Published: November 17th 2008November 11th 2008
Another vet at the clinic met me a couple weeks ago and said, "SO, you'll come ride me one day, right?" Even after finding out I wasn't a vet, nor a graduate of the sacred MSU, she still wanted me to come with her. So today I got to be a "vet student", without even having to go through all the prerequisites!
Ellen is German, but was an exchange student to Crystal Lake, Indian for a year in high school. Since then she's been back to visit the states several times, most recently for dog shows and vet-related trips with MSU.
There's something unique about vet vehicles. You've got boxes of meds, rubber boots, coveralls, and of course the distinct smell of FARM laced with a light medical scent. (Hmm ... I'm picturing a city hospital with cows for patients.) Ellen's vet car had one more addition: her doberman named "Gift" that rides along in it's crate in the back. The first thing she told me was, "Please don't let her out." OK. No problem.
Ellen's farms are a bit farther out, so we had a couple hour drive to the first stop. All the car-time went
by quickly though since we kept up a steady stream of conversation. We talked about language learning, differences between the US and Germany, traveling, cows, farms, vet work, religion, politics, family, Berlin, stories of her dad fleeing from East Germany, her remembering first hearing the wall coming down, Beth, etc.
We started with the smallest farm and moved up to the bigger ones. The first farm was built in 1737 and the old farmer gave us the grand tour of the 8 cows, breeding pigs, and the old cellars. He even makes his own wine and apple cider and gave us each a bottle! He was 81 years old and had the animals along with his brother (I'm pretty sure it was his brother, or son, or some relative) who worked at the post office during the night to make a living along with the cows and pigs.
Next was another small farm, although with more cows and he also raised some beef. This breed of cow is especially good for milk production and for beef. He had a cow statue in his front yard, painted with the German colors of red, yellow and black with "Fair Milk".
Farmers were unhappy about the low milk prices and many small farms went on strike by dumping their milk. Since the big farms didn't participate there was still milk available, but the companies finally came to a compromise with the farms and the prices.
The same big farm vs. small farm issue in the States is here as well. Ellen and I talked some about it, and Beth and I have had several conversations on the issue as well.
Next farm I got a big treat!!! Robotic Milking!!!! I was told that about half of new dairies are going with robotic milking. Interesting. The set up is fascinating to watch! The cow walks in to the shoot and the sensor on it's collar tells the machine if it should be milked or not (depending on when it was last milked). If it shouldn't be, then the front of the shoot is opened and it walks out. If the cow is milked, the machine cleans the udder with spinning, circular brushes, then the milker goes on with inferred sensors. It doesn't always connect with the teat the first try. In fact I watched one cow stand there for half
of forever as the machine tried to get the suction cups in the right place. I felt like I should go over and "help it out", but it got it eventually.
But for the most part it was incredibly accurate, and each cup is separate from the others, so as soon as one quarter is milked out then that cup comes off. The computer also knows if the cow has a dead quarter, or if the milk shouldn't go into the bulk tank, then it's milked and goes to a different place. The computer also records how often the cow is milked, how much, etc. Incredible! I put two videos of the milking on here. I think it may take 10 minutes or so to load it, but they're there if you're interested.
I also got to chat with the farmer mom a little bit ... in German! She was feeding the calves and Ellen was with the farmer looking at the heifers. She asked if I was a vet student on my practicum, and I said I was just a friend from the States and that I only knew a little bit of Duetsch. She showed me
twin calves, I asked if they were girls, and she said they were both bulls. She gave me directions to find Ellen ... which I did eventually. It was fun to converse and made me realize to really progress with the language I've gotta be in an all-German environment. Hm, don't think I wanna learn German enough for that right now.
We just had a couple more stops. A bunch of pregnancy checks. Another robotic milking machine. The greatest thing was the farmer at the last farm. He has a pierced ear!!! And not just a little stud ring or something, a sweet, solid circle ring. HA! I'm planning on trying to convince my dad to get a piercing!!! I think it would completely compliment his style!
Before heading home we stopped at a meat shop to get some "REAL German food." The guy behind the counter grabbed a ball of sausage meat, patted it on a bun, sprinkled some onions on top and handed it over to me. "Is that raw
meat?" I asked Ellen. She pretended not to hear me as she ordered another 4 meat sandwiches (a couple pork and a couple wurst). She
and the man joked about me getting to try REAL German food and discussing which ones would be best. Before leaving though the man wanted me to try a bite of the first sausage meat one he gave me. He wanted to see if I liked it. I took a big bite and was actually surprised how good
it tasted! Ellen told me later, as I used her vet knife to cut the sandwiches in half, that she didn't want to tell me it was raw meat until after I had tried it. HA! She said she only gets the raw meat at places she trusts and knows have good products, not just some side-of-the-highway joint. "So you know that's a good place," I said, beginning to wonder how I would feel tomorrow. "No," Ellen answered. "I've never eaten there before. That's one of the side-of-the-highway places." Gulp. "So, am I going to die from this?" She laughs. "No. You won't die. You're a proud American."
On our way back to Hofheim, we stopped by a famous German tourist town. Ellen said that people back in the States would ask me if I went there. I had
never even heard of the place, so I figured no one would mention it. "Oh no!" Ellen assured me. "They'll ask you." We spent about 20 minutes there, walking around the wall around the old part of the city. Sweet little town.
Made it back home, completely happy for the day and the opportunity for another new taste
of Germany. (And by the way, I felt absolutely FINE the next day!)
There are more photos below