End of Break and First Week Back

The second week of dairy practical work went much more smoothly than the first.  Owner was away on his pre-vacation vacation and didn’t return until Friday, so we didn’t have to deal with any of his “projects”.  Instead we worked on more lame cows and dried off about 10 cows that Farmer had saved for us to work on.

Dry Cow Therapy involves squirting (that is the technical term I assure you) an antibiotic paste directly into the udder so that any bacteria that are hiding out there are killed off before the next season.  We followed this video pretty closely, except that we milked the cows out first and did the therapy in the milking parlour.  Also, instead of a teat dip we used a teat spray which accomplishes the same thing with a different method.

We also met a relief milker (M) who has been milking on that farm since he was 14 years old (he just turned 17 last weekend).  The previous owner hired him at that age and had him milking by himself.  He also charged him to sleep in a Winnebago type deal behind the house.  Utterly ridiculous if you ask me.  M was a good kid though, hard working and knowledgeable and really good with the cows.  I would probably let him date my niece, maybe.  He was fun to tease and banter with when he finally came out of his shell.  Farmer gave him no end of ribbing (builds character), but he took it well and even gave back as good as he got every so often.

We started tagging cows (spray paint on the legs) to indicate which ones had long feet and needed to be drafted off to be worked on.  A few were so bad that they were actually unbalanced.  A few were also lame.  One, number 75, had foot rot.  I have pictures for you at the end of this because I’m too tired and/or lazy to bother putting them in with the words.  We trimmed their feet as best we could and made sure that they had nice looking feet before we sent them back to the herd.  One cow had a horn that was growing toward her skull, so we trimmed that off to keep it from damaging her.  Most of the cows were very nice, but some were pretty “stroppy” as Farmer liked to say.  They didn’t like being near people and didn’t like being in the crush.  Number 75 (and a few others) actually came up for head scratches.  This can be dangerous because the “nice” ones don’t fear humans and so have the potential to run a human over if they are afraid of something else or get angry for any reason.  It is still nice to be able to scratch them and feel a bit of connection.

With the help of M, we finished the fence in the paddock across the road and so the cows got to enjoy a very nice paddock full of lush grass.  I have now seen an entire herd of Happy Cows.  They actually trotted around with food in their mouths looking very pleased with themselves.  It is a sight to behold.  Unfortunately they were only that excited because it had been so long since they had had a nice lush paddock.  The drought has been awful for them.

On Friday, Farmer took M, my classmate, and me out for lunch as a thank you for giving him the week to sleep in and not milk.  The food was pretty good and it was nice to get away from the farm for a bit.

Overall, I really enjoyed working on the farm.  Even with the shortcomings that are perpetuated by the stubborn Owner it was a great deal of fun and I am definitely suited to farm life.  I am looking forward to two more weeks next semester when we get to feed calves as well as milk.

Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure:

 

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Cows being milked

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Cows waiting to be milked

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The After pic seems to be ahead of the before pic…not sure how that happened

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before having her horn trimmed (she did NOT like being there)

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It was very dark in the mornings

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Leg tagged because those are some LONG feet

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What the cows look like in the crush on the farm that I worked at

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Foot with some minor trimming off of the toe

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After a good cleanup

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Standing better

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Number 75 was a doll

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The view was pretty nice…I will definitely miss the view

 

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Week one of Dairy Work Done and Dusted

Thursday was just as exhausting as I expected it to be.  It started with the morning milking at 5:30 am, followed by breakfast and then straight to tires.   The cows were a little weird in the morning, pooping more and extra fidgety, apparently that happens sometimes.  We drove up to the washout (where the cows are wintered) and picked up another truck and trailer load of car tires and drove it down to the drain.  We finished throwing them into the trench while Owner tied them together and covered them in plastic.  We finished the row by around 11:30 am and Owner used his tractor to fill rocks and dirt on top of them.  My classmate and I took the dog, Pippie, down to the river because there wasn’t anything that we could actually do at that point.

The river is gorgeous.  The water is crystal clear and cool.  It is low now because of the drought, but we can see how high it usually gets, so it is also deep and clean.  There are trout that live in it and we saw a few juvenile fish in the shallows.  Pippie chased sticks across it, but we didn’t go swim because it wasn’t quite warm enough to be worth it.  We stayed down there for about 30 minutes before heading up to the house to grab lunch because we didn’t want to end up missing it.  After eating we headed back to the drain and found Owner and the farmer building up a bank at the end using the enormous truck tires that were too heavy for us to actually lift.

