Getting Lost on Dirt Roads

There are advantages to having a baby. Anders Knox is adorable, giggly, and a genius (in my unbiased opinion). He makes life more fun and more meaningful. But one thing I didn’t expect about having is a baby is the way life would slow down.

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Even though I’m back at work and we’re in the throes of a crazy busy summer, something about Anders has changed the tempo of life. My priorities have shifted, my dreams have recalibrated. I’ve been forced into a calmer, more carnal place.

This calm has caused me to do things I’ve never done before. Like intentionally getting lost in the country wilderness.

Every once and a while I take the long (long, long) way home when I pick up Anders after work. He needs a good nap before his next feeding at 6:00 and I need an opportunity to take a breath.

Paved roads won’t do. Highways won’t cut it. In true farm-boy fashion, my son takes his best naps while bouncing and jostling around on dirt roads.

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Such thoroughfares aren’t hard to come by near our dairy.

Usually my life is all about productivity. Efficiency. Get the job done, get there quickly, move on to the next thing. But these early evening drives with my son (and occasionally my furry firstborn even joins us) force me to slow down. While Anders peacefully snoozes, I drink in the impossibly big blue skies and rolling green hills. We bask in the middle-of-freaking-nowhere.

Last night was one such night. The A-man needed a nap and the clouds were breathtaking. We left civilization behind and turned onto a long dirt road near our house. I leisurely cruised through the deep ruts and gullies left by a recent rain, pausing every so often to snap a photo.

We drove through leafy tunnels.

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We said hi to the neighbors.

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We checked on the corn.

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We were rendered speechless by this ridiculous sky over the silage pack.

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I could have been home cooking dinner, doing laundry, or mopping the floor. But instead, I’m was awe. In awe of the size of the sky. In awe of the peaceful isolation of these dusty back roads. In awe of the sweet baby boy snoring in the backseat.

My former city girl self found catharsis in concrete, steel, skyscrapers, and the hustle of humanity. I still love those things. But now my soul also does somersaults for muddy roads, cornfields, cows, and the silence of the wind.

And that’s certainly worth a car wash (or three).

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There’s More Than One Way to Milk a Cow: 4 Kinds of Milking Parlors

Believe it or not, there’s more than one way to milk a cow.

You can milk by hand … by sucky-thingy … by robot. Yes, I said robot. If the Jetsons had a dairy farm in space, they would have Rosie out there milking the cows.

(I am aware that I’m dating myself with that reference. We could also talk about Lisa Frank notebooks and how emotional it was to watch Littlefoot lose his mother. But we’re not here to talk about adorable longnecks, we’re here to talk about milking parlors. Let this tide you over until our next foray into the 90s.)

I’m slowly developing proficiency with dairy lingo. My vernacular has been stretched, twisted, and traumatized more times than I can count. Thankfully, one area that doesn’t cause too much emotional distress is milking parlors. Especially when you compare them to companies that sell bull juice.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when the word “parlor” conjured up mental images of Victorian wingbacks, lace doilies, and Jane Austen novels. After over 2.5 years in this dairy world, my version of  a “parlor” always has cows, milking units, and stainless steel.

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I’ve only recently learned that there is more than one kind of milking parlor.

So how does a farmer decide which type is right for his or her dairy?

Several factors have to be weighed when picking out the perfect parlor, such as herd size, breed of cow, number of available employees, and existing space. Some dairies utilize robotic milking units and have only one fella running the show. Other dairies have 60 cows on each side of the parlor and six full-time milkers per shift.

For this post I tapped into my …ahem… notable artistic skill (just look at the scientific diagram in this post comparing blue whales to a silage pack) to explain the four main types of dairy milking parlors:

  1. Tandem
  2. Parallel
  3. Herringbone
  4. Rotary.

As you will quickly learn, I draw a very realistic aerial view of a cow.

1. Let’s start with a tandem (side opening) parlor.

Tandem

Our north dairy was purchased in 2010 with a tandem parlor. In a tandem parlor, the cows stand horizontal to the milkers. A gate at the entrance of the parlor holds the cow until an empty stall is ready. One benefit of a tandem parlor is that it releases cows individually (versus all at once like in a parallel), so a slow-milking Bessie doesn’t impede the group.

The facility had previously been used to milk water buffalo and we quickly found out that there are some major differences between buffalo and cows. The existing parlor was not working for our bovine beauts. So in February of 2011, Dairy Man undertook a weeklong process to gut and renovate our parlor.

2. We changed to a parallel parlor.

Parallel

During parlor-renovation week, my poor DM worked a total of 120 hours. No, that’s not a typo. 120 hours. Yes, that is out of a possible 168 hours IN an entire week. We’ll talk about that another time.

When all was said and done, we had a shiny new parallel parlor.

