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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Exercise in Rural Missouri

In Portland, Oregon where I lived the past 12 or so years it is considered trendy, even necessary, to belong to a gym. When you consider that most people there, as I did, have to work office jobs and sit at a desk for 8 or more hours a day it makes sense. However after moving to rural Missouri going to a gym is something that most of the natives kind of sneer at as being sissy or citified. My husband is one of those natives so I have had to find other ways to burn calories. And really, living here on a dairy farm, even if you don't count chores, exercise is something that kind of happens to you, it isn’t necessary to go looking for it. For one thing there is the house and a real yard and garden to take care of and since I don’t have an outside job there isn’t any excuse to avoid certain things like mopping, vacuuming, picking up rocks and such like. Plus, seeing as how he doesn’t want me to have to join a gym my husband is always on the lookout for a good way for me to burn those pesky calories. One of the best ways he has found is when we wean calves. This involves moving them from the bottle feeding pen to the “weaner” pen, which is about a hundred yards or so away. The first part of the exercise is to get the noose of the rope around the calf’s neck. This not as easy as it sounds as they are not generally agreeable to this maneuver and, without fail, having galloped up and down the pen with me in hot pursuit, they will get into a corner and duck their heads so that I have to try and pin them against the fence and wrestle the rope around their obstinate, bony heads and stiff, sticking-out ears.

Then the fun begins because once caught we then have to convince her to go to the gate, go out of the gate and enter the big wide world. This whole process is easier when there are two people working at it; one to push and one to pull. The calf, being of contrary mind, is not inclined to go in the direction one would like her to go, but when there are two of us there she will automatically avoid us both, so this is fairly easy, we just have to dance around her and encourage her to keep moving in the general direction. This burns a few calories, but it is when you finally have her out of the gate and headed toward the weaner pen that the serious calorie burning starts. Especially when my helpful husband points her head in the general direction we want her to go, hands me the rope and then startles her by swatting her butt. Off she gallops, bucking and jumping all the way with me in tow. “Hang on to the rope,” hollers my helpful husband in the background as the calf and I trot along. “Don’t let her go through the windows,” he adds as she makes a particularly high and graceful leap, landing a bit too close to the milking barn for his comfort. If I can kind of run beside her at this point I can get her to go in the general correct direction by tugging on her when she is in mid-air. But suddenly she will realize that she is more or less cooperating and directly she will put on the brakes at about the halfway point to the pen.
Anyone who has wrestled with a small child to get it to go somewhere it doesn’t want to go can appreciate the dilemma now facing me. A typical 2 month old calf weighs as much or more as I do and has 4 flinty little brakes that can dig in quite sturdily. It’s even worse when the calf decides she has had enough of this and decides to lie down and try to ignore the whole situation. If you are by yourself and want to put your back out this is a good time to do it by trying to drag her; there is very little that will convince her to get up and move again. But usually if my husband comes up behind her and spooks her then she will take off again; hopping and skipping, with me jogging along with her, tugging as we go. It is a relief to get her to the weaner pen and burn more calories trying to get the rope off of her neck. The biggest reward is to watch her realize she is now in a bigger pen and take off running; ears pinned back, tail hiked up high, bucking and kicking ‘til she comes to a sliding halt at a fence. My husband says he has seen them go straight through the fence, at which point I suppose you could potentially burn more calories trying to catch her again. But I hope that never happens on my watch.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The First Two Months

Here is what I learned the first two months I was on the dairy:

On dairy farming:

(Most of this was told to me by the resident dairy expert. Some of it I learned by experience.)

Never wrestle with 100 lb day old calves. They are incredibly strong and as stubborn as a mule. I made this mistake and it took two and a half weeks for my back to feel normal again..

When chopping a hole in the ice on the pond, angle the blade away from your face, otherwise you get ice chips in your eyes, hair and perhaps, if you have mistakenly aimed just right, up your nose.

Cows on a dairy are not really in their natural habitat; they were meant to live in and roam the wild, not be put into the same field day after day in winter where they lay in their own crap, necessitating your having to clean their udders off. It’s not nice. They also were not meant to be crammed into the same lot before milking where they crap on each others sides and heads; and cows with green caps are not really attractive.

