Monday, July 28, 2008

Milking the cows - the hardest skill

My neighbour Richard is also my good friend. I've watched him milk his 60 cows for several years. As I've lived in the country most of my life I asked him if he'd teach me. So for three weeks morning & night I turned up and helped. Its the hardest job I've ever had to learn. Far harder than learning employment law or learning an eskimo roll in a kayak for example.
This is what you have to do:-
  • Get the cows in from the field. - move electric fence so cows have access to fresh grass.
  • Clean all the milking equipment
  • Milk & feed the cows
  • Clean all the milking equipment
  • Return them to the field.
Now you might think this is easy but nothing is as simple as it sounds. Get the cows in sounds easy and it is just about the simplest of procedures, provided the cows co-operate as you usher them from the field. A trained dog helps.

But, cleaning the equipment! First you turn on the pumps, Then flush sterilising solution through all the parts of the milking system. There are a number of precautions to be made prior to this. The most important is to make sure that the flushed water does not enter the milk refrigeration tank. This could ruin the milk already in there, perhaps five days worth.

Now you've done that you need to flush fresh water through the system to clean out the sterilising solution. The switches & valves must all be in the correct positions to do this differently at each stage.

The cows are milked in two rows of stalls each row having 7 bays. You are stood in a well some two or three feet below their rear ends. Yes it can - and it does get messy as you cannot house train a cow!! The clusters, which go on the cow's teats are attached to a glass receiving bowl attached above your head and this in turn is attached to various other tubes all performing different functions. one of the most important is the vacuum suction. All this equipment is readied for use. There are yet more switches here too!

Now you have to get seven cows into the bays. This involves ushering enough cows in at the same time ensuring the remaining cows are kept locked out.

Then you attach the clusters X4 to each cow in turn. This takes practice as the cow may not like your amateur attempts and kick out. Under no circumstances can you make a mistake. Their legs are at face height! (but you are protected by steel bars) The last thing you want to happen is drop a cluster onto the ground. If you don't attach a cluster properly it will drop off. If you don't notice then the entire lot may fall off due to the drop in the vacuum assisted suction. You quickly work along the ranks of cows and as each one is about to be milked you pull a handle suspended above your head and this drops feed into a trough in each stall. By the time you've got through one side of the two rows the cows you started to milk first will have finished, so you pump the milk to the tank and attach to clusters to the cow now waiting milking in the second row.

Once each row has been milked they are released into a separate holding pen until they can all be released into another part of the field. Whilst you are doing this you get another seven cows in the vacated row of stalls.

This is repeated until all the cows have been done.

You then have to connect all the milking machines together and pump clean the holding tanks, clusters everything else, flush with steriliser, switch everything off and hose everything down to remove all the s***t and urine, which hopefully missed you as you were stood below their rear ends.

Up until Sunday I'd always done this with Richard. But this Sunday he was away and was late back. It was time to start the milking myself. Everything went well. I doubled checked against my numerous notes. I got the first lot of cows in, the second row in - without being crushed. The first row I completed and released. I started to attach the clusters on the second row onto one poor cow, when one of clusters fell off to the ground. Disaster! as it hit the ground it sucked up S***t with a loud slurping sound. Shit! This had not happened before and I was at a loss what to do. I didn't know how to empty the glass receiving bowl other than direct into the main refrigeration tank. To do so here would have been a disaster. Nor is it possible to not use the now soiled bay. The cows simply automatically go to every vacant bay in turn and there is absolutely no way you can force two ton of beef to leave the stall it has just entered as it will be sandwiched by several other unwilling and unco-operative cows. Nor could I only milk one row at a time for the simple reason that the milking machines are shared by both two rows.

Whilst I was panicking the cows were getting frustrated and bellowing. Others waiting their turn to milk were depositing more crap and urine on the floor. This never happened to Richard. Help!!

Just as I was requesting divine intervention a face appeared at the door!! Richard! Saved!. He quickly showed me how to deposit the now dirty milk onto the floor by a so far unused switch, we pumped fresh water from a bucket via the dirty clusters until everything was clean again.

Three weeks learning and I released that this was going to be my last attempt. It's too hard for me!

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