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In a parallel parlor, cows stand on an elevated platform at a 90-degree angle with their posteriors pointed at the person milking them. This is the area I refer to as the “kill zone” and I avoid it at all costs. Once I got caught in some horrifying brown spray while visiting DM at work. No, I don’t want to talk about it. PTSD.

Our parlor is a “double 12,” which means that we have 12 milking units on each side of the parlor, allowing us to milk 24 cows at a time.

3. Our home/south dairy has a herringbone parlor.

Herringbone

This is the most common type of parlor in the U.S. for “small” parlors (less than a double 12). Cows hang out on an elevated platform on an angled, or herringbone, fashion. Like the parallel parlor, the milker is staring at a lot of bovine bums.

4. A rotary parlor is the stuff of Dairy Man’s dreams.

Rotary

This drawing is not to scale. Most rotary parlors hold 60-80 cows at a time. But I didn’t want to draw that many cows. So you get 14.

In his dairy world, this type of parlor is the crème de la crème, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, an automated wonderland. In a rotary, or carousel, parlor, the ladies spin around slowly on what is essentially a fancy bovine merry-go-round. This type of parlor is expensive to build and is best-suited for herds of 1000+. Someday, DM, someday.

The fact that I even know what a milking parlor is, much less that I can identify more than one kind, is still shocking to me. DM is so proud.

Dying to know more about the process from MOO to YOU? Check out these posts:

My first explanation of a parlor
A look at milking shells
Milking 3x a day

Someday soon we’ll talk about what happens to the milk after it leaves the cow. Get ready for bulk tanks, milk trucks, and milk processing. Exciting stuff, people.

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Ps: Did you know you can follow the MFW escapades on Facebook? If you’re into cute pictures of border collies and posts about thrilling subjects like manure management, I’m your girl. Like me! I dare you.

10 Mooing Neighbors

On the tenth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Ten mooing neighbors

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Nine essential nutrients
Eight loads of sand
Seven bales of hay
Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiiiive commodity baaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

Above you’ll see Jersey, chatting it up with ten of our mooing neighbors. I’ve talked before about taking walks with my pup to fill the time spent without the Dairy Man. During the spring, summer, and fall, Jersey the dog and I take a LOT of walks. It’s a wonderful time to get my bearings, to breathe, to appreciate this boondockish place in which I live. There was a time when I didn’t think the country was beautiful. But I officially stand corrected.

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On these walks, Jersey and I love to stop and say hello to our mooing neighbor ladies. Our neighbor farmer raises beef cows on a few huge, green pastures. The cows (and cute little calves!) are friendly and very curious about the black and white canine furball racing along the fence line.

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Jersey loves to socialize with the neighbors and I love to stop walking for a second to watch the black and brown cows frolic through the field. It’s an idyllic view. I can barely stop myself from taking a picture every single time.

I used to long for a real neighborhood; for human neighbors, sidewalks, streetlights, neighborhood watch, city plows, playgrounds, and playdates. But these wide open spaces and mooing neighbors make life in the country just a little sweeter.

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4 Milking Shells

On the fourth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
4: Four milking shells

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3: Three shifts of milking
2: Two orange tractors
1: And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

The Dairy Man and I struggled to find a way to phrase this one. I wanted to call them “the four thingys that suck the milk of out the cow,” but DM didn’t appreciate my lack of technical phraseology. So, when I say “four milking shells,” I’m talking about the four “arms” of the milking cluster/claw that go to the four teats of a cow. Got that? Warning, if you are offended by the word “teat,” you’ll want to stop reading now. It’s frightening how accustomed I have become to the word. It may even be used at the dinner table. What has become of me?

Anyway. In the past, milking a cow required a stool, a bucket, and a good aim. Modern milking is faster, more efficient, and utilizes a lot of fancy “thingys” …er… machines. Get ready for a quick and dirty explanation of the milking machine. Our parlor has a total of 24 milking units (clusters, claws, thingys, etc). Each of the four “arms” on the unit has a shell with a liner inside.

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The milker (human) starts the milking process by cleaning each cow’s teats with a teat dip to kill any microorganisms. It’s all about clean milk. Duh. After the milker (human) wipes off the dip, he/she attaches the milker (machine) to the four quarters of the cow. Pushing a button turns on a vacuum that opens and closes a rubber liner inside each of the four shells. This pulsating movement makes the milking process very relaxing for our ladies.

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The milker (machine) automatically detaches when the meters sense that the flow rate has decreased. Before the cow heads back to the barn, she gets a post-milking iodine teat treatment that includes a skin conditioner. It’s basically lotion. Yes, some might say that a trip to the milking parlor is a little bit like a trip to the spa for those udders.

After the ladies leave the parlor, they feel as light as a feather and bound back to the barn to eat, nap, eat, poop, eat, socialize, and eat.