Monday, April 02, 2007

Milking it

I milked a cow yesterday. Well, I did not exactly milk her but I was there when she was being milked. We went to visit my friends who keep cows, Holsteins with a few Ayrshires thrown in. I think 400 cows is a lot to take on pet wise. I would have thought one would be enough but people up here like their animals in bulk. They tend not to have just one dog, they will often have two; an old one that limps and a young one that doesn't. They would never have just one chicken, they have to have a yard full. Occasionally they will have a horse, but they are happier if they have a spare in the boot. Maybe they were deprived as children. My father has the same thing going on with sweet stuff. There was never enough sugar during the war so he now has at least three, ideally four, spoonfuls in his cup of tea.

Holsteins are the main milking breed in this country, having taken over from Friesians. I did not ask whether the Friesians objected to being taken over in this way and had brought in the United Nations. UN incompetence may well be the reason that "Holsteins rule OK" ofcourse. Thinking about it, I may well have seen Friesian Power graffiti and the odd mural on the lime mortared stone walls up here.

A high yielding milker will give 35 litres a day compared to a low yield cow which is only good for 25 litres. It must be a head-hanging shame to be known as a low yield cow in the milking parlour. The equivalent of being small town damned as "no better than she should be." I can relate to that. I wonder if cows have feelings to hurt. Those big brown eyes look like they have known what it is to love and then lose. The eyes alone mean you have to give them the benefit of the doubt on knowing heartbreak times.

I did not want to hurt any more feelings which is why I did not mention the smell to my dairy farmer friend. Cor blimey, you could slice it up and sell it. Although I am not sure who would buy it. Everywhere you looked a cow had her tail up peeing green water. Part of you expects them to pee milk for some reason. You can pretty much put money on a place smelling if it has its own slurry tank. "Slurry" is a technical term for animal pee and poo. I quite like the term, I may use it with the children. It is an astonishingly efficient system because the farmer feeds the cow soya, barley and silage (which is fermented grass); the cow yields its milk (be it a lot or a little) and also pees and poos. The farmer then spreads the pee and poo all over the land to grow grass and crops which he feeds to the cow, etc. Recycling cow style. Cows could become very fashionable if only the dairy industry was not hitting the buffers in a way that is so very eighties, so very coal.

A high yield cow is not necessarily a pretty sight for a breastfeeding mother. That giant pink, varicosed swinging udder makes you wince and think: "Rather you than me, Daisy." I mean what would they do if the shoe was on the other hoof? Would they hook us up to sucking rubber tubes? I put my finger in one to see how it felt, ( a tube that is, not a cow.) Quite nice, actually. It was a sort of soft, rhythmic pull. I could see with some tasty dairy cake infront of you and Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show on in the background, there could be worse ways to spend your time.

In the parlour you walk along a trench between two rows of bovine backsides. "Do they ever kick?" I asked my guide nervously. "Occasionally. Not often," came the reply. I hesitated to point out, you would only have to be kicked in the head once and that would be Goodnight Vienna. "We just don't want to make them nervous," I was told. Me? Make them nervous? Which one of us is more likely to make the other one nervous? Call me an old-fashioned Catholic, but I would think the one with hooves.

I am a newfangled Nelly. I take my milk skimmed. It tastes like water and it is not exactly my drink of choice. My farmer friend paused to dip Cow 131's shitty teats into disinfecting bubbles and carefully wiped them off with a paper towel. He squirted some milk into a plastic cup and offered it to me. It felt warm in my mouth and sweet; tasting of innocence and summer days. "That's lovely," I said. "Why do they pasteurise it?" I took another mouthful, swirling it round my teeth for the full effect. "To preserve it. To get rid of the bacteria. The E-Coli, that sort of thing." I still managed to swallow.

If you do not have a cow handy, a pint of milk in a supermarket costs around 35 pence a pint. My friend, the dairy farmer gets just 10 pence a pint when he sells it while supermarkets are reported to make a profit of about 6 pence a pint. My friend knew of three herds being sold off in Northumberland over the next month or two courtesy of the crisis in the dairy industry. I do hate supermarkets. Maybe I will grow my own milk and buy myself a cow if there are some going spare. I should probably buy two to fit in.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

No time for a proper post now, but please please please have a look at the blog of Nadine Dorries MP on this very topic - 'Cash Vache'.

Not trying to be party political, the same issues affect farmers of any/all political persuasions.

http://www.dorries.org.uk/Blog.aspx

I don't agree with all her politics, but she is great fun.

Sarnia said...

I don't know how anyone can "use" skimmed milk. It's disgusting.

If you drink gallons a day then maybe full fat isn't a good idea but the amount consumed for a bowl of cereal and a couple of cups of tea/coffee per day isn't going to fur up your arteries.

