Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Learning Experience Of Farm Life

Well.. it's been a while.  Or, it feels like a while.  It's finally cooled down to a point where I can think.  Oddly, we're at the same temperature for this time in the morning as three days ago (22C @ 1030), but it's different (pleasant) without the humidity.

Anyways, I wanted to talk about my time at the farm last weekend.  Now Lord help me, I couldn't write this week but now that I've waited a week it'll be a test if I can remember anything (stats.. you'll see shortly).

Our adventure started early.  About an hour into our drive, CZ's car died.  We sat at the side of the road, flipped the hood to see if there was anything noticeable - nothing - and waited.  This old European couple (heavy accent, I'm guessing Dutch) pulled over to see if they could help.  They couldn't, but they were generous enough to give us a ride up to the truck stop to wait for CZ's dad to pick us up.  He did, we went for Mass, back to the house and they sent out the older boys to pick up the poor vehicle left at the side of the road.

So we had lunch when we got to the house, put on our barn clothes and went for a ride back to the bush.  The younger brothers wanted to plant some flowers (read: hostas) back at the bees (they have a couple hives).  Turns out there were no bees, but flower planting commenced anyways.  We went for a very short walk along a back path but started to get devoured by mosquitoes, so we left.  They love me, but I don't love them.

On our way back to the bush, guessing easily half a mile if not more.  They have a 100-acre property.

Their neighbour taps for maple syrup. These are the lines, after being tapped in (sorry I didn't get a close-up of that).  They weave in and out of the bush.

On level ground...

The back path with mass amounts of mosquitoes.

Can't remember what happened when we got back.  Oh right.. we just sat outside, took it easy and I laid on the grass.  I can't remember the last time I just laid on the grass.. feeling the earth beneath me.  It was bliss.  Then I think it was time for dinner and we went in.  Not everyone was home for the weekend, so there was just 12 of us at the table.

Me, loving the grass and the sun.

Close-up of a dandelion.

After dinner it was time to milk so we went out to the barn.  Oh.. I almost forgot.  We had the option of making butter (I was so excited to), so we set up the separator while we were milking (making butter is a bit of an involved process, as you can imagine).  We take the milk from the cooler (post-milking) and pour it into the separator.  It took a LOT of milk to fill a 10-gallon pail of cream to make butter.

The separator.  The milk is poured into the large stainless steel basin at the top, pouring out through the spigot, passing through many layers of thin metal discs for separation (separates by weight). It pours the cream to the left and what is skim milk to the right.  The colour here is amazing - you didn't see the difference (between the cream and skim milk) in person.  I learned a very interesting fact while talking to CZ's dad during the separating process, but I'll get into that later.

So I toggled back and forth between milking the cows and pouring the milk into the separator.  I learned how (hands-on) the milking process works, straight from cleaning the cows teets, to applying the milker and how it suctions onto the cow..*fwoop*.. how to read when she's done milking and taking it off and applying iodine to prevent infection.  I just walked around and watch them move from cow to cow, milking.  Some wonderful conversation was made that evening, but I'll get into that more at the end, after the pictures :)

The girls :)  Feeding while milking.  Jersey's are becoming more uncommon, apparently, though I'm told they're a more heartier breed.  I'm used to seeing holsteins, so this was nice.

It's very hard to get good-quality pics inside a barn, let me tell you!

Momma and baby, just a couple hours old.  Wobbly legs and everything.  It was quite a sight.

This is me rinsing, kneading the butter.  It needs to be rinsed under cold water, then we knead it out until it rinses clear.  Then the next step...

After churning, sitting, separating and kneading, the butter has to be compressed to get all the remaining moisture out (buttermilk), or whatever's possible.  So we squeeze it between our hands and compress it into the container for the final product.  Colour, I'm told, can vary - depending on minor factors (humidity, etc).

The numbers are crazy for making butter.  I don't recall, but I think it's like 10/1 or 8/1 or something like that (i.e 8 parts milk for 1 part butter).  It might be even greater than that, I can't remember.  I was blessed to be able to take some home (and buttermilk for pancakes).

So, when we were milking, my head was turning with so many questions, thinking about the process from farmer to store shelves.  Some facts I figured out...

 ~ Farmers have a quota.  If they don't meet said quota, as far as numbers are concerned, they can carry-over until the next month when they hope to have, say, a better day with higher output.  If they exceed said quota/output, they a) don't get paid for it and b) have to pay to have it hauled away...which really, really sucks.  It's a waste.  Well, waste in essence the farmer doesn't get paid for it.  It's still used by the 'middle man' and ends up as product on the shelf, so the middle man uses it to their advantage.  The farmer can buy more quota, but the figure is, IMO, astronomical (it's 5-figures, if I remember.  Or was it 4?  Sigh.. this is what happens when I wait a week to post).  They exceeded their quota for the time, which is why we were able to afford to take some milk out to make butter.  All of this really disheartened me and my heart sank.  And we wonder why our farmers are "poor"*.  Moving on...

