Monday, December 15, 2008

Cows in Heat; Cows in Chill

I love my job.  Taking care of cows, milking cows, selling milk.  It is dynamic, it is a struggle and I may never learn everything I need to know.  This week is an entire new chapter.  It is cold out.
Actually it is rather cold out.  Colder than I can remember.  What makes this interesting is not simply that it is a bit uncomfortable to be outside, but rather what happens unexpectedly.  I will take great credit -- deserved or not -- for getting a barn ready for the cows before winter arrived.  The fact that it took four years and therefore four winters is incidental to this discussion.  The cows are not locked into their paddock to keep them barn bound for the week.
The most frustrating aspect of chill-milking is the milk hoses.  Made of thick, hard, clear plastic, it has a comfort range.  Twenty degrees and below is not within that comfort zone.  It is now very hard and most inflexibly.  Sadly, flexibility is its great attribute;  it needs the ability to flex over the metal housings of the milking machine and the vacuum lines.  Simply isn't happening on these chilly morns.  
As it also happens, any moisture that remains in the vacuum lines most quickly freezes.  With chunks of ice in the lines, the air cannot pass and therefore no vacuum.  No vacuum, and the milk does not flow from the udders of the cows.  Thankfully, the tea kettle is still warm in the kitchen and can assist in melting the lines. 
Surround the barn are four three hundred gallon stock tanks filled with water from the roof of the barn.  As it now happens, they are filled each with three hundred gallons of ice.  Great for a cocktail party in August, but most difficult for three very thirsty Jerseys.  I have been breaking the ice on top morning, noon and night trying to keep the small ice bergs from colonizing the entire tank.
Little Miss Andi, the youngest cow here came into heat on Saturday morning and Jorge and I walked her down to the neighboring farm to be bred to their Scottish Highland bull.  I have great hope that this will do the trick this time.  As Andi is a young heifer, she is most prone to get bred and should have no problem.  Tomorrow we will return to pick her up and walk her back to her rather confused and lonely sister cows.
Those lonely cows are standing in the snow as I write this, staring over at me.  I am most certainly projecting, but they appear to be confused by the snow, confused as to why there is no grass for them to graze.  As their days are generally filled with walking the pastures and grazing, they have a great deal of free time on their hands.  They chomp on the hay in the mangers, chew a little cud, but there is still many hours left for them.  With luck the snow will melt in a few days and they can get back to their cow ways.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

La Vie Simple

I am forty six years old. I thought that I had already learned all the lessons of life.  Today I realized that I am mistaken.  
This week has been a difficult one here at the dairy.  The challenges revolve around Dinah, the head cow here at Kurtwood Farms. The cow that started this farm; a lovely cow.  She tested positive for Q fever two months ago during the annual testing of the herd.  (For details on Q fever you will need to go to past blog postings.)
I was most frustrated when I got the results back from my veterinarian.  Mistakenly, I called the King County Vet and the State of Washington vet's office to speak of my frustrations and in the hope of gaining some insight into the State's policy.  During those two phone calls I yelled, I screamed and I used that familiar expletive 'fuck' repeatedly.  I truly thought that word was part of our collective language at this point, but sadly, it is not. The worst part was when I said that I would truck this cow down to Olympia myself, chain her to the steps of the Department of Agriculture building and slit her thought there, letting her bleed all over the steps so that the head of food safety could see it.  Both government bureaucrats were not happy with me, gave me little information and were in no way understanding.  Their primary mantra was that it was not their policy, that did not know whose policy it was and they had no explanation for the policy.  Oh, and they knew nothing about the policy as well. 
I thought that all was okay after hanging up the phone with both vets.  I now know that I was mistaken.
On Tuesday this week I got a call from my Washington State Department of Agriculture inspector.  A sweet man, a foot soldier in the government's war on raw milk, he had a warning for me.  If I did not back off on the Q fever issue, the State would come down on me and would never let up. He repeated this more than once, eluding to a potential campaign of tremendous fortitude and non-ending scope.  The State prosecutors office would be involved he warned.
Although the cow in question is dry -- not producing milk-- and has been dry for the past two years they evidently still worry about Q fever getting into the milk supply.  The cow may be contagious to the other cows here, but the inspector and the two vets had no idea if that was true or not.  
The inspector said that I could slaughter the cow myself and that freezing might possible control any Q fever in the meat.  When I let him know that I would send it to auction he was content with that.  By sending the cow to auction, the result is that the meat will enter the food supply.   That is okay.  People are supposed to cook their meat.
The end result is that Dinah was put on a large stock truck at three o'clock this afternoon headed for the Chehalis livestock auction.  I expect to be paid twenty cents per pound for this lovely animal that I paid two thousand dollars for four years ago.  With luck, the trucking will cost less than the amount realized from the sale. My local vet was there at the farm this afternoon to check her ear tag with the test results and verify that the animal has been removed.
I could be terribly naive and find out that it wasn't the phone calls that elicited this response, but these blog postings.  If I end up in the State Penitentiary for writing this, the story will be even more tragic.