Wednesday, June 29, 2011

1 Calf, 2 Calf, 3 Calf ... Four?

Around 7:00 tonight, I will be moving onto destination #3- another farm where they have cattle and chickens; maybe I'll eat less beef and more chicken! Starting tomorrow, this whole "destination #" will get a little messy. In other words, I will be at this next farm for only a few days for sleeping and eating. For the duration of my days, I will be working with other people, possibly doing research with a professor, etc(I'll let you know the specifics as soon as I do).

Prior to my leave, I have seen 3 births so far. The "true birth" (wherein I saw the whole birth of a living calf) occurred Monday evening, right after dinner. If it wasn't for the size of the calf's head, I wouldn't have seen the birth. However, Isabelle received a phone call from Jean-Michel calling us down to help him. The calf's body was situated correctly, however its large head made the birth difficult; it was a boy! Effectively, Isabelle and Jean-Michel tied ropes to the calf's two feet and helped pull it out; they pulled when the mother cow pushed, so to avoid hurting her. We left the calf with his mother so that she could lick him dry. Isabelle later went to retrieve him and place him in one of the holding pens. This was no easy task however: after waiting for the storm to pass, she went out a little after 11:00pm. There was wicked, angry lighting, loud thunder, and, luckily, only drops of rain. Isabelle told me that her venture back to the house was very erie; she was alone in the dark with just a flashlight, in a horror film type storm, with a single cow mooing in the background. Okay, so the "cow mooing" doesn't seem frightening, but it was at the time. That night was a restless one; it was very hot and humid, the thunder storm was extremely loud, etc. The next morning, we again woke up to milk the cows. Every morning, the French ask each other "Tu as bien dormi?", meaning "did you sleep well?". I tell you, not one person answered "yes", myself included.

Before I move on, I would like to inform my readers what "milking the cows" entails on this farm. Each day, twice a day, the milking parlor is rinsed prior to milking and the cows are retrieved from the field; Isabelle gets them in the morning and I get them in the evening. We then turn on the milking machines, clean each cow's teats with soap (6 cows on each side of the parlor), attach the milking machines to the cows, wait, and then give them this yellow, antibacterial protecting agent. We do this for all of the cows that pass through; there are a select few that give milk to the calves, wherein the milk is collected in a large metal container. Lately, due to so many births, we've had several cows like this. And the first collection is very crucial because of the colostrum, which is very thick, yellow "milk" that gives a calf its necessary nutrients and immunity. Once all of the milking is finished, we rinse the parlor, scrape all of the manure out of the parlor, hook the milking machines up for cleaning, clean the buckets that were used to feed the calves milk, and then wash the parlor with a blast hose.  If it’s the morning, we also fill a plastic bottle with milk for breakfast. During this time, Jean-Michel is feeding the cows, wherein sometimes I jump over there to help with shoveling and sweeping the fodder closer to the cows. After breakfast and sending the kids to school, Jean-Michel left for a day’s worth of meetings and Isabelle and I did the daily feeding of the cattle and sending the cattle out to the pasture. The two of us went over to the building with the calves to do some bedding and cleaning. We also saw another birth and brought the calf to a holding pen. The life of a cow is quite hard: you’re born, and after an hour’s worth of licking, taken away from your mother into a hay-filled miniature house, bottle fed and eventually bucket-fed.  Then, depending on your genetics and gender, a few things could take place; if you’re a male, you’re likely to be fed until fat and of the age for beef or veal; if you’ve got great genetics, you’re name will be everywhere as well as your sperm. If you’re female, you will most likely grow up to produce milk and, after several inseminations, births, and milkings, you’re sent off to become food. I’m sure glad God didn’t make me a cow! The upside is the pasture, but still.

After we finished with work and lunch, Isabelle took a nap and I did some business of my own. Not too long after I started, I was nodding off and decided to take (yet again) a nap. It wasn’t until 4:00 that I heard a tapping on my door – Isabelle came to wake me up for the evening milking. Prior to, we went to feed the heifers their hay, wherein Isabelle asked me to. In order to feed them, I had to push a large roll of hay. Remember, I had just woken up. I tried pushing the hay with the pitchfork, then with my hands, and then several times by running up to the hay to try and push it- no such luck. Isabelle eventually came over laughing and helped me out. Once we were milking the cows, I decided to finally ask to try some “freshly milked milk”; with a cup in one hand and a teat in the other, I had the freshest, tastiest glass of milk. This morning, we did the daily farm work, filled a large sack with wheat, fixed one of the electric barriers, and fixed some pipes. Since its Wednesday, the children have no school and, even more, have only two days of school left; they helped us with the farm work. Only a few hours left here and I’ve got to do some cleaning/packing.

Until my next destination!

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