Once that was finished, we put the unused tires back on the trailer and drove them over to the other drain that needs to be made and emptied them out.  I am so sick of moving tires at this point it’s not even funny.  We had enough time to have a cup of tea and the farmer to grab something to eat before we had to head down and get the cows.

The afternoon milking was worse than the morning milking in terms of having the cows pooping on us (afternoons usually are), and it took us longer than normal to get them through.  They also were headed up the hill again, so we had to wash everything down and then drive them across the road, which took extra time.  By the time we got home it was 6:oo pm, over 12 hours of work put in.

Yesterday wasn’t as bad.  We arrived for the morning milking a bit late because there was a house being moved down the main highway from Palmerston North to Ashurst.  That’s correct, an entire house.  Well, to be fair the house was cut in half, but it was still an extra wide load that could not be passed.  We positioned ourselves across the road from where the cows were going to cross and waited for them to arrive.  When they finally did we crossed them as quickly as possible.  This time there were a couple of cars waiting for the cows to cross, so I guess they will get to explain to their employers that they were late because of cows.  Things that only happen in rural areas.  The cows had a very good morning, only a few pooped in the shed and we were able to move them through quickly and get to breakfast around 8:00 am.  I did get my hand kicked into a pole, causing quite a nice bruise, but that was my own fault for not moving fast enough and reading her warning signs.  The farmer stayed down and fed out some balage so my classmate and I took the chance to grab a nap.

Apparently the owner was away on a fishing trip so no tires were thrown!  After sleeping for about an hour, the farmer showed us the computer program that they use to track the cows.  Information from the herd testing is stored and used to show which cows are problems and which cows are good producers.  There are far too many “dogs” in this herd.  Several with insanely high SSC’s and a few that are producing fewer than 5 litres of milk per day (which is the minimum amount of milk production for dry cow therapy to work).  We discussed ways that we would change the farm if it were up to us and not the Owner and his pocket book (and extreme reluctance to spend any money on the farm).  We came to the conclusion that the only solution was to beat the owner about the head and shoulders with a Clue-By-Four, possibly one with nails in it, and hope that either he brightened up or whoever inherited the farm after him had sense enough to change things.  His lack of willingness to change is impacting animal welfare in ways that drives me absolutely batty.

We lazed around the house and had lunch while the farmer waited for a call from someone that he was supposed to pick up in town (to help mend the fence over the weekend).  The guy never called him back, so we drove up the hill and walked the severely lame cow down to the yard to work on her foot.  Her abscess was so bad that her bad foot was easily twice the size of the others.  As she walked down the hill, the pressure from walking actually caused it to pop out the top and bleed a little at the hairline.  It took quite a lot of digging to find where the infection started at the sole of her foot, but eventually we found a soft spot and worked from there.  Her hoof was incredibly hard so it was slow going trying to dig down to the abscess track.  When we did find it, it smelled awful and was enormous.  We were finally able to dig out most of it while leaving her some foot left to grow back.  We applied a cowslip like we did on the other abscess we worked on, and then jabbed her full of antibiotics.  The withholding period for this antibiotic for milk is 2 days (4 milkings) but she is dry (not lactating) so that is not important for her.  The meat withholding period is 30 days, so it will be a month before she will be able to be shipped to slaughter.  Since she isn’t pregnant and so won’t be milking next season, there is no reason to keep her.  We had to fix her up though because it is illegal (thankfully) to ship lame animals and animals with abscessed feet can’t enter the human consumption food chain.  She will most likely be turned into ground beef and exported to North America or Asia for hamburgers.

After we finished her foot, it was about time to bring the cows in for the afternoon milking.  We moved her into the close paddock so that she can get a few more doses of antibiotic over the next few days, and then drove up to the house so that the farmer could get the two wheel motorbike and a cup of tea.  Then we drove down and herded the cows in to milk.  We had another amazingly good milking with very little pooping and not much general grumpiness.  We finished the afternoon milking before 5:00 pm despite starting a bit later than usual and made it home by 5:30 pm.  All in all a good Friday.

The weekend so far has been very relaxing and full of sleeping in and doing nothing.  I cleaned a little and did some laundry, but mostly I played Harvest Moon, because I didn’t get enough of milking real cows or something.