~ Quota exists for everyone's benefit. It's established to maintain a fair market price.  I wish I could delve into this more, but my understanding falls a little short.  I will try to come back with more explanation/fact for you.

~ If you're new to farming, you almost have to invest a lifetime of debt to have the rights to milk the cow and have a return income.  That's why it's a good thing when farms are passed down in the family.

I started to ask my friend a few questions and as we got into it, soon the other older brothers started to gather round as soon as they could walk away from their particular task and got involved in the conversation.  And it was such a great feeling to just stand and talk and connect with them; discussing what's mutually important.  I asked that evening, working in the barn, what I can do, or what we can do to help... and "buy local" couldn't be stressed enough.  If you can't buy local, at least buy into your own country.  We have many import problems (apparently the States does as well, but I'll need someone else to verify this for me).  Make sure it has the 'stamp'; "Canada" for Canada, naturally and US or USDA on U.S-based product (likewise for other countries).  Raw milk is illegal for sale in Canada and we're sure eggs are, too (this fact has to be double-checked, but we believe there are rules of some sort).  Meat and vegetables can be bought direct sale from the farmer.  Invest in a freezer and buy a cow, or half a cow and freeze it.  It's more economical and good relations between you and your local farmer.  You know where your meat is coming from; you can ask questions and get involved.

What keeps the farmer going?  Why does he do it?  Because it's in their blood.  It's personal.  It's their passion.  God love them for it.

* I use the term lightly.  Farmers do well to 'break-even' and even gain profit, but that profit is usually invested back into the farm (repairs to barn or equipment, purchase of new equipment, land debt, health of cows, etc); so it's a cycle.  


hydra said...

Absolutely fascinating, Perovskia! Mozzies love me, too. Great photos of the cows and the butter-making process. I had no idea how it was done.

The cottage by the Cranelake said...

That sounds like a fantastic trip! I would have loved it, but then again I could just walk up to my neighbour if I wanted to milk cows :-)

It´s fun to make butter, but it´s hard work to be honest. I´ve done one cheese in my life too. Can´t even pretend that it was delicious, but it was edible :-) :-) :-)

I´ve just learned that we can do the same things with Birch sap as You can with Maple sap. Would be fun to make Birch syrup :-)
Have a great day now!

Bix said...

Wow, this is a great post. Not least of which because there's a photo of the author!

I have lots of thoughts but I have to go make dinner right now. But a few...

So, you were eating raw milk product? It wasn't pasteurized? Do they sell it raw? (Only a handful of states here in the US are allowed to sell raw dairy products, and then only within their state. It's a very contentious issue here.)

I can't imagine having maple syrup so fresh like that. I would put some on my oatmeal. mmmm...

There's so little pollution. The air looks so clean. What a treat!

Perovskia said...

Hydra - Thanks! :)

Perovskia said...

Christer - Hehe.. you should walk over to your neighbours to milk cows! :)

I miss being out in the country. When I was younger and a teen, I wanted out. Now I want to go back to it. Funny how that works.

Yes, butter is fun to make, but you're's hard work. Very demanding of the arms. Not that it's a bad thing :)

Birch sap, eh? I wonder if it tastes the same. I'll have to ask my maple syrup guy here.

Perovskia said...

Bix - Yes, eating and drinking raw milk product, un-pasteurized (milk, butter, yogurt) and it was FABULOUS. It's so much better. When I lived out in the country when I was younger, my uncle was across the road and he had a dairy farm and we'd do the same thing... drink straight from the milking cooler.

It's illegal to sell it here. Google 'michael schmidt raw milk' and you'll find what we've been dealing with. People want raw milk and Michael found a way around it.

I'm interested to hear the rest of your thoughts.

Bix said...

I trust you, that raw is fabulous.

The issue here is, when you scale it up, when you produce it in large quantities and store it, transport it, shelve it, the risk for bacterial growth increases. That's where the desire for regulation (pasteurization) come in. Unfortunately, regulation hinders those few who can get it locally. It's a balancing act here.

Perovskia said...

That's *exactly* the point and I was thinking about that last night. I don't think I would buy raw milk in the store. You're right; risk for bacterial growth increases and honestly, I don't trust industry. BUT, if I could walk on to Joe Blows farm and buy it raw.. then yes, I'd be on that in a second.

I have yet to read the provisions that make it legal to buy it raw from the farmer, other than just buying "shares".

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