Some of you that I regularly RP with on the MUSH may of noticed that I am not around as much at the moment as I used to be. Here is where you will find what I've been doing.
I have gone back to school ; at least, that's what it feels like. Here in Brittany I want to set up a farm. All well and good you may think but the problem is the financing. There are however various grants available and also cut rate loans too. Here the catch. In order to be counted for these various aids I need to be qualified as am agriculturist, and not just in any branch of agriculture either.
Now then, as I live in a dairy farming and pork production area of the country the choice at the (few and far between) agricultural colleges here are limited to three main areas ; Milk Production, Pork Production or Agricultural Machinery. Let me state that I really would like to have some cows around here, though not for milk, but for meat production. I'll go into the reasons for that in a moment. Based on that fact I chose to undertake a course in Milk Production ... at least it involves cows. This course takes place at St. Segal, twenty two miles from where I live. Oh yes, and the whole lot is done in French.
We cover many and varied subjects, the idea is to make you a jack of all trades and a master of ONE. The main emphasis is on teaching all they can about the production of milk and the care and running of a milk heard and to that I end I study gestation and calving, genetic selection and the principles of breeding, reproduction itself, the digestive system of a cow and also its feed requirements in terms of proteins, amino acids, fats, sugars, acid levels, minerals etc, milk and its constituents, the veterinary care of a herd and also the handling of the animals. In addition to these subjects that are studied in depth we also cover the following, mathematics, welding, farm machinery, tractors, economics, accounting and finance, electricity, plumbing and all sorts of things.
Why do I want to produce meat and not milk then? Good question. I live alone and can't count on help for the farm that I will set up. I'll be running it much on my own. Its true that my parents live on the farm and so can help out, but it wouldn't be fair for me to undertake an occupation that requires more than one person to run, I'm sure they would rather enjoy their early retirement rather than end up nose to the grindstone again. It should be understood that the running of a milk farm involves an enormous lot of work, and I doff my cap to any that choose such an undertaking, particularly to those that may decide to go it alone. Not only do you have to milk the cows twice a day, every day, but you have to feed and care for those animals. The work load is huge. As for meat, well there is less work. The cows stay outside most, if not all the time. Straight away I don't need huge buildings for housing the livestock during the winter because the meat breeds are more hardy than the dairy ones. Also I don't need to feed them corn, something milk cows here have to have if you want more than a few pints of milk. If there is no corn I save myself another packet of work. No sowing, spraying, harvesting, storing, distributing etc. Also when the calves are born they stay with the mothers for the first eight months, so unlike dairy production I don't have to hand feed dozens of hungry little calves bawling for theirs mums.
Okay, those are the good points. So why doesn't everybody do what I want to do ? Simple. You make less money. A cow is inseminated and then you wait nine months. In dairy production you get milk for about eight of those months. Then the calf is born and if its a male you can wait tills its eight months old and then sell it for a small amount of money or wait for two and half years and sell it for a fair bit more. If its female you can either sell it at about eighteen months old or perhaps decide to keep it. Anyway, the point is that you end up waiting about two years to see any financial return at all. Who pays the bank and all the other things during that time ? That's the hard bit. Its not impossible, but it sure is hard to get started. Once off the ground however your all right, you have a constant series of sales and that tides you over the constant periods of waiting.
This is the work I want to do. Interested to see what it involves ? If so read on.
Get up in the morning and go and spend at least half an hour with the cows. You may have to have different batches of cows in different areas for various reasons so you may end up taking an hour and a half out and about. You have to look for illnesses, animals on heat, general condition of the animals, the fencing, the grazing, the water etc.
If an animal is on heat that can tell you many things. Do I want this animal pregnant ? If yes and she is heavy enough and old enough call the inseminator. (There is no bull, I'll tell you why later.) Was the animal pregnant ? Oh dear, if she is on heat she has aborted. Is her cycle the normal twenty-one days give or take a day ? If not there may be problems. Was she inseminated last month ? If she's on heat again then she didn't get pregnant. Call that chap the inseminator again.
Are animals ready for sale ? You have to be careful here. If you sell too soon you don't get your money's worth because you are paid by weight and quality. If you sell to late you still don't get your moneys worth because an animal over a certain weight is paid at a lower rate. You need to judge it just right.
Other work to do involves, for example, hoof trimming. Or perhaps the prevention of horn growth in calves. I hate this part of the job to be honest. If you have a young calf it has what are called horn 'buds'. Small nodules of horn on the side of the head that will become the horns. Now, these horns are dangerous. An animal that can grow to a ton during the time it is on your farm can do a lot of damage with horns, and many a farmer is killed. Even if the animal is friendly it may give you a playful poke only to find that humans aren't really all that tough after all ! To help alleviate the problem those horn buds are burnt while still immature. That way they never develop. This can be done with heat, or with acid. I will be honest with you, either way hurts. The acid is worse as it burns slowly for a week or more. I prefer using the burner therefore. A small hot iron the same shape as the bud held over the horn for a few minutes kills the tissue of the bud, also kills all the germs too, so there is no infection. Like I said, it does hurt the calf despite what some may tell you, and I hate doing it, but I also value my life. The animal gets over the treatment after a few minutes and though I have searched for further signs of trauma, I haven't found any. Just a note here, if a horn is left to grow and later has to be removed, should the animal break it, or become a danger, that process is far more traumatic for the animal and the farmer. Lots of blood all over the place. Trust me, I've done all these processes at college and though I hate them all, I know which I hate least.
Calving can also give work, though most of the time the meat breeds manage well on their own. I've muddled through a few difficult calvings already. Its interesting work. Also dealt with a few emergencies. I remember when I was on the milking shift, I have to arrive at college at seven in the morning, before anyone else in order to get things started. I found a cow in a coma, had a five second panic and then got down to it. Milk fever was the problem, and I'd been taught how to handle it. Half a litre of a liquid form of calcium given intravenously had it up on its feet with the hour. I was quite chuffed.
Since then I've dealt with bloat (where the animal swells up like a balloon), feet problems, dehorning (yuck), further cases of milk fever and an assortment of other things. Then there is the milking itself, the care of the milking machinery, the cleaning of the stalls, barns and stables, the care and feeding of the calves, the bulls, the young females, the main herd, the meat cows etc. Interesting times.
Anyway, I hope this has given you some idea about what I'm up to. Contact me with any comments you would like to make.