Well as you may know, my previous posts touched on the basic things you need to know to start a dairy farm. Of course there is so much more to learn. Remember I said my life had become an endless study? This is an understatement :). Every day there is a new adventure on the farm. A new hurdle to jump, road block to overcome, or lesson to learn. But a long day means a long blog post… so take a deep breathe…
Let’s get talking about what your first day may be like! Or any given day of the year for that matter. Each day will change and differ with the time of year, what needs to be done, the weather (oh its -45 outside?… you still have to work!), if you are getting ready for a big show, or harvesting your crops ect. ect. But there are some basic things that will need to be done every single day 365 days/year on a dairy farm.
First of all let me say that on some farm’s you get to be a Dairy wife- which don’t get me wrong, is still a LOT of work! But the farm may be big enough that it employs a worker or two, and your duties may be more directed towards your home. But most farms in Canada are still run by families, which means that you and your kids will always have a part in the farm work. In my case we have just started our farm together, and well… we are the only ones here. Thus it is safe to say I get my wellies dirty each day. I don’t milk twice every single day, sometimes I attack a mountain load of house work or have a baking party instead… but I am always a part of the day to day farm work. This is why I have categorized myself as a Dairy Farmer (‘s wife). Which is probably more fun, because I make sure that my opinion about farming procedure’s is well heard:
-“Um honey this calf is cold.
-I don’t care if there is 4 feet of mud I want to let the cows out to play.
-I want ducks.
-You missed a spot.
– No, I don’t like that fence there.
-Let’s use THIS bull for breeding, its pretty…. erm I mean… it has high genomics.
– Did I mention I want ducks?”
(My ducks are so cute!) My hubs is so wonderful and patient. But what’s great is we really get to work together and make the farm our own, we build ourselves and our relationship stronger through our farm. So lets get started… A day in the life of a Dairy Farmer (‘s wife);
Imagine sleeping sooo soundly, cozy in a big warm feather bed – you know the kind that feels like happiness. And then, your alarm clock screams at you at 5:00 am. Yes. You smack it across the room angrily, and you want to crawl under your covers and escape the cold morning… but you know that you have to get up now because there are some cows waiting in the barn for you with full udders. They will actually be waiting in line if you are late- because they know the routine and they like punctuality. Cows need to be milked a minimum of twice per day, at least every 12 hours. Too long and they are getting uncomfortable. You will crawl out of bed and put on some work clothes, maybe a couple layers if its a cold day (who ever said long johns couldn’t be sexy?) Your Husband might go to the barn first to get started while you make some early morning coffee to bring in mugs. When you and your Husband get to the barn you need to put on some coveralls and wellies, for in fact you may be about to get into some poo. You get everything set up and sanitized and … you head to the barn, when you open the door you find 50 (at our farm) beautiful ladies waiting for you. You walk and make loud calls to herd all the ladies into a waiting area. They know what to do and come easily and sleepily, they stretch out and wake up -nuzzle you good morning. There is always one cow in the herd who slept on the wrong side of the bedding, and feels a little grumpy… she might stare at you like you are an idiot – but eventually she will come too. All the ladies line up in the milking parlour, and now the day begins. Once you have pulled on your ‘smashing rubber gloves, and start the first group of ladies milking, you are officially having your first milking coffee date. When we are milking early in the morning the cows don’t mind if we sneak a few kisses here and there. 😉
When milking is finished the cleaning begins. Everything is cleaned and rinsed, and the equipment goes through an after wash. And you will get some bottles of fresh warm milk and go to feed your babies. Each wobbly new calf gets bottle fed by hand, and if you’ve ever nursed a baby animal you would agree that its a bonding moment. Our calves get handled daily and grow to know us well, as we grow to know them. We know each calves number and name, and chances are she will stay in our herd until she is old and grey. Even the squeamish can appreciate the little snot bubbles a baby calf wipes on your arm while nudging you for more milk. And I will tell you that each cow has her own personality and it means a lot to know them from the beginning.
Now once you have fed all your fur babies, your Husband will go to make feed for all the rest of the cows. They are hungrily waiting, and they eat before you do. If your farm is anything like mine, now is the time to feed all the Other animals. What’s that you say? You have 50-100 cows and calves and you feel the need to have other animals? Insanity?
