Will work for food and a little lovin’

10 Dec

The alarm clock goes off at 4:30 in the morning.  My first instinct is to silence the son-of-a-bitch.  But I promised.  I rise quietly not to awake Pnina and reluctantly paddle to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.  Ten minutes later I’m on the open road in Galilee, heading north to Kadoorie Agricultural School.  The sky is ink black.  At the security gate, I say to the armed guard, “Good morning, I’m here to see Gadi.”  He motions me to continue down a dirt road.  The headlights lead me to my destination: the school’s cowshed.

It’s cold, in the low forties.  Sorry, Stefan, it’s not Minnesota-ass-freezing-cold but it’s darn cold for Israel.  The sharp smell of manure mixed with hay smacks my nose.  I enter the cinder-block structure, make my way through corridors to the source of the humming noise in the back.   Gadi Kirchuck, the chief dairy farmer at Kadoorie, is hovering over his dairy cows who had just been ushered into the gated platform.  He’s wearing a blue overall and a woolen cap.  He greets me quickly, “Maurice, so you did make it.  The boots are in the office.”rounding up cow for milking

That’s my cue to run and get ready.  I shove my toes into rubber boots which are two sizes too small, and limp toward the pit.  The pit is all concrete.  The milking stations are three feet above the pit.  Each station holds 4 cows, all in a row.  He instructs me to put on latex rubber gloves.  The cows are ready for milking.  The first order of business is to disinfect the cow’s four teats with iodine solution.  It’s stored in a wide plastic tube with a handle.  I wet the cow’s teats in iodine, turning their color from pig-pink to dark red, purple.  “Now you have to wipe the teats clean from mud and shit,” Gadi says.  It’s my first contact with the animals.  They’re enormous up close, 1500 pounds each.  They’re breathing, living things.  They radiate heat.  I welcome it.  I wipe the teats clean with bunched-up paper towels.  Next, the 4-pronged milking cluster, a set of four tubes with suction cups, are attached to each teat.

“Push the button,” Gadi says, and points to a device at the top of the rail.  Seconds later, the milk is sucked out from the milk-bloated udder.  It’s fast.  The monitor displays the number of liters collected.   When done, the suction cups fall away.  The gate opens.  The leading cow exits.  The rest follow.  They return to the shed, to the food.  We turn to the next four on the other side of the pit and repeat.  For the next three hours I see nothing but tits.

I’ve never seen so many nipples in my life so up close and personal.

By ten in the morning — I’ve been at it now for 5 hours — my toes are no longer Popsicles inside the rubber boots.  The milking of the morning shift is almost over.  Each cow, on average, produces 17 liters — your quart-size carton at the grocery store.  During the evening shift the cow will give less, about 13 liters — total of 30 liters per day.  I touch the metal pipe that sends the milk to the stainless steel tank in the front.  It’s warm, 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  But not for long.  It’s soon cooled to 39 degrees.milking station

Four times a week a refrigerated truck comes by the farm, collects the milk and takes it to Tnuva, Israel’s largest dairy producer.  The milk will be pasteurized and homogenized and turned into drinking milk, yogurt and cheeses.

The dairy industry in Israel is one of the most advanced in the world.  Farmers come from all over to learn.  The dairy business is so highly automated and studied here that each cow, whether her name is Daphna, Batia, Dalia, Shula, or tagged by her computer ID, cow number 1407, or cow number 1705, — tells Gadi what he wants and needs to know.  It’s all about dollars and shekels.

Gadi, 49, slim-built, lives in the Golan Heights, a 45-minute drive from Kadoorie.  He works 60+ hours a week.  The 64 milking cows are under his care.  It’s not to say he’s all touchy-feely about his herd.  He’s not.  Yet, he does care about them.  “It’s a business,” he tells me.  “Each has to contribute, or else.”  To reach maximum production from each animal, Gadi relies on raw data.  Each cow has a computer-bracelet tied to its rear ankle.  It was developed in Israel, sold to the United States, Australia, Italy, France, Korea, Vietnam.  It’s a “pedometer” that tracks everything the cow does and doesn’t do.  It counts the number of steps the cow takes in a 24-hour period, as well as the number of rests.  Gadi matches it against previous data.  Fewer steps are an indicator of stress, hoof injury.  It could also be due to animal density in the shed.  Think about your own mobility in a crowded elevator.