Edited to add a video of Happy Cows in a pasture

 

Throwing Tires

Today was full on.  We arrived around 9:00 am and waited for the farmer to come up from milking.  We chatted for a short while as he ate his breakfast and had his coffee, then drove down to the lower part of the farm to see what Owner wanted us to do.  The plan for the day was what we were supposed to have started yesterday (it got postponed because of the broken farm equipment): building a drain out of old tires.

The property has several springs on it that burble out of the ground with fresh, clean water.  This water is cleaner than the stuff that comes out of the pipes in the house.  The problem is that at one point someone (clearly related to current Owner) put a concrete slab in, in an attempt to allow better drainage (or something).  That concrete slab broke and plugged up the whole area and caused the water level to rise – turning several paddocks into swampland.  The current Owner has devised a NEW plan (much better than the old plans).  He has dug a trench (presumably with the tractor) and built a drain pipe out of old car tires that he gets for free or cheap from the tire shops in town.  Our job today was to move tires around.  We went with the farmer to pick up tires in the trailer, then put them on the ground near the trench, then handed appropriately sized ones down to Owner as he built the tube-o-tires.  Once that pile of tires was used up (or all the good ones anyway), we were off again to another stash of tires to pick through and find the appropriate size (14″ and 15″ were the ones he wanted).  Lather, rinse, repeat.  We managed to snag 15 minutes for lunch while the truck was being gassed up, and then we were back to work.  Before we knew it, it was time for the afternoon milking.  We took a quick break to hydrate and sit, and then it was off to fetch the cows.

After milking we drafted off two of the more lame cows to keep in the lower paddock.  The one we patched up yesterday, and another one who looked like she was coming lame (and is still a mega producer).  The rest of the herd went up the hill and across the road to an upper paddock where the pasture is actually quite lush in spite of the summer long drought.  Tomorrow we will be doing the morning milking again and working through the afternoon milking.  Tomorrow will be a 12 hour day.  Tomorrow I might not be able to post.  However, the farmer told us that we get the weekend off, so I should be able to catch everyone up then.  Now for sleep, to sleep perchance to dream…..

Starting Dairy Farm Practical Work

Yesterday, Monday the first of April, 2013, I started working at an organic dairy farm just outside of Ashurst.  For my program, we need to complete 4 weeks of practical work on a dairy farm before the second half of third year (we also need 4 weeks on a sheep and beef farm, three weeks at a horse farm/stud, and three weeks of “other” which can be just about anything).  I didn’t know where I was going until I got there, and didn’t know when I needed to show up until around 9pm Sunday night, BUT it has been a good experience so far.

The farmer, K, is very nice; as is his wife D.  They have been share milkers on this farm for 2 years, arriving just as the snow hit in 2010, and will be leaving after this season.  The owner of the farm went from Father (who inherited it from his father) to Son some five years ago, and this year went back to Father (as Son was driving it into the ground).  After this season the farm will no longer be Organic, mostly because Son did such a terrible job that it really can’t be saved with anything but conventional methods.

The paddocks are full of weeds that were allowed to grow because of “bio diversity”, most of the herd is suffering from severe subclinical mastitis, there are a number of lame cows due to stone bruises and abscesses, there are several “carry over” empty cows that are costing money, and then there are the problems with the milking shed (which is 30 years old and so a problem with Father more than Son, though Son didn’t see fit to FIX the problem when he had possession of the property).

Yesterday my classmate and I arrived on the farm around 8:00 am and were given the grand tour.  We saw the milking shed, were regailed with the problems associated with the particular shed, and shown the paddocks with the cows.  We learned to drive the quad bike and where everything was, and spent a good deal of time sitting and chatting.  After several cups of tea and coffee we headed across the road to where a fence was down due to a fallen tree.  When we arrived  the farmer informed us that the fence had been down for several years, but that Son didn’t care to fix it.  There were several trees with branches or whole trunks laying across the fence, and one enormous blackberry bush had taken over the middle of the downed fence.  If you haven’t had the unique pleasure of pruning blackberries, I highly recommend welding gloves, anything less and the spines will make you bleed.  They are as bad as, if not worse than, roses.  We started at the top of an incline and the farmer used his chainsaw to hack away branches, which my classmate and I then dragged beyond the fenceline and chucked down a hill.  When the chainsaw got too dull, we broke for lunch.