Maybe… I go to feed and water my ducks, sheep, turkey’s, dogs, barn cats, and chickens, collect the eggs… and head into the house to make breakfast. Ok farmer lady, you’ve done the dirty work and now you need to feed your giant man baby- and by that I mean your husband. Breakfast around here usually consists of toast and fresh farm eggs, fresh milk and of course coffee. We eat and relax, take a short break… talk about the day and devise a plan. Some days there is a specific task to be done, such as seeding, combining… building a shop… the list never ends! We decide what tasks need to be done that day over breakfast, and then my husband goes back outside to clean the barn and refresh the straw that our ladies sleep in. Each morning usually goes about the same, its nice to have routine when there are so many things that need to happen daily (and your as forgetful as me!). During the rest of the morning your activities might vary, maybe you will do some cleaning and laundry- I hope you don’t get too surprised when you realize that farm work comes complete with mountains upon mountains of filthy clothing. You may do some internet blogging… or playing with your kids (I don’t have any of these yet by the way… and imagine my day will be crazy x 500 once I do!), and by 10:30 am it is again coffee time.
Wait what? Its only 10:30 am??? … well yea you got up at 5:00 am, who does that?
You may want to have a piece of cake and a coffee for your husband when he comes inside, he’s already been working all morning. At our farm, morning coffee usually includes reading material. And my husband reads about dairy news, farm news, or sires that he could choose to breed to his ladies. He may do some research, or read the newspaper… and then its back to work! This is where it gets really busy, because now that you have accomplished the morning milking/feeding/and cleaning of your cows- you can do other jobs. Lets say for time’s sake that you aren’t in the midst of any huge spectacular all day jobs, but that its an average farm day. So today you may go outside to help your husband sort some heifers before lunch…
You once again get all dressed up in your covies and wellies, and head outside. Cows are very social animals, but the heifers (young cows) are split into groupings according to their age- the reason is because a little heifer gets picked on by a bigger heifer and sometimes isn’t allowed to eat (let’s say this is Junior high school for cows). So we sort the heifers according to their size and age, so that each has a chance to eat and grow all they want, without someone taking their lunch money or giving them a wedgie. You are going to need at least 2 people to sort your heifers, they like to run circles around you and they think sorting time is play time. But cows also poop a lot, in fact… they poop just about every 15 minutes… (they especially love to kick poop at you) so when you get done helping your husband usher heifers into another grouping… please head inside to clean yourself up.
After you have chased cows and cleaned up, your going to need to make Lunch. At our farm Lunch is the biggest meal of the day because in the evening we don’t get in until late and we don’t want to eat (nor do I want to cook) a huge meal. So you will want to be in from the morning work by at least 12:00 pm, and have lunch prepared by 1:00. Lunch may consist of meat, potatoes, bread, and vegetables, it’s pretty well rounded because you are working a long day. We usually conclude lunch with a Yoghurt. Dairy is a definite necessity in this house. Mmm mmm good.
Finally… it is one o’clock and you are tired. But the day is only half done. Perhaps if it is a slow day you may lay down after lunch for 15 minutes… but don’t get too comfy because many days this can’t happen. It is crucial that all your herd is taken care of at all times. There is no -I’ll-do-that-tomorrow, in dairy land.
You head back outside with your husband and, you guessed it, get back into your wellies and covies. (You might as well buy a nice pair, because your going to live in them.) Your husband needs your help to herd a cow in a stall to be A.I.’d. What is A.I. you ask? Well on a Dairy farm, we usually don’t keep a wide array of Dairy Bulls. The reason is because they are incredibly mean. A Holstein bull can reach maturity and full mean-ness as early as 6 -8 months of age… and even if you spent your entire life cuddling him, he can not be trusted. Farm’s that do keep a bull around will have him behind a very strong fence, and it is VERY dangerous to work with him. There are professional’s out there instead that breed Dairy bulls, they know how to keep and handle them, and instead of us risking our lives every day in the pasture- we purchase Semen from a catalogue of Bulls that we would like to breed to our cows. Just like if you go to the sperm bank and look through a book of potential… erm… potentials. Lets just leave it at that. Our bull calves are still bottle fed and picked up after a few weeks by someone from a farm that is set up to raise bulls specifically, there they will have better care than we will be able to give them.
