The Farmers Wife – Cow Shit Moments
Cow shit all over my head, running down my back.
If you have never felt or smelt the aroma of warm cow dung on a cold day, then you haven’t yet really lived.
We were both twenty-five with a two-year-old son when we headed to Victoria to share farm on a dairy farm. This was our chance for a new experience and to hopefully earn a little more money. The family farm was great, but with only 50 acres of irrigation and the rest very dry farming land, it was too small and not productive enough to support two families over the long run.
We had come from a farm where we milked 130 cows at our absolute peak to a lush green farm in the Gippsland region of Victoria, where they were milking around 235 – 250 cows. The dairy was bigger, the grass was thicker and the cows were big Friesians, instead of the little Jerseys we had been accustomed to. The experience was a tremendous learning curve. We already had established animal husbandry skills, including cow nutrition and health but the owner of our share farm in Victoria was associated with the Victorian Dairy Farmer’s Federation and the local research institute and he ran a number of farm focus groups. We learnt a great deal about pasture management, time management and networking.
With the great pasture management, we had very, very green grass; which of course meant very sloppy, wet cow manure. This cow shit would get into and all over everything. I had to wear kitchen rubber gloves to keep the dirt and manure from giving me rashes on my hands and arms. George would wear his ‘Akubra’ hat to make sure, if the cows did poop, it wouldn’t land on his head.
During the first few weeks of our arrival, the cows were in calving, including new cows who were just having calves for the first time. Because they were unfamiliar with the dairy routine, they had to be taught what they needed to do and this was a little freaky for them.
So what happens when a cow gets nervous? She shits, lots! Now if you have never seen a dairy before, it might require a little bit of explaining. The cows come into the dairy on a platform, which is about hip height to the milker (me), because you are in a pit below the platform. This platform puts your face about level with the back of the cow’s thighs. That’s it, just below her butt. Now a mature cow is calm and looking forward to coming into the dairy where she is fed extra grain and her milk is taken; relieving the pressure that builds up in her udder. The heifer or first time calving cow takes a lot of encouragement to get into the milking platform. When she gets there she usually poops everywhere.
So how did I get covered in cow shit I hear you ask? I should have been expecting it right? Well, usually the cow manure is all gone after the first minute or so. You have a mess to clean up, but basically you can go about your business, collecting the milk. Occasionally, you get a sneaky cow, she holds just enough back for just long enough to lull you into a false sense of security. I was right in the firing line on this afternoon. We were on the last line of cows, nearly finished; then bam, cow poop all over my head. The manure was warm and runny as it oozed down my face, the back of my head and into the back of my shirt. I still had some work to do, so I tried to rinse it out using the hose we wash the cows udders off with. You will be amazed how many little pieces of grass are in runny manure; just like when you blend up a smoothie and find the Kale fibres left in it.
I washed and washed my hair, hanging upside down in the dairy pit. The water just wouldn’t stop running green goo. I looked at George through the water, still running down my face. He was trying so hard not to laugh. I stomped off, leaving him to finish the milking and headed home for a shower. It took me three lots of shampoo to stop it turning green.
I became much quicker on my feet after that episode. I learnt to think more about where I stood and the consequences of my choices. I have been careful to never be in the firing line since. Life is full of lessons to be learnt. The difference between farming and some other learning environment is that the consequences of slow learning are immediate; so you tend to learn very fast.