Sunday, 10 July 2016

Jimmy or Jenny?

I have quite a soft spot for skunks. Their black and white coat is elegant haute couture. They help keep rodent populations in check and you have to admire their natural ability to use 'bear spray' if threatened. Skunks and I have shared many walkabouts and I must say, they have been nothing but polite to me. My cat, Ellie Mae, prefers them to other cats.

When I was about five, I saw my first litter of baby skunks tottering behind their foraging mother and was forever smitten by their cuteness. As children, we thoroughly enjoyed the series of fictional animal adventure books by Thornton W. Burgess. One of these was titled 'The Adventures Of Jimmy Skunk'. Consequently, we tend to label each skunk we see with the nickname of Jimmy.

Early some mornings, I spy my resident Jimmy stopping by a little pond for a drink before denning up for the day. I notice that the animal has a bulge that could either be a full stomach or a baby bump. Perhaps 'Jenny' would be a more appropriate name. 

Jimmy skunk takes an early morning drink from my backyard tub.

He seems to check for edibles that might live around the water.

Could that be a baby bump or just a well fed stomach?

A few years ago, I had fun sculpting this little character from polymer clay.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Ol' MacDonald ...

... E-I-E-I-O.

We have farmer neighbours whose family name is MacDonald. But these days, the lyrics from the famous old children's song wouldn't describe their farm. No 'oink, oink' or 'cluck, cluck'. They have only one species of farm animal and that is dairy cows. Lots of them!

They raise pure bred Holstein cattle and the milk cows have recently moved into a brand new dairy barn. One of the owners kindly gave me a tour of their new building. I was gob-smacked at the level of automation.

The new, ultra-modern barn has two robotic milking stations, each capable of milking seventy-five cows several times a day or night. The robots keep track of precise data including volume and quality of the milk each cow produces and her daily weight. The cows voluntarily enter the milking station for a tasty treat, dispensed if they are due to be milked. Each cow wears an electronic tag, enabling the milking station to recognize her. If a scan of her ID tag indicates the cow is due to be milked, a yummy feed reward is dispensed in an amount customized to her production data. The robot then cleans her teats, attaches the milk cups and milking commences. If the cow is not due to be milked, no treat is given and the gates open to release her.

Not only is the milking chore fully automated but so is feeding, stable cleaning and even grooming. Not for the first time, I wonder "How can the future possibly improve on this?"

At most farms, there is the occasional sound of a cow bawling. During my visit to this particular farm, I heard not a moo from the herd. They were content. And why not? They walk on rubber flooring and bed down on dry sand. They were relaxed and friendly, well fed, nicely groomed and content to enjoy their pampered modern lives.

The feed mixture smelled wonderful. These cows seem to agree.

A cow enjoys her dairy ration while being automatically milked.

View from the milking station.

Milk collection unit.

Dairyman Shawn, chats as his robotic feed mill distributes cattle feed.

The milk cows are free to feed whenever they want.

Newly freshened and about to freshen cows lounge nearby.

The cows choose to lie down on beds of sand.

Throughout the barn are automatic grooming brushes.

Some of this year's future dairy stars.