Having had special training in A.I. -artificial insemination, you or your hubby will do a very routine and clean safe procedure to A.I. a cow who has been showing a lot of, well… friskiness. And you will keep track of each cows heat and cycle very closely. For this and many other reasons you will keep a close eye on each cow every single day. And a few months from now, you will be able to check to see if she has happy news! My Husband usually does this, and I go to work with some calves by walking through them or haltering them so they are always calm and easy to manage.
Now you are walking around the side of the barn and the young lady you have been expecting to calf will be hunched over and breathing hard. A new baby Is coming!!!
Oh … to see the look on my own face the first time I saw a birth in action. You may want to have someone there with a camera. It could be hilarious. It must have been a twisted mix of awe and disgust, oh-my-gosh-that-looks-painful, fear, and happiness. It is truly a blessing to witness life being born. You will watch mama cow for a bit to determine if she needs help. Most of the time she will not have any problems, but sometimes if the calf is taking too long to come out… it will be your duty to step in and give her a hand. In this case your mama cow is doing ok, so you will get a pail of cold water just in case. If the calf is having trouble breathing after it comes out you can shock it into taking a breathe with a little dump of water. And it will, in most cases be just fine. We like to leave mama and calf together for a bit so she can clean and lick it all off. But then, just like a baby is rushed away to the nursery in a hospital, we pick up the baby and take it to some clean comfortable warm dry straw and safety in a little hutch. You will need to dip his or her little umbilical chord in iodine so it can’t get any infection, maybe if its cold put on a little calf blankie to keep its body temperature up, and then feed it a bottle of colostrum. Mama will go into the milking parlour to be milked tonight. And she is ok with that, because she knows we are taking care. For anyone who has any questions about why we don’t allow a calf to stay with its mama for too long, I will be making a longer post about this in the near future. But I assure you it is in the best interest of the calf, who is now safe and warm with a full belly.
After you have helped to deliver a little life, you are checking all the other cows and you discover a cow who has a sore foot. You will have to treat her foot right away by ushering her into a stall, cleaning her hoof and trimming it… then putting some ointment on to keep her from getting foot-rot or infection. She will walk away feeling much better. A dairy farmer needs to make sure that all his/her cows are comfortable and happy all the time- because a happy healthy cow gives scrumptious healthy milk. Plus you will love her like she is part of the family… and you wouldn’t let your brother or sister limp around on a sore leg would you? (unless maybe you afflicted said soreness yourself in some brotherly battle of epic proportions… )
By now it MUST be coffee time again! So… you will head in for a coffee and maybe a small cookie or cake. I know, I know, it gets tedious. But you will appreciate the break!
At our farm we have a coffee around 4:00pm… and then head back out for the second milking. Wait… you forgot there was a second milking? I told you this!
Get those wellies and those covies back on and get back out there. Sometimes before afternoon milking we like to do some extra cleaning in our parlour. Sweeping, scrubbing the milking units, or general maintinance. My husband may do some paper work (paper work?!…. you mean all this and there is also paper work?!…. why yes, and accounting too!), while I clean the tank because the milk has been picked up. And then we begin milking. Milking usually takes around 2 hours completely, once everything has been cleaned up. And of course you need to feed your fur babies again! All the little babies get a bottle, and sent to bed for the night. All the cows and calves have their feed pushed closer in case they need a midnight snack.
You’ll want to take a walk around the farm to make sure that everyone has everything they need before dark, all the animals still have water. No one is calving or in distress.
And then… you are finally allowed to head inside.
You may want to have a shower, you stink.
And a bed time snack, because it is around 8 or 9 pm by now. And if your anything like us, you will like to sit in front of the T.V. and vegetate or read for a half hour. Maybe have a beer… and then head to…. the cows. Because every single night, before you go to bed, you will quickly check on your cows one more time… push their feed, make sure everyone is ok, because they mean that much to you.
And finally… you will crawl into bed tiresomely, and drift off into a deep and happy cozy sleep. Dream about warm things like milk and cookies, happiness. Until… your alarm clock screams at you at 5:00am.