Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Week's Worth of Blogging - Longest Post Ever (you've been warned)

I’m sun burnt! (And I’m soo happy about it!) More about that later … Saturday night turned out to be a late one; we didn’t end up leaving until 1 am! The house was very beautiful, with a large backyard surrounded by maize(corn) and an opulent, sizeable interior. While the kids played in the pool, we “adults” enjoyed aperitifs – grapefruit juice with rosé wine and peanuts, grape tomatoes, etc. Once the children left the pool, they were all over the table. They were drinking soda, picking at the snacks, and sometimes even putting it back as half-eaten food; the best was when Perrin stuffed her mouth with peanuts, eating over the bowl in case any fell out of her mouth(in which they did). Let’s just say I wasn’t eating anymore peanuts. We also had mini hot “breads” – mini pizzas, mini crepes with cheese and/or mushrooms, moist tomato muffins, and mini spinach muffins. If we don’t already, we should have these in the U.S! The company was nice too, especially with the older kids running around in scary masks trying to (and succeeding at) scaring Perrin. Once we finished our meal (lox on toasted bread with cucumber sauce, beef with carrots and potatoes, strawberry and crème cake), we mounted our bikes and left for the house. Of course, halfway there the attachment of the bike to the girls’ seats fell off(and got lost), wherein we had to walk back to the house. I didn’t mind too much, especially with a full sparkling sky right above us. I couldn’t stop looking up.
The next morning, David, the girls, and I left to meet Rozenn at the flea market. She had left at 6:30am to set up right outside the Boulangerie/Patisserie. I ended up buying some things since they were much cheaper than their new, store bought price. Once we packed everything up, we headed back to the house for lunch with a family friend. Afterward, Rozenn went upstairs to take a nap, I laid out to sun tan and read, and the guys went in the pool. Later on I went in the vacant pool, submerging myself underwater at the sight and sound of a bee, which for some reason scares me. It was wonderful having the pool to myself. At one end, I watched(flinchingly) all of the bees pollinating the lavender and at the other end I watched the chickens, just past the large bamboo plants. Rozenn helped me make a sachet of dried lavender to keep too. The rest of the day we all just hung out, enjoying each other’s company. For dinner we ordered pizza and eventually went to bed.
Monday, Luc picked me up and we were off to the farm in Normandy. The research farm is comprised of 1000 bovines, with 250 dairy cattle* and 200 beef cattle*(I forgot to mention that there are certain breeds for milk(Holstein*, Normand*, etc) and then there are those for beef (Limousine, Charolaise*, etc)), with two different experimental sites. The size of this place is enormous: 1,200 hectaires (1 hectare = 2.47 acres), with 250 hectares of forests, 700 hectares of grass for pasture, and the rest for other things of which I am unsure.
I’m staying here for the week, so I’ve been given my own room and am sharing a kitchen and bathroom with two other (French) interns, Mathieu and Claire. I’ll be eating breakfast and dinner with them, and lunch at “Le Canteen” here. As work may include Luc, Claire, etc working on their papers, I may actually have time to start my paper for my internship! And after work, it appears that I’ll have time to go for a run. The good news is that this area is private and around 5 or 6, when I’ll be able to run, the employees leave for home; that leaves just me and the cows(for the run at least). For the afternoon and evening, we had a meeting filled with presentations, discussing, and luckily a mini tour. The meeting started at one with lunch and ended at 7:45pm. This was officially the longest meeting I’ve attended; if it wasn’t for the tour of the pasture, cows, and milking parlor, I would not have made it through all of the presentations. (Again, no offense, it’s just that I have to listen carefully and quickly to understand their French; and doing that for several hours is very difficult, especially with still foreign terminology.) In the evening, we all left for Haras Au Pin, a place where they keep most of the genetically best horses in France. The males were beautiful, with great bulk in body, height, and muscles.  I learned a bit of history there too. I believe that the horses that Napoleon selectively chose for war were once at the same exact place. We toured the whole facility, including the museum, the horses, the semen-collecting room, and more. Our last destination that night was in the “castle”(a small building constructed in the 18th century). Surprise! Turns out we were eating inside- it was a gift from Luc to all of us that attended the meeting.  Very few people are able to eat inside; it’s not every day this sort of thing happens. Our aperitifs were something you would see in a movie: mini macaroon-looking sandwiches with various fillings, mini square breads with assortments of toppings, fried shrimp, and more. The meal was also very good: hot cheese with a sweet touch of figs(?) on a salad; meat with a béchamel sauce, tomato, and “potato cake”; two cheeses situated next to a bed of lettuce; and a strawberry cream cake and chocolate hazelnut cake for dessert. It was another late night, but the company, tour, and food were well worth it.
The next day we had another meeting, except from 8:30am - 1:00pm. This time I came prepared. When the presentations started getting even more confusing with an overwhelming amount of scientific terms and abbreviations, I turned to my book (Water for Elephants). I used my purse to hide the fact that I was reading; I really, truly did try to understand what they were talking about and for a few presentations (or parts of) I did, but I started nodding off again like the day before. Following, we all met for one last time at Le Canteen for lunch. Then, everyone left the cafeteria for some coffee. In the mean time, I went outside to greet some of the mares (female horses) They were so beautiful I couldn’t stand it … You know that feeling when something just fits? When you feel at one with something? Well that’s how I feel with animals; there’s this love so strong, it leaves me so connected; I’m bound. I have no doubt in my mind when I say that I want to work with animals. It just fits. It’s who I am.
