breeding

i have definitely talked a lot about addie,  our family milk cow. she turns grass into cream and i love her each day with my morning tea or coffee. i adore her again as i top my salads with fresh cheese made from her milk. i sing her praises when i sit down to a bowl of yogurt or ice cream. each morning i wake at dawn, gather my stainless steel milking equipment and a basket full of garden treats for her. my eldest son and i head through the wet grass to one of her rotating pastures and spend those early morning minutes with each other. most days, it is pure delight. these past days however, the routine has been all together different. addie is not on the farm, she is a couple of miles away at our neighbor’s dairy farm getting to know their dutch belted bull oney (as in boloney). it is time to breed addie. lactation is related to pregnancy and birth and the time has come to breed her back.

IMG_9052

cows come into heat approximately once every 21 days. when a cow (or any animal for that matter) is with other cows, or in a herd with other large animals, it is quite easy to tell when they are in. they mount each other, sniff each other, lick each other, and show all kinds of signs of mammalian mating.  in our case, with addie alone since we butchered her calf last fall, it has been difficult to monitor her cycling. we pay closest attention to her milk production (which can rise and fall with ovulation), we keep a close eye for the tell tale bloody show on her tail, we gauge her mood swings (no need to elaborate here), and other outward signs of her fertility. with our best guess and a borrowed cattle trailer, we hauled addie up the road last Wednesday.

IMG_2996

managing a bull is nothing like you would imagine having read the tale of ferdinand. this fine dutch belted our friends keep welcomes us each morning by placing himself between us and addie. this thousand plus pound male immediately snorts and paws at the dirt  to let us know he believes himself  boss. addie, for the past 12 days is his, not ours, and he wants us to know that. it is a slightly unsettling way to start each day.

IMG_9793

once we adjust to the bull’s bellowing, the morning milkings pass pleasantly. our neighbors are wonderful friends and our daily chats have been full of laughs. we ponder all types of ideas but of course a fair amount of time is spent watching and commenting on the dance of bovine courtship.  it soon became clear that addie was going to spend more than a few hours with her new mate. we watched a few days of decided disinterest, moved into some days of head licking ( good sign my friend tells me), and now we are solidly in the final days as she comes into what is called “standing heat”, the time she is in estrus, the time she will be bred.

IMG_3478

perhaps i have spent a bit too much time following my fellow mammals through an intricate  mating ritual, but i have found myself lying awake at night wondering about human mating. was there a day before perfumes that we too could smell our mate’s readiness? you know i love and trust my dairy friends when i tell you i was willing to ask one early morning if we humans used to behave similarly? friend i queried, have we washed away our instinct with the finest scented soaps and sprays? i know, i know…it is definitely time to bring our cow back home and move onto another topic!

 

 

 

neighbors

it’s been 34 years that my friend and neighbor has been opening and closing each day milking his small mixed herd of cows.  before he tended his own dairy, he milked his father’s herd. he is well into his 50’s, so milking has defined his whole life. the doors closed on his dairy up the road last week.

i have read countless tales of the decline of the family run dairy. i have cried over stories of families finally succumbing to the pressures of a centralized, industrialized, food system that by no means favors the small farmer. this time, it hit a bit closer to home.

we first met these folks within months of moving to our farm. another neighbor indicated that the dairy farm up the road might be a good source of manure for our emerging vegetable operation. we were both thrilled and disappointed to hear they used their manure. hmmm, we might have found some like-minded farmers around here.

our respect and friendship has grown over the years and we have heard firsthand of the impact of dropping milk prices  and ever-increasing cost of inputs. their devotion to their occupation is awesome and often unfathomable, the financial reality of running their farm has long since not made sense, last week, with a looming mandatory flat rate fee imposed by the milk hauler, the scales finally tipped. within days the trailers were there picking up their livestock.

IMG_0105

we have been milking here for a mere 8 years (if you include milking goats you can add a couple more ). i have seen countless individuals arrive on the farm committed, dreamy with the lure of daily milking. i have seen just as many abandon that same ritual once reality sunk in. no sleep ins, no sundays off, no snow days.IMG_1193

the devotion of a dairy man or woman is deep. of all the things i admire about my first born, the top of the list might just be he has taken on the task of milking.IMG_0801

i am confident on whatever path he chooses, the lessons learned through an unwaivering daily commitment will strengthen him.

IMG_1399

i am not sure why i am even writing this post, i don’t have time to do the research, share with you the astounding numbers, fill this page with fact after fact about the direction food and farming is heading in our country.  i suspect most of you have some version of that information already. this is just my story and the story of my neighbor. to tell the truth, i suspect these dairy farmers might just be better off. they lean awkwardly in the direction of a far more sustainable and supportive system of agriculture. now, finally released from a system that was hardly nourishing and barely paying the bills, they are free to explore these other options. i hope, once through this transition, they will embrace a community that more truly supports their life’s hard work. for now, i am thankful to know them and to experience the highs and lows of another small farm. for these kind of neighbors are rare, i am truly lucky.