Today I helped Gerard with the milking. I guarantee that I will never look at dairy products in the same way. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, I will describe it here.
The cows come in and line up at the feeding bins. The farmer pulls a lever to dump feed from a hopper to the bins. He wipes off the nipples of the udder with a newspaper and sprays them with iodine to disinfect. The milking machine then goes on. It looks like an aluminum and rubber octopus with four flabby arms that fit over the nipples. It's attached to a vacuum to provide suction. The milk all passes through a filter and into a refrigerated vat. While the cows are being milked, the next lot are lined up on the other side of the parlor. When the udders have run dry, the farmer takes the milking machine off the one set of cows and transfers it to the other. He then re-sterilizes the udders and lets the cows go. This happens twice a day and it typically takes about an hour and a half to get all the cows through. Keep in mind that the cows are peeing and pooing all over the place. Today, I had to watch Gerard treat a cow sick with an udder infection. The milk that came out was about half blood and looked like tomato soup. I felt sorry for the poor thing, but God was she ever cantankerous. She kept kicking as Gerard was trying to help her and she almost shat all over him at one point.
No matter how hard we try to keep the place sterile, I guarantee that some trace amounts of feces must get into the milk. I drink the stuff all the time here, completely unpasteurized, not to mention all the people all over Kerry (and the whole of Ireland for that matter) who drink milk from Gerard and the other small farmers. I guess it can't hurt too much.
I encountered nettles for the first time today. Anna and I were playing at "who can kick the football over the house" and when I finally managed to boot the thing over it rolled into one of the side gardens. As we were searching back there, I rubbed against something that felt like a hundred angry hornets. I jumped back and saw the plant, pretty innocent looking all in all. Anna showed me how to rub a dock-leaf on to help ease the sting, but dear lord, it still smarts after several hours. Apparently, the tips of the plant are edible, though I can't imagine they'd be fun to gather.
In short, what have I gotten myself into?