Anonymous said...

wifey, i adore your posts. your writing is beautiful and at times heart breaking. but i also adore strife in the north and i must say i am nervously and anxiously awaiting her response to this. hope you both continue for a rilly rilly long time.
cold fan from the true north

Nina said...

Regarding the smellifluousness of your dairy farm experience:

When we moved from the city to the farm, when I was a child, my parents would tell us, "kids, that's the smell of money!"

Mopsa said...

That slice it up and sell it scent can grow on a girl. What is truly beyond the pale sniff-wise is the detritus from a battery chicken farm - when that stuff gets spread on the land as fertiliser the stench is virulent. Don't take any dogs (in ones or twos) over any land freshly spread in this stuff - they come back to you with evil stinking bits of beak and feet. Urggh.

The Grocer said...

Try getting some Northumbrian Pedigree Skimmed Milk (available you know where. The only milk bottled & pasteurised but not homogenised on the farm in Northumberland, a little creamier than the supermarket varieties.
I was reading about electric expressing machines for mothers only last night, obviously you didn't use one and are going to be unable to help with road test information.

knifepainter said...

Sadly wifey, down here in Norfolk the dairy herd is pretty much a thing of the past.

Anonymous said...

"I milked a cow yesterday. Well, I did not exactly milk her but I was there when she was being milked."

Townie twit - why don't you learn how to spell 'Friesian' ?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, poppet, but the number of times you have spelled 'Fresian' is really really really really really annoying. Change it NOW. No bloody wonder the Holsteins are taking over.

Friesian Republican Army.

p.s. there are Fresians - they are horses - try milking on of them !

Anonymous said...

Oh, honeybunny, you really are a townie aren't you ? But you are learning fast. Here are some more top tips. Don't pretend to like the smell of slurry. Ever. Country folk whinge about it - 'That's not a real country smell - they just used to use spread cow muck properly in the old days, not hoover it into that awful sludge'...

Dairy cake - I used to eat that stuff as a child '..and it never did me no 'arm'.. Not sure about Jeremy Vine though - Prince Charles would probably suggest Terry Wogan is the lactation DJ of choice.

As for the supermarkets, please please look at this site and learn what an evil bunch of shysters Te$c* really are. Supermarkets are a bit of a muchness, but Te$c* are really evil bastards.

http://www.tescopoly.org/

I have to say though, townie twit though you may have been, you have scored MASSIVE brownie points for your recommendation of real, raw, unpasteurised milk !!!!!!!!

I grew up on this stuff, despite EU regulations meaning massive warning labels having to be put on bottles in the manner of the cigarette warnings they have now. Perhaps the Eurocrats move from milk to fags to booze to keep gainfully employed.

Anyway it tasted scrummy, and it didn't kill me off, or make me go mad. [[well, okay, some readers may quibble about the latter point]].

Have a good day, and remember to visit the 'horny housewives' for a pint or two in the near future.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to anthropomorphise too much, but I'm sure that milk yields can be affected by how 'happy' the cows are. Many ruses are tried to improve yields by tending to the ladies needs. These have included a huge rotating 'loofah' for the cows to have their backs rubbed with...

I'm sure your readers will know of some other cunning wheezes. Of course if they are Kobe cattle, they drink beer and have individual massages - I suspect that you could try and persuade your husband that would be a good way to improve the quality of your output, but I think I know what his answer might be...

wife in the north said...

anons: re the spelling. I blame the milk.

Cathy said...

When my first baby was in intensive care I had to use an electric breast pump. Can't say it did much for my milk yield, in fact it dried it up all together! Then again, I'm not a cow (n though some might disagree I suppose...)

bernard said...

When I was a child, we ran around and played, got cuts and bruises(all resolved with a drop of witchhazel on a bit of gauze,I got most of the childhood illnesses except mumps. When I was very ill , I was fed on calves foot jelly as it was the only thing I would eatc(its illegal now you are not allowed to produce it) I drank full cream milk, never had a tetanus injection in my life, and suspect I am now naturally protected against all sorts of ghastly germs. Today's kids and adults live in a hermetically sealed world, where the slightest scratch means a visit to the Doctor.... and that's why antibiotics are failing due to overuse and germs becoming resistant to them.
BTW, I agree with Sarnia ,Skimmed milk really IS absolutely disgusting !

Anonymous said...

I have no wish to quibble with the numbers you quote, but in some parts of the country I understand the situation is even worse. Farmers are breaking even on milk, at best.

They are not keeping any financial 'wool on their backs', so any crisis eats into a non-existent contingency reserve. Meanwhile the amount of food we import is skyrocketing. I have no objection to people buying quality produce from France and Italy - but it needs to be a two-way street.

