Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Ecuadorean Dairy Farm

Just this week, I began a new job at a hacienda near Otavalo, a merchant town home to one of Ecuador's oldest markets. Compared with the small farming community I experienced in Pesillo, where each family has just a handful of animals, this is a dairy farm on an industrial scale.

The milking pens are the first thing you see on entering the hacienda. Twice daily the cows dutifully file into the courtyard and spread themselves out along the feed sheds, presenting a long line of bottoms as they feast on fresh alfafa. Then, they are shuffled into the milking parlour, where men in yellow, plastic overalls supervise machines that drain their udders in a matter of moments. It's a slick, professional routine that ticks over with clockwork regularity and never seems to change pace.

My bedroom is right next door to the pens, meaning I am very much up to speed with the milking timetable. Every morning at 3am, as I toss and turn in my wobbly, creaky bunk bed , the cows are harangued into the courtyard with cries of "siga siga vaca", and "vamos carajo" - noisy encouragement that I'm not convinced is entirely necessary given that, every time I've watched, the cows have walked obediently from pasture to pen without batting an eyelid.

The whole affair is repeated at 3pm. If I time it right, I can rush down and give one of the workers a plastic jug that, within seconds, will be full to the brim with warm, frothy milk - enough to last until the next afternoon's milking session. Already, that jug of milk has become a dietary staple for me. You see, the kitchen consists of a bench, a cupboard, and a two-ring electric stove. There's no fridge or running water, and dishes have to be washed in the tiny basin in the bathroom. It makes cooking anything more complicated than porridge quite a chore!

There are over 500 cows here, so there's no shortage of milk. And, as the hacienda boasts over 4,000 hectares of land, there's certainly ample grass for them to eat. In fact, the grounds are so vast they allow for multiple crops of sweetcorn and oats, as well as plentiful grazing for 65 horses.

Sadly, I've yet to work much with the horses here. My arrival was unfortunately timed and has coincided with torrential and persistent rain - the likes of which makes a wet day in Snowdonia look pedestrian. And, given the mud is already dangerously close to the top of my welly boots, I think it'll be a while before it dries out enough to start. However, in a window of fair weather today, I did manage to squeeze in a short ride on one of the stallions, a four year old that proved to be much better behaved than most of the cavalry blacks I am lucky enough to ride back home. With another 20 stallions, 45 mares and numerous foals just waiting to be played with, I'm praying the weather clears up soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment