meaning it hasn’t been homogenized or pasteurized and would also illegal to sell in 15 states, unsure about Ireland-and this stuff is all from my US courses, not from Irish farmers, so disclaimer: I’m not any kind of authorized to speak about dairy production and am only spouting things read from school. So to the best of my knowledge, homogenization is a process where the milk molecules are passed through a filter at extreme pressure which decreases the size and distribution of fat throughout the milk (less separation of cream and skim). The idea behind not wanting your milk homogenized is that making these molecules smaller allows them to bypass normal digestion processes that normally occur to ingested protein and places them directly into the bloodstream. Milk is a hormonal process and we’re ingesting it from another species so the debate is whether or not we think we should be ingesting more hormones than necessary, not just the milk hormone, but any hormones the cows themselves were injected with, hence the “rBST free” and “BGH free” labels on milk nowadays. rBST, recombinant bovine somatotropin was developed to increase milk production in the cows. The genetically engineered hormone is banned in some countries, but not the US. The consumption is debatable as is the use on the cows themselves as it causes them to produce more milk than that is safe or natural. There is research going both ways. Pasteurization is a process of heating and cooling the milk to kill pathogens such as E.coli and salmonella, but debatable in if it also kills the helpful bacteria, proteins and enzymes you would get in raw milk. All that stuff is for after it leaves the farm and I wouldn’t think the dairy famers concern.

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Every second day someone comes to empty the tank, in the winter it’s half as full as the amount they produce in the summer. Vitamin D levels in the milk are supposedly higher in the summer because more sun exposure. I don’t know how that fares with Ireland as it is not known for its sun. So many questionnnnns.

Like, can we ride the baby calves?

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No, but we did get to pet them and stick out finger for kisses. Farmer asked for my hand and had me stick it under to feel something and I did, like a sucker, and then he says “those are his balls” Aw, thanks! And sorry, buddy!

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The cows are milked once in the morning and once at night, the morning shift producing more than the evening. In the warmer seasons they graze on grass and then some feed, like at the fish farm. The winter they eat silage, grass with a vitamin and mineral powder mixed in along with the grain feed.

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Reading about farm practices you get a lot of information that’s easy to form opinions on, but it’s a totally different ballgame when you’re seeing it in action and it is freezing and raining covered in muck. I think everyone has an idea of how much tough work goes into farming, but I was still shaking my head every now and then at the demanding lifestyle. Milking cows can now be checked off the list. I’m real lucky my cousins have friends that are so generous with their time. And now I even have a date to the cattle mart tomorrow. Aow. And by date I mean AC told him to take me to the mart so he had no choice in the matter, but I’m going and I even get to wear my wellies. Livin’ the dream.

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