While standing at almost eye level with a cow’s udder in the milking parlor keep a sharp eye out for the tail, which might be swished around to hit your face and souse you with crap.

And while we are on the subject; do not stand behind a cow that is crapping and shows a tendency to cough at the same time. It’s not a pretty sight; however envious a major league pitcher might be of the velocity of the flying cow pie.

One day upon coming back from feeding the dry cows up the road and advising the resident dairy expert that there was a calf up there I was asked; “Which cow had the calf?” My response: “Ummm… well, dear, all I can remember is that it was one of the black and white ones.” So I have learned to not only recognize that a birth may perhaps be imminent but also to look for the number on the ear tag or recognize some trait of the expectant mother. An expectant mother has a more developed udder.

A “dry” cow is one taken from the milking herd and put in a separate pasture for her udder to dry out one to three months before she has the next calf.

A “fresh” cow is one that has just had a calf and has started milking again.

In general.

There are three forms of amusement out in the deep country; the mail, traffic on the road (you never know who it might be) and the activities of the neighbors.

There is a lot of dirt in the country. I have probably swept half of the county out of my kitchen already and I have only been here barely 2 months.

It would appear in that the natives of Missouri only give names to roads because they are required to by this new fangled 911 deal; not because they actually use them. Whenever I get directions from the locals they never give streets or actual addresses; they always say things like; “turn left at the second stop light in town.” Or, “it’s three streets past what USED to be the Grocery Store, but now is Bill’s Garage.” And then they will give you the history of when the traffic light was put in or how the grocery store turned into a garage, which is all rather interesting, but still, at the end of a 30 minute conversation you are just as clueless how to get from point A to point B as you ever were. Usually I resort to either the map or to calling the place and asking for directions. Several times I have just taken the bit between my teeth and gone driving around until I found the place. Oh, and out here in rural Missouri don’t even bother trying to find a residential address by using; none of the rural addresses are on there. You will do like my brother and sister in law did when they came out for my wedding; get lost. The directions will send you to the town, but here where the actual residence may be 10 miles from town, this is not helpful. That brings us to another issue; cell phones are not reliable out here. Much of the time, due to the hills and loooong distances, cell phone service is extremely patchy. If you get lost and need to use the cell to call someone, by the time you find a spot where you get a cell signal and can call you are twice as lost as you were before.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Dairy Beginning

Welcome. Welcome to my blog. It has its beginning in the many emails I have sent to family and friends relating tales of my adventures on the dairy here. Some folks have been amused enough to say that I ought to send them in to some newspaper or periodical to be published. I am generally not good at shameless self promotion or else I might try, certainly our local newspaper could use some wit in the agricultural section, however I am not sure about my self discipline to do such. Therefore I am starting this blog to see if I can discipline myself to keep up with it. Certainly this cannot be daily blog as I am not daily on the computer, but I will try and keep it close to being weekly, perhaps; or twice monthly, or monthly…or whenever I get a chance. Ha.

As to content; I plan on concentrating less on clinical dairy information and more on my own thoughts, experiences and various other happenings here on the dairy and in the country. At this point I have only been here on the dairy for a bit less than 3 years so I have some grist for the mill here, as it were. I shall try and relate things in sequential order; going back in time and telling tales from the past. I hope to make it interesting and worth coming back to read. Please feel free to comment, complain or commend. Have fun.

Before I close this entry I would like to answer a couple of questions. One a friend from the city asked and one I ran across in a joke book.

Do brown cows give chocolate milk?
We don’t have brown cows, so I dunno if they give chocolate milk or not. However, let me expound a bit on the subject. I have seen our black and white Holsteins give out the prettiest pink milk you’ve ever seen, but I have not been tempted to taste it and see if it tastes like strawberry milk. So, if any of our cows start to give out what looks like chocolate milk I’d be hesitant to try it to see if it is chocolate flavored or not. If there is anyone who would like to try, please let me know, I will preserve said fluid until you can get here to sample it.

When a cow laughs, does milk come out her nose?
A bovine emits a great variety of sounds from either end and can be quite creative with her vocalizations and emissions; however, I have yet to hear one laugh. If I ever do I shall run straight over and check to see if milk is dripping from her nose.

Any other questions, just ask.

Thanks for visiting.