After lunch we went back to the hill and attacked the blackberry bush with chainsaw and pruners and a rake.  It took a few hours but we managed to clear enough back to find the fence post and wires.  We had to reset one of the posts because it had been knocked over by the fallen tree, and we found another post that we couldn’t fix but got the wires out of it so we could mend the fence enough to keep the cows in.  By that time it was about time to go bring the herd in for the second milking (our first) of the day, so we drove down and herded them back to the milking shed.

Cows walk excruciatingly slowly.  They need to keep their heads down to watch where they are going so that they don’t hurt themselves.  When the race (the part they walk on between paddocks and the milking shed) is bad, they have to walk even slower.  The races on this farm are atrocious.  The farmer is exceedingly fed up with them, but Owner won’t fix it because Owner doesn’t have to deal with it.  So the cows walk at around 4 km/hr, and the slowest ones are closer to 1-2 km/hr because limping on rocks sucks.

Cows also balk at changes in ground, inclines, and changes in light.  The transition from the race to the yard is dirt to concrete, this is pretty standard and not terrible.  The first concrete part then goes to a sharp ramp (think the sloped curbs in some suburbs) which the cows don’t like so they stop and won’t go up.  Then there’s the light inside the milking shed, or the lack thereof because there is nolonger a roof to hold the light in.  So the cows won’t go into the shed to be milked.  There are two rows of 20 cows and one row of 20 milkers.  This means you put one side in, milk them, fill the other side and swap the milkers, and while the second side is being milked the first is moving out and the third is moving in.  Only, as I said, the cows don’t want to go into the shed so a good deal of time is spent convincing them (by yelling and patting and turning on a moving electric fence to push them from behind) to move forward.  All of this means that we milk 180 cows slower than other farms milk 400.   We finished milking and were on our way home by about 5:30pm.

Today, we woke up for the 5:30 am milking.  Which meant picking up the cows in the dark and bringing them to the dark milking shed at a ridiculous time in the morning.  My classmate and I drove the quad bike out to get the cows while the farmer set up the shed.  Cows have surprisingly good night vision, and still balk at all of the same things.  We milked the same routine as before, but a little faster since my classmate and I were a tad more experienced and the cows were slightly less inclined to poop on everyone.

Once the girls were milked, two were drafted off and held while the rest of the herd went on to the new pasture.  One of the cows needed a new ear tag so that she could be properly identified for the Herd Test that afternoon, and the other was severely lame in her left hind foot.  We put her in the crush and her head in the headbale (which took quite a lot of effort because she really did not want to go), and tied up her leg to have a look at it.  The poor thing had an abscess that went from the sole of her outside claw all the way to the top of it where it blew out making a visible crack where hoof met hair.  The farmer took his hoof trimming knife and cut away the hoof to expose the abscess track to the air (which kills the anaerobic bacteria).  Her other claw (remember cows have two toes) was fitted with a stylish shoe to protect it while she walked on it (rather than standing on the sore side).  She was then put out in a near by paddock so that she didn’t have as far to walk to be milked in the afternoon.

After milking was breakfast followed by attempting to get the irrigation system set up.  We collected hoses, laid hoses, ran out the big black hose so that the irrigator was at the far end of the paddock, went to turn it on, and the engine was broken.  Which was a manly man type job to fix (since I could tell that it was definitely an engine when looking at it and not much else), so my classmate and I stood around with our fingers in our noses (figuratively) waiting for some kind of instruction.  About an hour later the engine part that needed fixing was removed and we were sent back to the house for lunch.  While awaiting further instruction (drinking tea, eating sandwiches, and talking to the farmer’s wife), the farmer’s wife made an executive decision that since we weren’t needed for the afternoon milking we should get to go home early.  All were in agreement, and we were home by 2:30 pm, just in time to get yelled at by Mr. Shadow about the state of his breakfast.

The reason we weren’t needed for the afternoon milking was that the farmer was having the herd tested for performance and Somatic Cell Count (level of body cells in the milk which indicates the level of mastitis in the cow).  This requires special equipment which was delivered while we were fixing the cow’s foot after milking.  These specialised thingamajigs collect samples from each cow and record things about it so that the farmer can tell which cows are producing the most, which are full of mastitis, and which are producing the valuable milk solids.  These numbers let him know which cows need to be dried off and which can be kept milking till the end of the season.  This process takes longer and requires logging numbers while hooking up the milkers.  Too many people in that tiny shed would just make things worse, so my classmate and I got to go home early and get to sleep in tomorrow.

(Published without going back over it because I am incredibly tired, please forgive the copious typos and grammar errors.)