Friday, September 17, 2010

The First and Second Day- Lifeline Dairy

9/16/10 8:34pm Day 2
Yesterday and today have been kind of rough. Unfortunately I have a cold so when I woke up my throat really hurt. It's very difficult to get into the habit of living in a travel trailer. You would not believe the amount of stuff we are carrying with us. It's just all very compact and efficiently packed. The only problem is that I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE ANYTHING IS!!!!!!! So ideally we would have spent our first night at a campground so we could have gone through things a bit to organize them better and not be working but it is alright. We are going to go to a campground after our stay at Lifeline so we'll do it then.

I was going to meet Jen to start work at Lifeline Dairy at 8am today but we didn’t really get started until around 9am. Tyler took the travel trailer to a Les Schwab to get our flat fixed and to buy a new tire for the other flat. Oh my goodness, 2 flat tires in one day?! Seriously, what are the chances?? The first one happened when we were literally about a mile from our house. We turned a corner on a really narrow road and the tire hit the curb and popped!! So then we had to pull over and luckily we had the equipment to change the tire. We then drove to Victor but when we got to Lifeline we realized we had run over a screw, which was still stuck in the tire, and we were losing air. It was at this time 6:01pm. Literally. On the dot. Every auto store in the area was closed for the day. %#@! We went to a gas station down the road and I ran inside to get something. It just so happened that at that very same time an automotive mechanic from the shop across the street was also in the gas station and saw Tyler outside checking out our rig. He was incredibly nice and ended up helping us out. We determined the air wasn’t leaking fast enough to require immediate action so we were able to go back to Lifeline for the night as long as we fixed it the next morning. So that’s where we were before, with Tyler leaving that next morning to fix the tire and I working at the dairy.

Our first night on the farm we were able to help Jen out with some work on the dairy but spent most of our time just chatting with her in the milking parlor as she milked the cows with an automated milking machine. I have such respect for her and her family’s hard work. She was out there until 11pm milking the cows and makes just enough to get by with her family. Thankfully she was going on her annual vacation with her family on Friday so she had that to look forward to. I can imagine that it couldn’t come soon enough!
Today working at the dairy I definitely learned a lot. It was also nice to do some physical work and to feel like I was really able to help out with things. The family who runs Lifeline: Ernie, Jen and their children Liam and Belle, are incredibly sweet people. They are very willing to explain how everything in their operation works. I worked with Jen for the most part and it was really nice to learn from someone who loved their work so much. Passion is really contagious and in any learning situation I feel a passionate teacher has a much greater probability of being effective in their teaching.

Jen in the Milking Parlor

Today, Tyler and I got to help hold down calves as Jen tagged their ears with a fairly unpleasant looking device, and “castrated” the male calves, using a device that stretched a rubber band around their testicles so that in time, since the rubber band cuts off circulation to the testes, they would just eventually fall off. They also got 3 vaccines, one to protect against scour diseases, another that was Vitamin A and D, and I believe the third was a B vitamin. It was really interesting and great to witness this process, not because I feel that the cows really enjoyed it but because this was the reality of the everyday process that eventually brings milk and steak to your table. It is these little chores that just have to be done consistently to ensure a steady milk flow for customers and to keep the operation up and running.

One of the many interesting things that I learned was that calves are actually born without any immune system. They are supplied with something special in their mother’s milk that develops their immunity and ability to cope with germs and disease. It is critical that a calf get a good amount of it within the first 2 hours of being born. That’s why it’s a big problem if a calf doesn’t nurse or is rejected by its mother because if it doesn’t get those vital nutrients it will have immune system problems for the rest of its, probably not very long, life.

A cow who does not get pregnant (and therefore does not produce milk) is called an “open” cow. You “dry off” a cow who is pregnant (as in you do not milk them) starting around 7 months into the pregnancy. 5 months after a pregnancy is when the heifer’s milk production reaches its peak.

I think one of the not so great things about the whole process is when the mother has its calf taken away for the first time. The calf refuses to eat at first, choosing to wait for its mother to return, but eventually it gives in to being hungry. The mother will carry on for a couple days, mooing up a storm and searching all over the place for their baby. There was one mother in particular, a small black and white heifer, which seemed especially ornery. She kept looking like she was going to go after Liam, Jen’s young son, and Jen said it was because she thought he was a dog or some kind of predator and she wanted to keep him away. She even threatened me by lowering her head with its horns and kind of stomping towards me. I got out of there FAST.

One of the exciting things Tyler and I got to do was to bottle feed the baby calves. They were SO cute. I like them a lot because their noses are dry and they don’t slobber as much as adult cows!

A calf being bottle-fed warm milk... So cute!

Cow tongues are so strangely fascinating. I put my hand up to one of their noses so it could see I wasn’t a threat and it thought my finger was a nipple so it started trying to suck on it. Its tongue was super coarse and had a strangely powerful tip that probed around trying to figure out if it could get any milk from my hand. It quickly realized it couldn’t a looked at me like I was a very mean person, but then I made it all better by producing a bottle with a rubber nipple for it to suck from. It’s funny because some of the calves get it immediately and latch on, sucking for dear life to get some of that warm milk (it’s bad for them to get cold milk) but some of them just don’t get that this is what they are supposed to drink from… obviously this bottle is not their mother. Maybe cows are not as dumb as we think they are! It’s like they are saying, okay I’ll take the milk from this weird device because I’m really hungry but I don’t get how I’m going to get the milk because this is not my mother!

We helped to clean up one of the stockyards that had tons of equipment and metal slabs in it. Tyler put lug bolts in all the posts but unfortunately there was an electric wire running right over his head so every once in a while, while he was putting the bolt in place he would shock himself. This is not an electric fence meant to keep chickens in place, this is electric fence meant to keep thousand pound animals in check, so you can imagine what it felt like to a person. Around the fourth time that he got shocked, he happened to be holding onto something metal and he actually blacked out! He said he felt like he was having a dream that lasted for a split second and then when he came back he was disoriented and had no idea where he was. I felt so terrible! I hate it when he gets hurt. I guess that is something that you learn to be super aware of when it’s your fulltime job raising livestock. Jen said her young son had even gotten shocked when he was less than a year old!

Working on a dairy and raising cattle is definitely not a job for the squeamish. There is cow poop and urine everywhere, including all over you, which I quickly realized was just the nature of the business as I began my days work.  I did not have too much of a problem with it but when I had to coil up a long extension cord that was on the ground and had to be squeezing the poop-covered cord between my hands, I grimaced a little, but carried on. Onward Ho!

Oink Oink


The morning light on fields near Lifeline


Lifeline Dairy

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