Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dairy farm

Matthew's preschool had a field trip on Wednesday, to a dairy farm not too far from his school. I don't generally enjoy field trips; I'm glad they exist and my kids love them, but that doesn't mean I like to go along. In preschool, the parents are always expected to go along. I left Riley sleeping next to Brent on our bed, and off we went. But I wound up having a great time! It was a smaller, family owned dairy farm, with just 50 cows and 120 acres. The farmers were a husband and wife team; up at 5 a.m. every morning to milk their cows, and back again at 5 p.m. every evening to milk them again. They took us in the milking pen and pulled out the electric milkers and I couldn't help myself; "Hey, I have one of those!" The farmer laughed (along with all the other parents, who are either in or just out of the breast pump stage themselves), and said "Well, I hope it is a little less powerful than this one!" Farmer Smid fielded questions from the kids "What are those buttons for?" "What if a cow poops while you are milking him?" or, my favourite, "What do you eat for breakfast?" as if farmers are an alien breed who eat purple rocks with chocolate sauce for breakfast. And Farmer Smid fielded questions from us parents, "What do you do if a cow is sick?" "How long are they quarantined after a round of antibiotics?" "Do you buy your milk from a store or drink it raw from your own cows?" (they drink it raw) "How long is a dairy cow productive for?", or (and I try really hard not to judge moms who ask questions like these on a field trip), "Why do you spell your last name SMID?" Seriously? She had some other gems: "Did you grow up wanting to be a dairy farmer?" "What do your children think of dairy farming?" "Do you want your children to become dairy farmers?" "Do you know a Smid family in Birkholm? Because I have met a family with your same last name who lives in Birkholm, Germany." OMG. The whole of life is not about poking your nose in everyone else's family business, and no, just because their ancestors came from Europe does not mean they know or are related to every Smid in Germany. Jeepers.
Anyways, we saw the milking pen and the barn where the cows sleep and the 'honey pit' and the calves in their pens. We went on a hayride and drank chocolate milk (pasteurized) and met some momma cows. I learned a lot, and so did Matthew, but mostly I just really loved being on a farm. A nice, family sized farm with some down to earth, industrious people and some animals and some really beautiful property. I was made for farming life, I think. It doesn't suit me entirely to live in a townhouse squished so close to my neighbors. But we do what we can and I'm grateful for my townhouse, which has some great positives, including being an ecological way to live, and I'm definitely not complaining. It is just really amazing to be on a farm again.
It was also interesting to learn about Canadian dairy farming and to discuss organic vs inorganic vs raw milk vs plastic jugs vs glass jugs with a real dairy farmer and some pretty intelligent preschool parents. It was pretty neat. In the end I think I can still say that organic dairy is healthier, raw milk has some advantages but is still considered unhealthy enough to be illegal to sell in Canada, and that non organic dairy is far less expensive than organic but is still pretty healthy. The dairy industry is pretty strictly regulated as far as medications; any day a farm's milk tank can be surprise tested and if any trace of antibiotics is found in the 4000 litre tank, the tank is discarded and the farmer fined $15,000. A second offense is double. A third, and the Canadian FDA shuts down the farm. Antibiotics are used reasonably and not indiscriminately, because the milk from that cow must be fed to the calves or discarded and cannot be sold, and that cow must be quarantined and its milk discarded for a set period of time after the antibiotics are finished. No growth hormone is used (Farmer Smid indicated that GH is used for beef cattle while they are growing, rather than for dairy cattle, who don't need to be big to be good milk producers). Cows are free run in pastures for a certain number of hours in a day and are grain and grass fed, and are inseminated every year to two years. They are not milked during the last weeks of pregnancy.

A cow's gestation is 9 months. Her cycle is approximately 21 days. Mr Smid said, "Cows and women are a lot alike. But I try not to say that when my wife is around."

I LOVED this field trip. I would love to someday own a farm. Though probably not a dairy farm, because I know you are beholden to the milking of those cows twice a day, every day, 365 days a year, year upon year without end. I grew up on a farm, and I definitely miss it, so it was wonderful to visit one and learn all about milk.
Also: you should see some of the saggy boobs on those lady cows. Makes me and my FF/GG slingers look like small potatoes.


Dana said...

I loved my trip to a dairy farm last summer too! They were in the process of being certified organic. It was that dairy farmer that recommended The Omnivore's Dilemma- I loved that book.

Asheya said...

Sounds like a great field trip! I would love to live in the country and have all the benefits of owning a farm, without actually having to do the work. LOL!