… The rest of Tuesday was left open for whatever, really. So I went for a run, read, went on the internet, and then had dinner and a movie with Claire and Mathieu. Wednesday was much much more eventful. In the morning, I helped with the remainder of the milking, watched the experimental cows each get weighed, and sat with the workers for their café (coffee break). The cows also received an insecticide on their backs so that we all wouldn’t be swarmed with mouches (flies). Right after, we all went up to the calves to introduce them to the metal barrier, for they were not yet habituated to it. This was interesting because when we first let them loose in the field, they all ran around, kicking and playing. At some points they jumped over the barrier before we turned on the electric current. Once we did, they either ran or walked up to the wire and tried to eat it or lick it, and ZAP. You could hear it as well as the following “ouch” (in cow language). Though the calves weren’t amused, I know I was. After that, I had about a two hour break. I took this opportunity to read some more as well as hop on the internet (as you may have seen on my blog). After lunch, I was able to again work with the employees on the farm. I helped send the cows and heifers from the fields, to the building for weighing or milking, and then back again. Moreover, I saw subcutaneous (under the skin) injections of hormones into the ear of a select few cows. This is supposed to control their estrus/heat cycles so that in 10 days they’ll be “at their best” for insemination. I again went for a run, had dinner, watched another film, and went to bed.
Thursday morning was filled with several new experiences as well. I spent an hour with Jean-Luc, who works with male sheep for research with digestion. He measures out their food(what was and wasn’t eaten) as well as their fecal matter(before and after it is dried). He then puts all of the data into an excel file and sends weekly files to the researchers. The sheep had attitude; any time I came near to take a picture, they would stomp their foot at me. (I prefer goats- they were so much nicer). After that, I saw a bit of echographie (sonograms) of the Charolaise breed and then helped push the calves to another area for injections. The Charolaise breed is purely white in color and, as I stated before, is used for beef rather than milk. So as I was saying, Nicolas, a technician, was giving each calf an injection to avoid intestinal parasites as well as respiratory sicknesses. Some twitched, others moved a bit, and half jumped and cried so much that they either took the needle with them or bent it. At first I was shocked, but it turned out to a commonplace routine for the technician- even though this was the first injection for each calf. Furthermore, I saw a cow that had patches of lost hide and skin, one that was lame, and two that had wounded eyes.  The farm is keeping them nonetheless- at least until they get worse beyond repair.  The rest of my day I spent working on papers, loans, important emails, etc; I’m glad I finally got a start. Also, the day was windy, cloudy, and cold wherein I was “super frozen” and so staying inside was the best choice. And the funny thing is, I’m still experiencing; as an employee is on vacation, I have her office and so I can get a feel for life in the office.
Friday morning was equally as ugly as Thursday, but with a slight increase in temperature and less rain in the morning.  Our morning included embryo ultrasounds of both cows and heifers.  Most of the cows were pregnant, but almost all of the heifers that we checked were not.  While checking the cows, one of the technicians showed me the screen of the embryo; he pointed out the legs and told me that the movement was of the embryo and not the camera! Later on, after checking the heifers, we sent them out to the pasture, returned to the main building, cleaned up, and soon after received a phone call. It was Julienne. He said that the heifers got out and were on the road(again, this is private property so no true traffic comes through). Thus, we hopped back in the car, rounded up the heifers, and ensured that the barriers were closed correctly.
I later on moved onto destination # 5 … or maybe 6? It’s this farm that produces fermented apple and pear drinks (calvados, cidre, poiré , etc). They also have about 45 dairy cows, several heifers, calves, and baby bulls, as well as one full grown bull (used for natural insemination!).  They also have chickens, ducks, and a few cats running around; did I mention I think I want a few chickens in the future? This farm has been in the family’s possession since their great grandparents had it and their calvados is sold all over the world! (look for Calvados Lemorton(family name) if you’re interested). Anyway, Friday night I went out with Damien(one of the sons and a friend of Nicolas) to his friend’s house for a graduation celebration. Since we got back late, I slept in until 8:30, had breakfast with the family, and then went out to help with some farm work as well as have a little tour.  As expected, there are several apple and pear trees here and their milking parlor is only 6 months old(or should I say new)! I didn’t milk the cows as that was already done, but I did help with feeding the calves a powdered milk/water formula as well as collect eggs from the chicken coop. To explain, the farmers choose whether or not to give the calves real milk.  This may be in part to avoiding sickness when switching a calf’s diet from real milk to powdered as well as reaching the government’s expected quantity of milk.  The rest of the day, I was a tourist; I saw Mont-Saint Michel and Saint Malo.  Mont-Saint Michel was beautiful! There are cafés, restaurants, souvenir shops, living quarters, a church the ocean, and so much history.  Saint Milo was also beautiful, yet much bigger as it was a (small) city.  On the beach of Saint Milo, you can find several tree logs aligned along the wall separating the road from the beach.  These trees are meant to cut up the water when the ocean level rises and large waves come crashing over, onto the road.  During our walk in the center of town, we stopped in some sweet shops, with the most sinful collection of chocolates and candies.  Even more, I saw a shop with fascinating creativity where chocolate was molded into frogs, pianos, and more.  Nearing the end of our walk, Damien and I stopped at this ice-cream shop where we had about 80 flavors to choose from! I ended up getting a waffle cone with a scoop of toasted walnuts in chocolate ice-cream and a scoop of vanilla with raspberry swirl and crumble. Delicious! We got back around 8:00pm and due to family visits, the cows were milked late, ending up in a 10:20pm dinner.  So we had another late night, but who needs sleep anyway? Not sure what’s on my plate for today, but I’m sure you’re all aware that you will find out.

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