domingo, agosto 28, 2005
Gary and Barb did not look comfortable at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in St. Paul, MN, big city compared to Sturm, WI, where they’ve had a dairy farm for the last five years. First-timers with World Press Institute, neither one talked much at lunch in the Governor’s suite. Once on the green four-wheel Gator, though, managing electric fences and cows, showing around his land and cattle and explaining his daily chores, Gary was himself. And, boy, he did talk with pride and love of their 196 Jersey cows. And the new milking parlor, still to be completed, which has already prevented his ever-lasting pain in the knees. The silent man in checked shirt had given place to a talkative and enthusiastic farmer in jeans, cap and run-out T-shirt.
The many flies don’t bother him, although they‘re worse this year, he admits. He’s seen them since he was a boy, every summer, and there have been 48 already, although it doesn‘t seem like it for him and Barb.
“It’s not as fancy as the hotel where we were, it’s a farm house”, he announced, while pulling over the red Crown Victoria Ford into the garage. Not long after that, 20 cows are lined-up at the entrance of the parlor to be milked. Each one will offer from 70 to 80 pounds of milk a day, average. The Jersey cows produce less than the Holsteins, but it’s worth more, because it has more fat and protein, used for butter and cheese.
“Come on, girls, just gotta go ahead a little bit", says Gary, while he taps their legs with a stick to make them understand his words better. Barb and Gary know most of their animals just by looking at their tits - it‘s all they can see from the parlor. It may seem funny or easy, but it’s not. Just in case, the Olsons keep cows numbered with a plastic band on the right leg; those under treatment get a red band on the left leg. They refer to every cow as “she”. But they have to earn a name. Like “Funny Face”, a 7-year light brown cow with a white stain on the forehead who is the family's favorite. “Guess why she has that name?” She’s so calm that John, 18, the oldest of two sons - the youngest is Josh, 11 - can jump onto her back and ride her.
Anyway, now the cows have been fed outside with a mix of cereals, mineral and hay; they can be brought into the parlor.
It`s a daily routine, twice a day, separated by about 12 hours. No days off, no holidays, no vacation. Farmer’s life:
Clean dry parlor, shiny mechanic milkers.
1. 20 Cows in, 10 each side, lining-up behind white bars, backs turned towards the center of the parlor. The farmers are 3 feet below, so nobody has to kneel or seat on milking stools attached to their bottoms; 10 automatic milkers milk 10 at a time;
2. Spray the tits with sanitizers to avoid infections;
3. Wipe the spray off with paper after a minute or so;
4. Pull the 40 pound-milker that’s hanging from the ceiling on a bar and take it to the tits of the cows, which will be full and stiff, ready to be milked. Some will even milk without being touched. Others will kick, but you are protected behind bars, so don‘t worry.
5. You might get poop - they use a different word- from one or two out of ten and juicy and dark green parts of it reach your arms and shirts. They’ll either scrape it or use a hose to wash it. “You don’t wanna drop milk onto the shit”, explains Gwen, a neighbor who gives a hand once in a while. “Water will be your friend”, Gary heard from farmers when researching to make a new parlor. Used to dry milking in barns, he didn’t realize then the importance of water. Not only to wash up in emergencies. “The dirtier the tails are the more likely the cow will slap your face with a fresh juicy piece of shit.”
6. Hold the four parts of the milker and stick one tit at a time inside it. It will suck the milk and will come off automatically when the cow is over.
7. Spray some more sanitizer on their tits.
8. Send them away and wash the parlor with a hose.
9. Get the next 10 ones in.
8:52 AM: All cows have been milked.
Gary is pretty happy with the parlor he’s had for the last few months. Skeptical Barb likes it too, “but let‘s wait till winter”. He enjoys learning and experimenting new things and has even been on Wisconsin Public Radio and in the pages of local Country Today explaining how he can do the same job in less time without knee or back aches. Now he stands up the whole time.
The kids help out, feeding the animals, bringing them to the parlor, mowing the pasture, picking up feed in town with the old truck, driven by John, who almost lost his license after a couple of speeding tickets. 11 year-old Josh has his own tractor. He’d been complained that everyone had a tractor and Barb had gotten a convertible. A day after a snow storm, Gary and he went to an auction and wanted that 1979 silver tractor, to be sold by a neighbor. It ended up costing more than expected. “I can never forget the look in his eyes when we finally got it. And he might be 90 and will still remember that day. Nothing that can pay that.” Gary told me the story at his favorite spot on the farm, a hill where he stops early in the morning and looks proudly at the property. “Ain’t much, but it’s all I can call mine. And I brag myself here.” Little Josh told me a few times: “You’re welcome to take the flies home”. I might.