Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Product of my Milking Musings

As I sat here this morning, wishing there was some way to hard line myself to the coffee pot, an odd sound kept registering in the foggy edges of my mind. Once the caffeine had hit my auditory nerves, it hit me. Bird song. It's different than the little Juncos hopping around all winter, varied bird song. We've had a pheasant cock that has wintered over here (it's been fun watching him get his colors) and he was out scolding Fluffy the farm cat, I heard robins in the mix and a song bird of some kind...with the Juncos joining in. This was a 7 in the morning though, until now, nothing has been singing before at least 10. Well there's a pick me up right there.

So as I'm pouring the hot water over Amy's beet pulp pellets, I realized how routine life has become. Lars has gone out and put them in the bucket for me, somehow he morphs out of his pajamas into his clothes instantly.......it's a little unnerving, truth be told. Bruce is stumbling around trying to find his feet, he's got his shoes, but his feet seem to have wandered off. He's working for his Dad to buy a laptop for himself and morning feed is one of his jobs. Much like his mother, morning is not a good time and if it were possible it would be completely eliminated from the day. Anna's just come flitting through the kitchen with her standard round of cheerful good mornings to all present, Bruce and I are thinking the same thing "......honestly......it should be illegal to be that sunny first thing out of bed", we don't say it, think it maybe. Even if you don't like it you can't help but enjoy it on some level. I guess I shouldn't be surprised since her name means Gracious and Bright.
Bruce heads out, I help Leif finish getting dressed, there's one child you definitely don't let leave without an inspection. Everyone gets loaded onto the bus and morning continues.

I grudgingly let go of my lounge pants and don the work jeans, my coffee cup is floating near by and, I hear it, three bellows. You could almost set your watch by that cow. Her bellows are followed by calf bawls and goat maaas and as I pass the back door I see Amy's hind end lumbering into the barn. I grab the milking supplies, the feed bucket and cut up some carrots.
Out the back door, the goats who don't have nearly the faith the cows do...or maybe they're just more impatient, are now madly calling for breakfast. The chickens have all run up to the fence and I grab the grain for the cow, corn for the chooks and head out.

I get out to the barn and every morning it's the same, the hens are clucking over the fresh corn, the steers are lowing and the goats by this point are just flat out obnoxious, Gretta is the worst. I pour the feed into the bin, grab the hay and "Katie bar the door" I just opened the gate for Amy. You'd think I never fed her, or that she's put on weight, or doubled her milk in the last month. The goats are snorting, everyone is munching and everything settles down for a while.
She's munching merrily, nice warm food after a cold night. I brush her off, and start cleaning her udder off. Wash and dry her teats, give a good massage to help with let down and time to grab the pail.
Milking starts and I can feel my blood pressure drop to comatose. It's still cold enough that steam rises out of the pail as I go and after awhile there's a good little foam on top. Amy usually gets impatient towards the end, which usually means I get hit in the head with her tail. The guys chuckle that I keep her tail brushed out and clean.....it only takes getting hit in the head once with a nasty, soppy tail at 8 in the morning and one cup of coffee into the day, to figure out why. Not my fault they didn't figure that one out back when they were milking.

I have two times a day where life slows to a crawl, morning and evening milking. You can only get the milk to come out so fast and there's a rhythm to it that either empties your mind or gets you to thinking.
Over the last couple of weeks, my thoughts have been leaning towards all that going on in the world around me. The good, the bad (seems mostly bad these days), the conversations I hear snipits of in the grocery store, the fact that Bruce has lost another friend because they've moved away to where there are, hopefully, more job opportunities. Then there're the dairies that are closing their doors, sometimes after generations of operation, because they can't maintain. I wonder about ways that I can feed the animals come next winter, that aren't as reliant on feed stores and companies. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't be worrying about something more significant than struggling farmers, but then if they aren't growing food or dairy, where is it going to come from? I think about what an alternate fuel/electric hybid combine would look like? Makes me giggle to think of farmers across the nation plugging their massive equipment in at night.
I wonder what this is all going to look like in the end. I'm not a fatalist, the world will keep spinning until, it either quits or the sun dies. Even if we destroy it, it will keep spinning. I've heard the comparisons of now and pre-Depression, but people didn't live on credit like now and there wasn't an attitude of entitlement. People still gardened and canned, they could provide much for themselves and that was how life was lived for many instead of the few. I've been sitting and watching fingers being pointed every which way, but when it comes down to it fewer would be in a bind if they'd been responsible in their own finances and choices. You can't stop loosing your job, you can't help it if your company folds and you can't always forsee a time when a seemingly secure, good income will just vanish. There have been a lot of responsible people who have gotten a raw deal, there have been a lot of irresponsible people who've gotten slapped upside the head with it. Life isn't fair, find a way to deal with it. J and I have had our share of both, some of our discomfort has been of our own making, some through no fault of our own. Tomorrow has no guarantees either, loosing his job is a possibility as much as anyone else. So we make do as we can, plan as we can and hope for the best.

