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.