Got Milk?

Christmas morning: my alarm went off at 10 minutes to 5 and I climbed out of bed, threw on work clothes, donned gumboots, and walked out into the still dark cool of morning. This might go down as my earliest Christmas morning ever, even earlier than my little-kid-can’t-wait-for-presents-and-candy mornings. The reason to be up so early was to help out with the daily milking on the Martin’s farm with their 300 dairy cows. The milking routine that I was to take part in today happens twice a day, 7 days a week for 10 months out of the year. At about 3 hours per milking, that’s roughly 45– forty hour work weeks a year of just milking! I met Andrew, Pip and John Martin’s son, at the milking shed and we climbed into the “ute” (short for utility vehicle, their little 4×4 farm truck) to go round up the herd for milking. The way most farms are set up here, that I can tell, is with a main road or “race” off of which are various gated paddocks of pasture or in this case some paddocks seeded in turnips and kale (higher nutrition feed). The race and gate system makes it easy to move cows in for milking and also to rotate big herds from pasture to pasture.

When we got to the paddock where the dairy herd was, Andrew told their working dog Bella to, “go way back,” then when she had swung around the herd in a big looping trot, he told her to, “walk up.” He and I cut the bulls out of the herd (they would cause havoc if allowed to go in with the cows to the milking shed) and we headed back to the shed. The milking shed is a big, round concrete slab that is gated in to hold the herd. Cut into the middle of the area are 3 alley ways, the outside two for the cows to walk through and the middle alley a pit in which the milkers stand. As the cows flanked us on either side, we stood in the pit and our job was to attach the cups (4 tube like suction devices) to the cows’ udder. You’ll do one side of cows and then once they are milked out, switch all the cups to cows on the other side of you. With 300 cows and about 3 dozen cup setups, milking is a manic rush of putting on cups, switching them, hosing off the concrete to keep it clean, and spraying the cows udders with a teat conditioner (to keep them soft and disinfect). Amid all this rush, and my clumsy beginner’s movements, was my constant vigilance to avoid being defecated on. Remember, this whole setup puts your head at about udder level with the cow, so you’re kind of staring up at their rear ends the entire time, praying they don’t decide to let loose when you are in range. Whew! Anyway, I think, despite my inexperience, I was a bit of a help. All I can say for this process and the whole dairy in general is that it is a heck of a lot of work! I hope people appreciate how much goes into providing milk and dairy products.

After the cows are milked, the milk is chilled in giant tanks and once cooled it is ready for pickup. A big tanker truck from Frontera, the giant dairy company in New Zealand, will come by to pickup the milk for distribution. Sadly, there is no incentive on this scale to being organic (if you’re selling to Frontera, which it sounds like most are) because Frontera does not market Organic milk. The Martin’s don’t regularly use antibiotics and approach organic practices despite doing some spraying for invasive weeds like dock and ragweed. Interestingly, the Martin’s also sell about 500 liters a week (a very small percentage) of their milk as raw milk to those in the area and even deliver down to Wellington. The raw milk of course is what we were drinking at their house and a bit of that in my morning tea made for an awesome Christmas morning. Hope everyone’s holidays were wonderful and I would ask you to take a minute to think about who’s working hard for your milk and cheese and icecream!




5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andi
    Dec 29, 2011 @ 00:18:05

    Now I wonder what the coconut has to go through to get to my table!!



  2. Grandma Jody
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 11:35:55

    What a great beginning to Christmas Day!



  3. Ange
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 22:27:39

    I think those are Radiata pines in the background… You can’t get away from California! 🙂



  4. Tippen McDaniel
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 15:35:33

    Yes, Leda, I know how much work goes into producing milk. By hand it is even more personal.




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