Gadi hoses away the shit and urine from the milking stations.  The rubber floor is hosed down too.  The Holstein cows with their black and white patches and twitching ears are happy in the shed.  They put in an honest day’s work and now they’re feasting on breakfast: corn, hay, seeds.

The milking cows’ life span is 8 to 10 years.  They’re pregnant half the time, with inflated udders always between their rear legs.  Not all cows make it to the finish-line.

“These two will be sold today,” Gadi says and gestures to the couple who’d been separated from the rest.  “They don’t produce enough milk to offset the cost of keeping them.”

“Where will they go?” I ask, thinking there’s a cow heaven someplace.

“A meat company that had won the bid for the school’s beef will send their men today.  They’ll butcher them and sell them off.”

Just when I thought I was getting to like Batia, I ask, “To whom?”

His next statements are matter-of-fact.  “Arabs buy the meat.  The meat is sold in the occupied territories.  It’s all I know.”

I want to ask more but he interrupts me.   He asks me to follow him into his cluttered office.  The computer monitor on his splintered desk is antiquated but the sensitive data in the computer is the stuff of spy novels.  I pull up a chair and try to follow.  Graphs and charts appear.

The smart sensor has chosen two cows for artificial insemination.  It’s determined by many factors, their ovulation cycle, temperature, milk production, last delivery, weight, and much more.

Love is in the air, but it comes by way of a syringe.  Sorry, guys, there are no wild sex parties in the shed.  The bulls are some 30 kilometers away, a distant whiff from the nearest female.

“Alon’s here,” Gadi says and escorts me out to the muddy yard.  A truck pulls in.  Alon is a bull breeder.  He steps out, lowers the tailgate.  It’s a lab-on-wheels.  He dons his latex gloves, brings out the bull sperm from a canister stored in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees centigrade.  The sperm is stored in a skewer-shaped needle, about two feet long.  He slips one in each of his boots and marches in the mud to the females who don’t have a clue of what’s about to happen.

It reminds me of a few dates I had.

Alon puts his hand through a clear plastic sleeve, like a kitchen trash bag.  The plastic sleeve extends from his fingers all the way to his armpit.  The first cow is sequestered, unable to move, it’s neck under a metal hinge.  Alon lifts the cow’s tail and shoves his entire arm in the cow’s ass-hole.

I watch with an open mouth.

Shit drops to the ground in heavy globs.  Alon is talking to Gadi the whole time.  I can’t make out what he’s saying (I’d already removed my work boots by then), but I can tell they’re just shooting the breeze, talking about food, work, anything but about the cow.  Gadi catches a glimpse of me, finds the need to explain.  “Alon is clearing the cow’s anus and then he feels the uterus.  He wants to make sure she’s ready.”  I nod to show I understand, but I don’t.

I don’t recall engaging in such practices when I wanted to have kids.

Next, Alon pulls the syringe from his boot and inserts it in her vagina.  It’s all over in 5 seconds.  Talk about premature ejaculation.

Alon removes his boots, dumps the plastic sleeve in the trash, greets us good-bye.  He’s off to “screw” other cows.Gadi the dairyman

The wintry sun is warmer now.  Gadi pulls down the zipper on his overalls, takes off his wool cap.  “We just made the perfect match today,” he says proudly.  He goes on to tell me the newborn in 9 months time will be  the right size.  “You don’t want to match a super bull with a small cow.  The calf will tear her up on the way out.”  Besides size, the new calf will have the perfect protein and fat level.  It will grow and produce tank-fuls of milk for Kadoorie School.

