Slice of the Life: Apprentice on a Small Dairy Farm
I get a lot of questions about what it is I do every day, what it is actually like to be a farmer / work on a farm, what I enjoy, what I struggle with, et cetera. So, I thought I would do a little* blog post giving you a slice of life on the farm for one day (namely, yesterday, haha).
*This “little” blog post became very long (lol), but I think it’s a good insight into the daily life!
Yesterday was a full farm day for me, which meant my shift started at 5:30 a.m. Normally, I get up around 5:15ish, feed my cat, eat breakfast, and walk over to the milk house. But yesterday I woke up super tired, so I just slept in till 5:25, fed the cat quickly, and walked over to the milk house with my fellow intern. In the mornings, we put feed out in all the stantions where the cows stand for milking, and we sanitize all of the milking equipment. After that, I went to feed and water the animals in “the menagerie”, which are a couple goats and a sheep, who stay out where customers can pet them. While I did that, the farm manager and the other intern went out to the far pasture to gather the milk cows and bring them into the parlor. We all reconvene around 5:45ish, the cows walk into their stantions and begin to munch on their feed, and milking begins.
The stantions our girls step into to eat their food and get milked!
For each cow, their teats are dipped in iodine (which helps clean them), and then stripped, which is basically hand milking the teat a couple of times into a strip cup (basically a cup with a sieve on top). This way, we can see if any teat has tiny (or large) clumps in the milk, which could indicate an infection. After being stripped, the teat is again dipped in iodine. Following that, I arrive with a clean microfiber cloth, and I wipe each teat down fully, and do a visual check to make sure there is zero dirt or grime left on them, at which point I can then attach our milker to the teats and they will be milked. We do this for every teat, for each one of our 25 cows being milked in the morning. After the milkers are detached, we post-dip the teats to make sure no dirt or anything gets inside, and the cow is finished! Yesterday, because we had 3 people working instead of just 2, I left milking a bit early to start calf chores while the farm manager and other intern completed milking.
Calf chores are mostly the same each day right now. We currently have nineteen calves spanning two different barns. Each calf is fed their bottle, by hand, one at a time. Then, I filled up their hay, and refresh their bedding with nice clean straw. I also dumped out their water, which they have normally either dropped hay into, or stepped in, or pooped in, or otherwise Made Gross, and fill it up with fresh water for them to drink during the day. During my calf chores, often my boss will come in and make sure any of the calves medical needs are taken care of, whether that’s giving them probiotics or a little fly spray, or whatever else they might be needing. After all of that is done, I head back to the milk house and clean all of the calf bottles and sit them out to dry, and move onto the next chore!
Bottle feeding little Focault!
Normally, after morning calves, I do morning chicken chores. But yesterday, the chickens were taken care of by another farm worker so the farm manager and the other intern and I could go out and move our heritage pigs. Most people don’t really like the pigs because they can be very smelly, but having grown up around farm smells I honestly don’t notice it, and I find them sooooooo cute. Moving them is a bit of a process, where first my coworkers attached a bulk tank to our little farm vehicle, and filled it up with 60 gallons of whey from the cheesemaking side. Following that, we gathered up bags of feed, and the swept-up leftover grain that the morning milk cows didn’t eat, plus any food scraps from the farm store or cheesemaking side. We then headed out to the wooded area between our pastures where the pigs live, and moved their five troughs up to a new part of the woods, and then moved their waterer and then the pigs themselves. We then filled up their troughs with all their food and whey, and checked the fence to make sure they don’t have any little piggy escape routes, and then the pigs were done!
After pigs, I ate lunch because I was starving. I ate the cheese I’ll be reviewing later this week, as well as some Wilde Weide, an apple, and some pretzel sticks. I was also very exhausted and took a short nap at my kitchen table (lol).
Menagerie, Part Two!
After my lunch, a couple of us learned how to trim goat and sheep hooves from the other intern, who has more goat dairy experience. We spent a chunk of the afternoon with the three goats and the sheep, trimming each of their hooves and making sure they were all good. They are a wriggly bunch, and did not really want to have their hooves trimmed, so it involved a lot of squirming and holding them still and comforting them so they weren’t scared. But, it was a super fun to learn!
Feeding the sheep, Leda, a little snack!
After the adventures in goat hoof trimming, myself and the other intern worked with our heifers. We went out to the far pasture, and gathered them up and started them walking towards the milk house. While they walked, we set up the next section in the pasture for them, and then caught up with them and got them inside. These girls have yet to calve for the first time, which. means they have never been milked before. So, this helps train them that going into the stantion is Not Scary and also that they will Get Food if they go in. This, in theory, will help so that when they do have their calves and begin getting milked, they are not totally freaked out by going inside the stantion. (I say “in theory” because sometimes they are still very skittish and have to be led in and shown the food and all that so they will actually go inside). All it really is is bringing the heifers (and our dry cows who currently hang out in the pasture with them), inside where they go into their stantions and eat some food, and then go back outside. It can take a while since they aren’t all used to the milk house yet, but its nice to help them get aquatinted with it so that they aren’t upset or anything when the time for milking arrives!
At this point, it’s about 3:30 p.m., which is normally the time afternoon milking begins. However, yesterday was running a bit behind schedule, so it was actually the time I began the chicken chores. I didn’t have to feed them, because their food is on an automated timer (very convenient!), but I did dump out and refill their water (also dirty), and refill their oyster shell, which is basically just little chunks of shell that they eat for calcium (which then makes their eggshells a bit harder and more resistant to cracking!). I also did a visual check to make sure no one was hurt or dead, and then gathered their eggs. Yesterday afternoon we had 171!
The hens VERY curious as to whether or not my phone is actually food!
Afternoon Milking and Calves
Essentially the same as the morning milking, except only 16 cows come in during the afternoon, and in the afternoon the calves get their feed. Some of the calves are old enough now that they only get 1 bottle a day, since they are beginning to be weaned, so they get a scoop of heifer feed in lieu of an afternoon bottle. The other calves all get calf starter feed, as well as more hay, more straw if needed, and a water refresh. We finish with all of the afternoon chores at about 7 p.m.
The girls heading back out to the pasture!
Once all the chores were done, my day wasn’t quite finished yet. I went home, read a bit, fed Basil and played with him, and then I had to pop back out for brief night chores. Our hot water on the farm is based on heat from a wood burning fire, so a few times a day we have to feed it with more wood. It also has to be done once at night, to make sure there is enough heat to sanitize equipment the following morning. Fortunately, yesterday it was mostly full, so I just had to lop about 5-10 logs on top of what was already there. Then, I went to do the night lockup for our chickens. Basically I just close the little doors on their chicken house after they’ve all gone in for the evening (right now its happening around 8:45 p.m. when the sun goes down all the way). This helps keep them safe from any coyotes or foxes or any other predators who may be on the prowl at night. After that, my day was truly done! I was exhausted and didn’t feel like cooking, so I went and got a pizza, ate that for dinner, and spent some more time with Basil before heading to bed. The following day (today) was a cheesemaking day, as well as the creamery audit, so I wanted to be well rested.
The view of the sunset over the chicken house,
taken tonight halfway through writing this.
That’s all from me! I hope this little (long) post gave you a little insight into the day-to-day as an apprentice working on the farm. In another week or two, I’ll do a similar “day in the life” post about working on the creamery side! And eventually, I’ll talk about the ways my experiences have differed on the different farms I’ve worked on and/or visited (because this one is definitely better in many ways lol!)
Thank y’all so much for reading and definitely keep an eye out for the cheese review coming out later this week, I’m excited to share it with you!
Bonus: Farm cat snoozing in the plant!