Monday, December 20, 2010

Cows don't care about Christmas

Once, I applied for a position at UC Davis as a farm maintenance worker/reserve milker. I am fortunate I did not get that job; I think the cows are fortunate too. That position went to a full time UCD milker who wanted to do something different, and he was definitely qualified for the milking part of the job. In time, I did get a job in the Animal Science department, and talking to my co workers did nothing but reinforce my belief that the job of a milker is no fun.

When I tell people I live in the country, people mistake me for a farmer. I always correct them saying I have a cattle ranch, therefore, I am a rancher. Then they ask if my cows are milk cows. My answer is always this; do I look crazy to you?

Growing up, we had a milk cow. Bessie was her name, and as cows go, she was a very nice cow. This did not save her from my constant derision and hostile feelings. I hated milking Bessie. Getting swatted in the eye with her swishing tail, having the stainless steel bucket almost full, just to have her step in it or knock it over were some of my least favorite parts of the job. Milking cows by hand should be banned by some sort international criminal court on the basis of its cruelty; to the milker.

Thankfully, I was spared this job by my constant sniveling and complaining, and when the new Albertsons super market was built in Redding, Bessie was retired.

Cows need to be milked twice a day. Rain or shine, flood, famine, pestilence, or alien attack from outer space, the cows must be milked. The job at Davis is a ten hour, four days a week, split shift position. Three to eight, and three to eight. Yes, that means getting to work at 3:00AM, herding the enormous bovines into the milking parlor, prepping their bags, and working them through in groups until all eighty or so have been milked. This should take you to 8:00AM, and then you head home. After a nap, you come back at 3:00PM and start the process all over again until eight that evening. Sounds like fun, right?

This should give you an insight into my choice in cattle operations. My cows are for eating. I raise them, sell them, and eventually they end up in cellophane packages at your local supermarket. All I have to do is feed them. While feeding them is much quicker than milking them, they do need to be fed twice a day in the winter. Winter, as you may know, is very wet. Feeding cows (or horses) in the rain, for lack of a better word, sucks.

We feed with an old ATV that pulls a small trailer. After we load up the hay bales, we head out to the pasture to feed. This should be easy, but it's not.

We are hampered right now with having horses, cattle and a small gang of goats in our pasture. And a llama. I take no responsibility for the goats or the llama; any questions should be forwarded to my wife.

All animals have a pecking order, both inside and between species. On our ranch, the horses, especially Polly the Percheron mare, are on top. The cattle follow behind them in the pecking order and the llama just waits until everyone is finished to sneak a bite. The goats are like an inner-city gang. They all stick together and muscle their way into the middle of the feeding area. When the horses try to run them off, they scatter, only to reform their gang. Eventually the horses just give up and let them eat next to them.

When you drive into the field, the horse come running up and start trying to pull the hay bales off the trailer. Horses have a full time job being nuisances, and they seem to thrive at their occupation. Once you are half finished with feeding, the cows arrive and start scratching their heads and necks on the hay bales, the ATV, and you if you're not careful. Cows are always itchy, I'm not sure why, but it's a fact. The worst part is when the goats decide they want to ride on the trailer and help you feed.

On a regular day, this can be amusing. On a day when it's raining sideways, there's no humor involved. Trying to find the least muddy place to feed, running the gauntlet of kicking horses, scratching cows and hitch-hiking goats, all while be pelted with rain makes for a miserable day. These are the times when you question the wisdom of living in the country. You imagine living a small condo in town. Then you remember having neighbors, separated by a few sheets of drywall, and you come to your senses.

This Christmas, I will be out feeding the cows, although I should admit that my wife feeds the critters more that I do these days. In the winter it's dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home. On my days off my wife makes sure I get back into the rotation. Nevertheless, this Christmas we will open presents, make breakfast, and then head out to feed. Anyone who owns livestock will be doing the same. I hope it isn't raining cats and dogs, but we will go out either way. I am just glad I will not be getting up at 3AM to milk cows. All across the world, and right here in Yolo County, there will be people who will be doing just that, making sure Santa gets has a glass of cold milk for his cookies. Merry Christmas milkers.

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