It’s a version of JDATE.COM in the animal world, Israel-style.

I lace up my shoes, almost ready to go.   I shake Gadi’s hand.  He values terribly my coming to help and learn.  We exchange emails.   I didn’t know such hard-working, dedicated men existed here.  Gadi loves his job, his school children, including my twin daughters who look up to him.  I get in my car and back out.  Through the rear-view mirror I see him coming out with milk buckets in his hands.  He’s nursing the young calves.

At home, Pnina opens the front door, laughs at my dirty appearance.  She smells me, pushes me to the shower.  I later sit down to breakfast.

I too work for food and lovin’.

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12 Responses to “Will work for food and a little lovin’”

  1. Steve J. Kay December 10, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Sooo, you left USA for this?

  2. Sandy Galfas December 10, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    Excellent blog, Maurice. Very informative and lots of your wry humor. Sandy

  3. Sandy Galfas December 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Excellent blog, Maurice. Very informative and lots of your welcome wry humor. Sandy

  4. Avi December 10, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    Hi Maurice!

    Times must have changed. When I was young, cows had udders, now they have “teats”. When I was young the area beyond of the “Green Line” (the 1949 armistice line) were called the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, or simply “the territories; later changed to the disputed territories, but now it is referred to as the “Occupied Territories.”

    Anyway nice story, though people like me who care about animals and who know a thing or two about the dairy industry are quite bothered by it. I don’t mean, god forbid, to disparage Israeli dairy industry – indeed, one of the most advanced in the world – but this is a condemnation of the entire industry.

    For starters, contrary to what most people believe (thanks to the dairy industry) — milk is not healthy, and it is not a good source of calcium to the body. Actually, humans are the only animal which feeds on other animal milk, what is this telling you?

    To get the white liquid, the animal in kept in constant state of pain and suffering, mothers are terribly agonized by the prompt separation of the newly born calves on birth (have you heard an agonized mother cow crying over her baby?). Cows are maintained in perpetual pregnancy most of their lives, with udders bloated ti unnatural size. Here in the USA dairy cows are also injected with growth-hormones (rBST). It induces yield, but it leads to chronic udder inflammation, for which she gets antibiotics; hence the milk you drink contains rBST, antibiotics, and pus. Male calves are being sold and raised for veal, thereby condemned to horrific life of torture.

    As for me, I stay away from milk. Try almond milk instead; it is cheaper and healthier, and you won’t smell of cow manure…

  5. mark bernhard December 11, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    Great refet report. You make Dahlia , Daphne and all those bovine beauties blush!!

  6. Meg McI December 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Hey Maurice:
    looks like you had another “learning experience.”
    meg

  7. Sherry Winston December 12, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    Loved this blog and your humor. Great piece.

  8. Amy Bernhard December 13, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    Don’t get any ideas for my friend Pnina, Maurice! No rubber gloves, etc. I loved this piece, and I get excited when I see a new e-mail from you with a new blog entry. I can’t wait until they’re all published in a book — I’ll buy it but I want it autographed 🙂 Much love to you and all your women!

  9. Dorit Zirler December 14, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    Maurice, another beautiful piece. Like Amy, I loved your first blog and I couldn’t wait for another one and more to come! Thank You!

  10. Adi Harari December 18, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    You are lovin it ha? I can tell.

    I can really see your joy in writing the piece. But… I never made the connection between milking, babies and sex. It’s getting to be fun. Waiting for your next one.

  11. Vanessa Labi December 19, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    What an interesting job Gadi has — equal parts hands-on and analytics. That’s awesome that you put in a full day’s work. I’m sure that helped to get a fuller understanding of the process. The parts about the cow’s quality of life made me sad, so I’m with Avi about the almond milk! Giving up Greek yogurt is much harder for me, though….

    Great job, Dad! Looking forward to your next adventure, culinary or otherwise. 🙂

  12. Elana Cohen Labi December 20, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    Keep going !!!!!! – I love your blogs

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