Usually by this point, Amy is just about finished milking out and it's time to get that funky teat worked out. I don't milk that one into the bucket because.....well it's hard to aim the sucker. I dip her teats, put on the bag balm, strip her gently and dap a bit of balm on the tips as an extra precaution. She's still chomping away, so I brush her out a bit, put her back......chase the goats back in, toss the rest of her hay over, grab all the pails and buckets, dump the teat wash and tromp back up to the house. Grace is a hard thing to pull off in barn boots by the way.

Fluffy is waiting at the end of the yard, she figured out about three days in to the milking business that there's warm milk after this, so she'll lead the way.....thank you very much. The snow is starting to melt and fast, the last couple of mornings it's been raining or drizzling. This morning? Sun and birds.

I get inside and strain the milk, weigh and record it and the day just unfolds from there. Every day is the same, every morning takes the same course. There's part of me that thinks it should feel stifling, some days it can be. Funny thing about this life is that just when you think nothing ever changes, it does. I don't like surprises anymore. LOL Change is a cow down, unexplained drop in milk or the water doesn't turn on. Breaks in routine are like when we had a calf go down with scours. For reference, an animal going down and not getting up is always bad and usually means you have a small window for action or risk loosing them.Out to the calf every couple of hours, even through the night to drench him (give fluids through a syringe with no needle) for two days straight. I didn't walk straight for a week after that. Doesn't matter though, the rest of life goes on. It doesn't care if the calf is down, or whether or not you're standing to loose an investment, it just keeps going. Kids still need breakfast, laundry still needs to get done, J still has to go to work and can't always help out. I've since learned other tactics, picked up information, but I still saw double while I was doing it....maybe next time I won't have to. Live culture yougurt, by the way.

With all of that, there's a pay off. Take the calf, I'll never forget how it felt when I went out there at 3am on day 2 to find him standing up and have him moo at me. It wasn't a guarantee and he wasn't out of the woods yet, but he was up and that meant hope. I gave him his water and electrolytes and ran into the house to call J. Then there's the perspective. To a rancher who deals in 300 head, one calf down doesn't mean much. To us, it means meat in the freezer for almost a year. That perspective can really carry over to a lot of areas and I'm seeing parallels in life right now. The higher up the ladder you are, whether or not the ground at the bottom is muddy, well it just doesn't matter as much. If you're down towards the bottom, well it's a big deal...unless you like mud.

I guess the last couple of days, I've been amazed at the fact that although life has gotten busier but that the type of busy I'm doing has given me more time to the entertain the contemplation I'm so fond of. It's not harried, just busy.

Some days I wonder about whether or not I should be questioning my own sanity. I really questioned it when it was 9 degrees out and I was dunking my already chapped hands into water again, only to watch it freeze in the cracks (Amy I wipe and dry so that doesn't happen on her teats). Opportunity knocked a little early, so the nice warm milking parlor isn't quite finished yet.

The signs of Spring are showing all around, namely I can see the ground again and I'm getting itchy to go play in the dirt. My early crops will go in very soon, peas, potatoes and onions, then another period of sit and wait. Then comes the fretting of whether or not anything is going to come up, just when I can't take it anymore, Justin goes and gently digs around to ensure that indeed they've germinated and "if you can be patient for another couple of days the plants will start breaking through".
Hopefully, this time next year, I'll have a nice little calf, maybe just maybe a heifer, on the ground and a couple of kids (of the caprine variety, not homo sapien) running around.

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