Saturday, August 16, 2008

Order is Restored

Dinah has returned.  After seven weeks away from the Farm, she has come back to her home.  In early July I walked Dinah across the Island to a farm that raised Scottish Highland cows and where there was a bull.  I had been trying unsuccessfully for months to get her bred by using artificial insemination.  The timing may have been off and at one point she had ovarian cysts which prevented her from ovulating.  The veterinarian eventually took care of her cysts but she still was not conceiving.  He suggested that I use a 'clean up bull'.  I had never heard this term, but I love it.  The clean up bull is the guy brought in at the end of the game to breed the cows at the dairy that couldn't be bred artificially.  He gets the job done.  
Dinah needed his help and so I found a beautiful Scottish Highland cow nearby.  She lived there through two cycles, the first time spending a lot of time with said bull, when there would have been a second cycle, she paid him no attention:  she had 'settled'.  It is not guaranteed that she was bred, but a good chance of it.  I won't make her pee into a cup, but rather the vet will be out in another month or so to check her out.  
But this isn't really the story here.  The great thing is that she has returned.  Dinah was my first cow and is therefore the Head Cow.  She has the most seniority and rules the herd.  During her absence it was a bit chaotic.  The other bovines seemed aimless, looking for direction and wandering off by themselves. Dinah, a very head strong cow who takes her role seriously, has brought order back to the herd.  She is on top, the rest below her.  When she comes down the pasture to the milking parlor, the rest follow, no stragglers.  I couldn't be happier.  
In a few weeks we will know if she is bred and in mid April, with luck, she will calve.  The good news would be she would come into milk again and be a part of the milking here again after a long absence, the bad news, if her calf is a heiffer, the chance of  it being raised up to be a milker is small.  The young female would be half Jersey and half Scottish Highland -- a odd combination for a milker.  A young bull calf, however, would be ideal:  the best of meat and dairy to be slaughtered after a year for meat for the Farm.  We shall see.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Three Daughters

I am presently milking three cows here at the Farm:  Francesca, Boo and Lily.  They are my three daughters.  I don't expect to have children at this point in my life, so these three will have to suffice as my progeny at least for the summer.  
They are all very different.  Francesca is the first to be milked every morning and every afternoon.  The most senior cow in milk while Dinah is dry.  Once Dinah calves next spring and comes back into milk, she will take over as the first cow to be milked.

Francesca is strong, opinionated and confident.  She is aware of her status here and does not question it in any way;  she knows that she deserves to be most senior cow.

Boo is the prettiest cow in the bunch.  Beautiful thin legs with black markings, a slender youthful body, and a graceful if slightly lopsided utter.  She rarely mixes with the other bovines
but rather leads her life solo.  I hate to admit it, but I think she is not the brightest one of the herd, but her looks carry her far.

Lily is the newest addition to the herd. A bit older and a bit more tired, but an amazing producer of lovely milk.  She is truly confused each morning and afternoon that she is not the first cow out of the gate and into the milking parlor. Truly confused.  Each time.  Wise, presumptive, bossy, bright.

The point here is not that the cows of Kurtwood Farms are different, but that they have personalities;  unique personalities.  The fact that I can even call it a personality confirms to me that they have a presence.  Can we call them sentient creatures?  As they are at this point in their lives milking cows, I embrace their personalities.  When their careers as milkers ends and they are slaughtered for their meat,  are their personalities reasons for not slaughtering them?

As most of the ground beef sold in the U.S. at large restaurants comes from former milking cows, most if not all of us have participated in this question.  

Something to ponder today;  no answer for you as yet.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A New Look at a Farm Boy

I sat down during lunch today to read over the New York Times. I tend to cheat quite a bit at reading the Times. What the paper chooses as its highlighted articles I read and then I tend to always hit the most emailed articles. This is always an odd selection: never about the war in Iraq, but rather personal health, money management and the home decorating story. This is what America reads, or at least what readers of the New York Times read.

The article that hit me today was Nicholas D. Kristof ' A Farm Boy Reflects'.

The title intrigued me enough to check it out. Essentially he writes that animal rights in the form of improved conditions for farm animals is gaining ground around the world. His experience growing up on a farm taught him that animals have personalities and are closer to humans than we think. Even so, he continues to enjoy eating meat.

On the surface this sounds nice. It tends to make everyone feel good about themselves. You still get to eat meat. You can enjoy it and take pleasure in it. Legislation around the country advancing the living conditions of farm animals is a good thing. Everyone is happy.

I have a distinct problem with it. Kristof talks about how his family raised geese, would slaughter them one by one and how it was a sad thing as the remaining goose-mate would cry and holler as its mate was being decapitated. This lead his family to donate the remaining geese to the local park because they were incapable of continuing this practice.

The problem is that he has fallen into the classic city view of farm animals: that they are pets that are murdered. In no way was this man a 'farm boy' as a child. The geese are not humans and should not be given charactoristics that are more aplicable to your aunt Lois. We have entered into a social contract -- we slaughter meat for our nutrition, the animals loose in this deal, we benefit. The animals in question certainly have a presence; they look at us and come to us when we feed them, but to put emotions on them, to me is ludicrous.

If our only contact with animals is our house pets -- dogs and cats, than we would naturally assume cows, pigs, sheep and geese to be similar. The contract is, however, different. Household pets live with us, there have been domesticated and there is no untimely slaughter for them. We keep them for their companionship and not for their protein. We develop an emotional bond with our dogs and cats.

Kristof has confused these two contracts; he and his family created a bond with the family geese. It was admirable, but they ceased to be farm animals at that point. His family realized it and released them from their bonds.

My recommendation is to treat farm animals as such. They should of course be well raised: properly housed, properly fed and properly slaughtered. There is no expectation that they will not be slaughtered for their meat. To think of them as large pets that live on farms is folly, especially while one is chewing on a big hunk of steak as they pontificate about the rights of animals.