It was 3:30 in the morning, very dark and very humid outside. But instead of sleeping like most Mumbaikars at that time in the morning, I was out in my cousin’s dairy barn washing udders and hooking up electric milkers.
Since I had grown up on a farm, I hadn’t figured on any real cultubhral shock upon my return to the “hariyali “ on a vacation. My cousin Madhuri, had asked me to spend a week with her on the farm to get away from the hustle and bustle of the “Big City “. The bugs, snakes and aroma of manure had totally escaped my memories of farm life. Instead of a peaceful scene with a small stream running through a meadow into a small pond, I found a way of life so busy that it makes you dizzy.
My cousins rise at 3 a.m. and put on their cut-off jeans, T-shirts and rubber boots and head for the milk barn. The cows are always waiting at the gate for them (more than 100 of the mooing, cud-chewing expectant mothers) since they know food awaits them inside the barn.
Before the cows are allowed inside though, the barn must be washed down in order to get rid of all the dead flies lying around as a result of the bug poison that is sprayed every night. After disinfectant has been washed
over everything and the milkers have been cleaned with warm water, the cows come into the barn. They’re allowed in eight at a time. They walk into a ground level platform with feeders in front of them and a steel wall to the rear of them.
The milkers meanwhile are in a pit which runs from steel wall to steel wall so that you are surrounded by the cows. The way the walls are designed, you can only see from the udder down of the cows, including the curly tips of their stringly tails and a lot of dirty feet.
My cousins “udderly” amazed me by knowing each cow solely by looking at its bag, but then they hardly ever see the faces from down in the pit, so it probably makes sense. When the milking was finished (three hours later) we went in for a hearty breakfast.
Since I was visiting during the summer, the busiest time around the farm, rest was unheard of during daylight
Next on the agenda was baling hay. I had never been on a tractor before, but was driving one within two hours, pulling a huge lawnmower-like cutter behind it. Tilak , a younger cousin who dips snuff and chews tobacco, followed on a different tractor that had a baler attached to it. The machine sucks in the cut alfalfa and spits it out the other end in bales.
We left the acres of baled hay lying in the field while we went onto other chores. Madhurii and I gathered eggs at my aunt’s poultry farm across the road.
Gathers 10,000 Eggs
There wouldn’t have been anything peculiar about this except that my aunt has 10,000 chickens. They are kept in tilted cages so the eggs roll forward through a slot making them easy to gather. It took the two of
us about 1 1/4 hours working in the stench-filled chicken house to gather all the eggs and get them stores in
crates in a cooling room.
Madhuri warned me to look before grabbing the crates and boxes; chicken houses attract snakes and a variety of stinging creatures. By the time we finished in the chicken house, it was time for the afternoon milking
We went through the same routine as in the morning and finished just in time to help No. 77 deliver her calf. It was a heifer which made the family happy since you can’t get milk from a bull.
After that, the entire family went out to haul the hay to the barn. It was getting dark out while we took turns throwing the 20 kg. bales on the back of a pick-up, while another drove and yet another stacked the hay all the while making sure to avoid the huge rats and hidden snakes that sometimes get baled in with the hay. It was only 8:30 p.m. when we got back to the house, but all I could think of was getting a shower and going to
I was fast asleep by 10 every night, exhausted from the day’s activities which turned out to include learning
how to can vegetables, make pickles and jelly and artificially inseminate cows. Next summer I’m inviting my
cousins to the big city of Mumbai to get away from the hustle and bustle of the farm.