Of Milking and Hibernating

Great view of the morning, eh?

One of the reasons I love having animals on the farm setting is the routine they bring to the daily chores.  Most anyone with farm animals will tell you that the first thing you do when you wake up – before coffee or breakfast or reading the newspaper (ok, what farmer has time to read a newspaper?) – is to check on the animals; especially when there are calves or lambs that need more attentive care with feeding and milking, or when animals have to be moved out on pasture every day and brought into a paddock or barn at night.  And in the case of a dairy operation, milking is usually done at 12-hour intervals, somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-7am, and again at 6-7pm.  Besides, I like to rev up my body a little bit and get the blood pumping before devouring a hearty breakfast.

There’s something refreshing and peaceful about starting your day before the sun, even on chilly New England fall days, the cold, crisp air hitting your face wakes you up like nothing else.  This morning as we treaded past hilltop orchards on our way to the barn, we were admiring Venus in her celestial spot before the first rays of sunlight blinded her out.

Waiting for their scoops of grain

We arrived at the barn around 6:30 this morning and roused the 6 milking cows up from their slumbering in the barnyard; trying to give them adequate chance to use the little-calves’ room outside before being brought into the milking parlor.  Once all the ladies were up, we cleared the way for them to rush straight into the barn to their own, numbered and recognized stanchion (animals are routine like that and like to walk in the same order in line and stand in the same spot to be milked.)  To keep the cows from getting rowdy while we’re marauding their udders, they’re given grain to nibble on.

Into the strip cup

This particular dairy milks by machine, so all we did was wash the udders and teats with warm, soapy water (this helps the cow to let down her milk and wipes away anything she might have been laying in,) strip each teat into the sieved strip-cup, iodine dip and wipe each teat before hooking up the 4-prong, suction-power milk vacuum.

On the average, it takes about 8 minutes for the machine to milk out a cow, and we got around 2 1/2 gallons from each lady.  After each milking, we hauled off the 2-3 gallons in a pail to the holding tank where the fresh milk is cooled to about 35 degrees and slowly and constantly mixed to keep the cream from separating.  This farm sells both raw milk (on premises, per NY legalities,) and pasteurized milk and yogurt.

Once the deed is done, we unhooked all the cows from their positions and herded them into their pasture for the day across the road.  They walk in a single-file line, and like to have someone in front to guide them, though they need to have someone in back to poke and prod them on.

We told her we wanted to get a silly one

Yes, milking and animal chores first, then breakfast.

Some lately planted overwintering greens and herbs in cold frames

General garden cleanup is happening too; now that lots of things have died back with the first frosts (and with more time in a farmer’s busy schedule) we’re doing some maintenance landscaping – pulling up and cutting back deadness and old-growth to give the garden a bit more air and breathing space.  But overall, the feeling in the garden this time of year is one of unhurried-ness, a breathing out, more talking and conversation and less regimented daily orders of tasks.  There are no wilting deadlines to beat, no market deadlines to harvest before, no plant-by deadlines to ensure a profitable and successful season.  More of just relaxing and taking in all that the garden did this year, all that you ate and put by, more opportunities to check out that yoga class you didn’t have time for earlier, or getting to play around with baking some new ideas and recipes (both to come close to a warm oven and because you actually have the time now.)  The cycle of the year is coming to a close with winter coming on, hibernation and rest are the keywords for this time of year.  Planning next year’s endeavors will come in no time.

Inside the farm stand at the Pfeiffer Center

And so go the natural cycles; fall closes into winter and the garden goes to sleep for a bit, and though you may get to whip up some breathtaking baked goods and work on perfecting those poses, the animals are still there to regulate your daily cycles of attention – just to keep you on your hibernating toes.

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One response to “Of Milking and Hibernating

  1. Beautiful, Camille! So true!

    Have been thinking of you very much, wishing you were here this weekend to share the lively energy of 2 WWOOFers passing through who remind me a bit of you: energetic, experienced, hard-working, eager to learn, great cooks, and excited about the Pilgrim’s Progression dance weekend coming up.

    Cleaning up the garden, thinking about next season and whether I’ll be able to kick back from the full-time job and MILK!

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