And who will look after the country once the farmers have gone ? Oh, it will be the property developers no doubt, since once the countryside isn't needed for food we can just build all over it, and big business will be happy as pigs in shit, just as well as there will no longer be real pigs...

The thinker said...

So there are a couple of spelling errors. So What? It's good understandable English and there's not much of that around nowadays. I blame that on too much skimmed milk - not enough Omega 3 for the brain cells. Drink full fat Organic British milk and become an erudite brain box like what I am.

At least the city lass has found out where proper milk comes from - not out of plastic bottles.

Friesian cows? I lived in Gloucestershire Dairyland for over 25 years and could never tell my Friesian from Gurnsey to Jersey. They were all cows. Just different colours: black n white, brown, brown n white. Some with horns - well they may have been bulls. Whatever.

Strickley said...

Don't forget - the Dairy industry is not just Black and White.
For real cows, native bred and originating in your North East, try to go and see some Dairy Shorthorns.

I'll not get on my soapbox re the state of British agriculture, as despite the slings and arrows being thrown at us, we will never give up.

30in2005 said...

Cows do have the sweetest eyes! And you describe them so moo-tifully!

Your blog is brilliant. I have everyone I know reading it! And soon it shall be on my bloglinks.

AlisonK said...

I use skimmed milk as I have not been able to bear full cream (or even semi) since being forced to drink it at school in the seventies. I'm sure others will remember - it was left outside on the school porch till break time. In summer it was warm, if not "off"; in winter there would be a plug of ice in the top. The bottle tops always seemed to be rather grimy - I chucked as much as I could get away with down the sinks in the loos. The only thing I will EVER thank Thatcher for is her "milk-snatching".
So these days, I can only use milk (and I say that deliberately, because "drink" would be entirely the wrong word) if it is clap-cold, smells of nothing and tastes of nothing. Basically it is an upmarket whitener for my tea (tiny amounts, often none) and coffee (slightly more).

Anonymous said...

the thinker - you may not have appreciated the 'Belgian Blue' then.

It looks like a Friesian that has been in the wash a few times too many - the black has drifted into a bluey tone which is rather appealing. Well, as long as it's not on a pair of nice black knickers, obviously...

Was over in Ireland last year and was informed that some in the west refer to 'Limousin' as 'those limousines', so one wonders what they call 'Charolais'...

Lizzie said...

Hmm. Husband has said that the only thing he misses about farming is the cows. They were free range and seemed to have a dislike of women. Only he could deal with them when they had calves and they would get agressive with strangers, yet recognising of course that they'd be stupid to kill the hand that fed them. He had names for some of them & they knew & recognised him & nuzzled him & trusted him. He had a relationship with them as we can and do between ourselves and dogs or cats. Of course, they all got killed in the end, since farming is a business, but I don't think I would have minded being his cow till I was forced to see the error of my ways (only joking.) Hmm.

And I agree with MOPSA and anon 12pm. I live in an area that is polluted with chicken & turkey sh*t at certain times of the year. I view it as intensive factory farming that should be regulated as an industrial enterprise. No-one here can sit outside or open windows when the sh*t is in local fields when the wind is in the wrong direction, since everyone then gets sore throats from it. It has been mooted that such like may be burned as a means of generating electric power. I'll leave the field open, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Hey Wifey, I have just read on the BBC that Tesco are going to pay more for their milk ! Clearly you have a lot of clout as it has taken you less than 24 hours to get results !

Keep up the pressure, this is a long journey for them, because they fall a long way short of acceptable standards but a step in the right direction nevertheless....

tim relf said...

There's no place in the world like a farm for smells. We had a debate here at Farmers Weekly on what our readers' favourite - and most hated - rural smells were and we were inundated. Farmers are a prosaic lot when it comes to smells - one talked about the smell of earth through the tractor window while you're ploughing, which he described as "bitter and truffly with the unmistakeable whiff of a chococalte digestive biscuit". That's almost poetry!

The thinker said...

To Anon y mouse - thank you - I have not heard of the Belgian Blue but then I do believe in supporting British milk - I know, Friesians - but I'm sure we had a Friesian Queen at some point in our history so that makes them kinda related.
Re the irish- they probably call Charolais 'charabangs'.

jtschida said...

From the most recent Dilbert Newsletter:
TRUE TALES OF INDUHVIDUALS
==========================

My wife and her friend were talking about eating, my wife joked that her friend has several stomachs, like a cow. She responded with “Yes, my udders.”

To which my wife said, “Udders are separate from stomachs.”

"Well it’s all attached", says she.

My wife says, "Umm, no, like humans, cows eat, it goes through their stomach, they digest, and it comes out the other end."

At which she confidently replied “Right. And milk is a cow’s pee.”

My wife cried.