Of Farms and Fables combines the efforts of professional and non-professional artists by engaging artists in farm work and farm workers in storytelling and acting. The result will be an original performance in October of 2011 which will engage performers and audience in dialogue about local agriculture, farming, and the future of small family farms in Maine.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Holsteins! Holsteins! (Claire)

Imagine standing next to a 1,500 pound pure bred Holstein cow. Thats one of the things I did during our trip to Kay-Ben farms in Gorham last Monday. Most of the time, I was trying to keep up with the stream of information the farms owners Eddie and Becky were more than happy to share with us and take pictures of everything. Like Jenny said in her post above, these cows are impressive animals, but walking up to one of the full grown milkers in the feeding/milking barn is an experience like nothing else.

First of all, just try and imagine something that is 1,500 pounds. To me, its sort of like being asked to think of Descartes' 1,000 sided figure- its pretty easy to think about in an abstract way, but to actually think about what it will look like in a cow is another story. Lets put it this way: a Volkswagen Beetle weighs about 2,0000 pounds, so imagine three quarters of a Volkswagen capable of producing 12,000 pounds of milk a year. The mind boggles.

Jennie and I are not very tall individuals- probably around 5'4 if we stretch. in the picture above you can see Jennie with one of Kay-Ben's owners, Eddie, and one of his heifers. Sorry for the shaky photo, I think I was laughing when I took it. What you can't see very well in the pitcure is that this cow's hips were almost level with Eddie's head. The cow I sidled up to was too busy eating to even notice me. Her hip bones loomed at least 6 inches over me!
The closer I got to her, the warmer I got too. Becky, one of the incredibly informative owners of Kay-Ben farms, told us that cows like the one I was standing next to keep their body temperatures at 101.5 degrees, well above our 98.2. It felt good on the misty March morning we were there.

The Holsteins on Kay-Ben Farms are part of Holstein Association USA, the largest breed organization in the world. Since 1872, people who breed, raise and milk Holsteins have been keeping track of the breed, registering parentage, production and ownership. That's no small task when it comes to Holsteins. They make up 93% of dairy cows, putting the association's catalogue of registered animals at more than 22 million. For breeding farms like Kay-Ben, this means easy access to information about disease and breeding history for all their animals, as well as any perspective mates. All registered cows wear little yellow tags in their ears (even the littlest calves!) printed with tracking numbers that tie them into this impressive national system.

As Jennie and I drove away, we couldn't help remarking how excited we were to see how these animals would become characters in the stories we will eventually be telling. I went off, all fired up to find out the story about Holstein Association USA, and as fate would have it, I soon came across a little fable from their archives! I though I would share it- it seems like a good omen for the beginning of our project.
In May 1887, a noteworthy event in the history of the Holstein breed in America took place. It was the Madison Square Garden dairy cattle show where the four leading dairy breeds - Ayrshire, Jersey, Guernsey, and Holstein-Friesian - met for the first time to see which was the greatest producer of milk and butter. Prizes of $200 were offered for both 24-hour milk production as well as butter production.

Most observers conceded that a Holstein would win a milk production prize, but the Jersey breeders were certain that they would take the butter prize - so certain that they offered a handsome silver cup, with a beautiful Jersey cow engraved on the side, to the winner. However, that cup is now sitting in the Holstein Association USA office in Brattleboro, VT. When the butter samples were weighed, Clothilde, a Holstein owned by Smiths & Powell of Syracuse, had won the $200 and the silver cup. (Story and Photo from ht
So what's the lesson here, folks? Don't inscribe your cow on the trophy 'til it wins!
See you next time!