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Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Wheels has recently completed two weeks work experience on a local dairy farm.
Our attendance at the farm for interview was required prior to commencement of employment.
The farmer showed us around the state of the art facilities which included a cosy TV room,boot room,office with a lot of technical equipment and THE COW SHED.
The stench hits you like a brick wall as you enter this building and sends you reeling,nostrils curling,eyes a watering.I tried to ignore my discomfort,trying not to breathe too deeply, nodding with interest as Farmer Giles explained the routine of the working day and expectations of any work experience student.
2. Don't be afraid of the cows
As we looked around it was explained that there were two identical cowsheds each housing 500 cows.
A huge fan blasted air around the building with stalls for the cows in uniform rows along each side and down the centre of the structure.
Self:When do the cows go outside?
Farmer:Oh (disappointment evident in voice)everyone asks that question..
It transpires that the cows never go outside.They are all tagged and monitored by computer.Farmer Giles informed us that keeping them inside enabled more efficient care,bedding was always clean, food and fresh water constantly available.They were also safe from any outside environmental infections.
Keeping a close eye on the herd also made it easier to identify through behavioural changes and temperature variance when individual cows were ready for 'bulling'.
Throughout this conversation Wheels was on the periphery listening to bits but more engaged with the animals,than the intricacies of the farming policy.
Farmer Giles informed me that the cows were happy.
As we drove away with our Health and Safety document and a list of required clothing which included the necessary waterproofs and wellies(no investment needed on that front, mandatory uniform for a Northumbrian winter),I asked Wheels if he was looking forward to the forthcoming experience of work.
Wheels:Yes,I'm not afraid of the cows,but why did the Farmer think I would be bullying them?
Wheels:Didn't you hear him say the reason they kept the cows in the shed was so they could monitor any bullying?
Sigh.Protracted conversation on the mechanics of bulling accompanied shortly afterwards by one very red young face.
As the work week progressed several things became apparent:
a.It didn't take long for Wheels to become immune to the fug which hung around his persona (even after showering) like an invisible but deadly mist.Despite constant sibling interaction on the lines of 'you stink' the retort 'its organic'implied an affectionate tone almost like the aroma had
become a cherished old friend.
b.Tuesdays were a good day as Farmer Giles wife baked Lemon drizzle cake and invited the lads to have a cup of tea around the Aga.
c.Wheels was actually very suited to the job.One morning his task was to identify(by their number tag) and isolate 5 individual animals from 500 identical looking cows.It took him 3 hours,he was quite proud of himself.
d.Working long days in a manual environment was tiring.On one occasion when I collected him he was barely able to converse.I commented 'its hard working long hours isn't it? Now you know how I feel'
The response:'You're an adult you can cope with it....'
On the Thursday afternoon he was quite animated,excitedly describing being shown the action of inserting ones arm up the cows jacksy to establish condition.Farmer Giles had then invited him to perform the procedure himself , he had willingly obliged.
Wheels:Farmer Giles gave me ten out of ten because I was the first work experience student they'd ever had who'd agreed to do it!
Self:(lips pursed, wincing visibly)Well done....!
Secretly I wondered if this had been a 'long stand' moment.
The rest of the afternoon had been spent with 'Dirty Dave' mucking out and hosing down the stalls.Quite an anti climax after the high point of the morning.
Uneasily,given his interaction with youths in the course of his work, I enquired why Dirty Dave was 'dirty'.
Dirty Dave being a seasoned professional performed the arm-cow-jacksy procedure without the benefit of the shoulder length glove.Following which he plunged his hand into the deep reaches of his overall pocket,producing a half eaten Terry's Chocolate Orange,greedily breaking a piece off and eating, prior to offering around,
Self:Did you take a piece????????
Wheels:NO of course not..
As we left the farm for the final time,I couldn't help but wonder.If the cows were happy inside,never to feel the sun on their backs or fresh morning dew under their feet,why were they all straining to get their heads out into the daylight?
And why has no one ever thought about marketing 'free range milk' ?
No offence to the farmer,making a profit from dairy farming is clearly a challenge, but though a simplistic view I'm inclined to believe that Cows belong in fields..
And whilst we're on the subject, why do we have to have homogenised milk?Why are we obsessed with making every product look uniform.?It actually might not even be very healthy and personally I liked the top of the milk..
ON a lighter note,these events reminded me of a trip to Southern Ireland a few years ago,where there were cows a plenty all over the place,including on the roads,in gardens and on one occasion in a pub.And tractors driven by juveniles and general disregard for Health and Safety rules.On one occasion a couple of children flagged down our car and told us to wait at the side of the road as some cows were being driven this way.After 5 minutes or so had passed and no sign of any cows,Chef set off to investigate.Moments later he reappeared red faced and running at a speed that would surely have facilitated overtaking Usain Bolt.
At his heels were this lot,as you can see he was so fast the shutter speed failed to capture his image.
I've never seen him move so fast.