Monday, February 4, 2008

The Philosophising Farmer

The man who was the subject of an interview that took three-plus hours, called me today to personally thank me for a job well done and to request that I mail him a few more copies. (Not because he "likes to toot" his "own horn," but because he has a lot of family who would like copies of the story. I find it endearing when people are so modest that they feel compelled to preface their requests for additional copies of an article about them with this sentence.)

The man also called to tell me why he liked the article and how he was pleased with his decision to allow me to print it without a pre-screening. The article gave him closure, which he really needed as he was leaving the dairy industry. I think it was a reaffirmation for him, too, to see in black and white the reasons behind his decision. I think this whole experience will prove useful when I come across people in the future who either a) object to being the subject of an article; or b) feel like they have to see the copy before it is printed.

In addition, the man told me he had thought about me after the story was written. (He has children my age so he meant this in a fatherly way). He said he believes my future will be filled with good things because I "have it coming." It's nice to here that "I have it coming" in THAT context. He also offered some romantic advice, telling me not to settle and to "keep shaking bushes" until something good falls out. I love people in rural communities - where else can you hear something like that? He also advised me not to cling to anyone with the hopes that someday I could change them - because I can't.

It was a dose of philosophy I wasn't expecting today, but it went down pretty well. Days like today I am glad to be a journalist.

Here is a snippet of the story about the man, whose name has been changed for the purpose of keeping my blog semi anonymous. NOTE: The story ran in advance of his retirement, which is why, taken out of context, the verb tenses may not make sense.

Dairyman Joe will complete the final chapter of his dairying career Monday, Jan. 28, when he takes his herd to the Smalltown Stockyard.

Joe, who farms with his wife, Elsie, has milked between 10-12 cows on his dairy operation the past 14 years without exception.

The beginning of the end of Joe's dairying days was in November, when he tore his left rotator cuff. He had milked through the pain for the past three months, hoping his body would heal itself; now the time has come for him to defer to the experts.

"I went to the doctor and he said, 'Dairyman, you're not connected,'" Joe said. "I will need to have surgery and after that I will have to do several months of rehabilitation. I am told the rehabilitation will be hard work."

But the last thing Joe is afraid of is a little hard work.

For the past 14 years, Joe has been milking between 12-15 cows in the stanchion barn his father built in 1963. Little has changed on the farm since then.

Joe milks his cows with a Surge bucket milker. After the bucket is full, he transfers the milk to a stainless steel 5-gallon pail. Joe then carries the pail into the milk room where he pours the milk through a strainer and into his 160-gallon bulk tank. He repeats this process for each cow. Milking 12 cows usually takes Joe about an hour and a half.

For manure handling, Joe doesn't use a skid loader or a barn cleaner, but a manure carrier. The manure carrier runs on a track traveling down the middle of his barn. Joe estimated the manure tub holds waste from about four animals. The waste is then carried out of the barn about 60 feet and dumped either onto a pile or into the manure spreader. Cleaning the barn takes about 45 minutes.