If you are new to the blog, part 1 is here.
Kate and her husband Roger, along with her brother Bill, run the Hycapacity Dairy here in Western Michigan.
Kate was gracious enough to allow me to tag along during an evening milking. Camera in tow, I showed up with my trusty muck boots at the farm.
Feeling a bit out of my element (okay more than a bit….I will admit that although we own three cows I am a little frightened of them) I came in the milk house where Kate helped me get ready to milk. I donned gloves and an overcoat and entered the parlor. Kate went through the milking process with me so that I would be able to milk along with her. We stood in the “pit”, about eye level with the udders and got to work. First we stripped the teats (which basically means to milk by hand) to be sure that there were no signs of mastitis then the teats are dipped in a solution to clean them and kill the germs. The teats were then wiped clean with a paper towel and the milker is attached.
Once the milker has emptied the udder and is removed the teats are dipped a final time with a new solution designed for protection and to once again kill any germs.
There were a few heifers that came through who were just learning the ropes and occasionally one of them would get a bit restless. I watched as Kate would rub their leg, letting them know she was there. They would stand still again, content to wait a few more minutes for supper.
The cows are milked 12 at a time, 6 on each side of the parlor. As they walk in they are interested in the newbie. Bright eyed and curious, a few of them stop to check me out :) Kate points out who is who.
“That is Snowflake….”
She then tells me a bit about them. She cares about her cows.
“These cows eat before I do. Every night.” Roger tells me.
After milking was finished there are the calves to tend to. Kate and shared the work of feeding the calves less than a week old.
I am struggling with the best way to end this post. There is so much that depends on this small family farm, on family farms in general, big or small….on the farmer. So much that those of us on disconnect can not begin to fathom. What are the right words to express the debt of gratitude we have to these men and women who do the work required to place food on our tables yet struggle because often the money is not there to put food on their own?
In the end I want to you to understand that the farmer isn’t in this for the money. They are not greedy monsters mistreating their animals and injecting them with every antibiotic and hormone imaginable. They love what they do, the animals they care for, and the land that makes it all possible. It’s in their blood and part of their spiritual make up. It is the love of the animal, the love of the land that propels them and keeps them going. Despite the criticism, the misunderstanding and the mounting bills….
Are there those who mistreat their animals? Yes. Those who are careless with the resources they have been trusted with? Sadly, yes. But I caution you….do not assume that they make up the majority. They do not.
I sit here on my small plot of land, my small farm with my few sheep and a couple of cows and realize that we are all part of a big picture working together toward the same goal. The freedom to do what we love and support our families while we do it.
I would love to hear your thoughts….
Look for Part 3 in a week or so.