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2004 The Beast

Udderly Disgusting

Down and Out in Eden and North Collins

by Ian Murphy



I had been in Eden only four months, and already I had workedas a landscaper, a meat wrapper, and as a factory cog. The factory gig ended abruptly, with me shouting, "Fuck this, fuck that, fuck you and this bullshit hassle!" Hundreds of deadened factory serf eyes, brimming with resentful jealousy, followed me as I stormed out the door. I was free--temporarily. As I drove off, the reality of bills and rent began to make me a little anxious. Driving past a plethora of dairy farms, I suddenly knew how I would make rent.

I drove directly to the dairy nearest my house and was hired immediately. The owner recommended I throw on a pair of rubber boots and a rain slicker for the grand tour. We strolled through the straw-bedded stalls filled with calves, and descended down an incline into the darkness of the main barn. "Watch your step, it can be slippery in here," said my new overlord. A single bare light bulb dangled in the vast expanse of stalls and gates. My dilating eyes slowly recognized what my feet and nose already knew: I was wading through at least six inches of liquid shit.

"Tell me now if you can't do this-'lotta folk can't stomach this business."

"No, no," I said, "I'm fine with it." And up till then I was.

I showed up for my first shift and was met by a real good ol' boy, Augie, the seasoned cow wrangler whose position I was training to fill. Augie was there to show me the ropes. "First thing we do is fill up the grain," he said, bending down to grab the feed buckets. I bent over and a flash of white lighting ripped through my nervous system, knocking me off my feet and straight into the shit. He almost wet himself laughing. Only then did he point out that all the wire fencing was electrified. Lesson learned, we moved on. "Now we go get the A group," he said. After we closed and opened the appropriate gates that would route the cows to the milking station, we began to yell at them. "Come on!" I pled as I wailed a plastic rod against their hides. I felt like a bastard. "No, hit 'em' harder, they can take it," commanded Augie, "and say it like this: kem Aaaahn!"

I affected a shrill nasal tone and the recommended pronunciation. All the cows looked my way through their cloudy eyes and began the labored process of standing up. Some still needed extra prodding and minor electrocution to get going. By the time I got to them, these cows had been milked twice already in the last 24 hours and were pretty hesitant to climb up out of their own waste. They slowly trudged their way up the final incline, some having to make several attempts after falling, and we latched the gate behind them. We opened the gates to the milking gallery and Augie worked a pulley that started a 100-foot wall of dangling electrified barbed wire strands moving toward the cattle. Sparks flew as the cruel strands hit the cows near the back of the line. Some, caught off guard, fell and were shocked repeatedly. The others made a mad dash for the milking lines. Once there, they were milked 16 at a time.

The whole process was repeated with the B and C groups. There were about 300 head of cattle total, each one producing-with the assistance of hormones and a forced milking schedule-about 100 pounds of milk every day, roughly ten times what they produce naturally.

As the weeks went by, I got used to the dark, repugnant labyrinth of filth, the feel of calloused cow tongues on my face, and getting urinated and defecated on routinely. I learned how to avoid being crushed between the bovine behemoths, and how to escape the bull, who clearly wanted me dead. I was a milking pro-lining up the cows into the gallery, manually removing the encrusted dung on their teats, hosing them off, spraying the udders with iodine and attaching the suction tubes that drew the milk into a large vat. Often, the cows were visibly irritated and struggled to kick off the tubes from their sensitive and frequently infected udders. Whenever a cow did this, I was to take note so the boss could shoot her full of antibiotics.

Udder infection, or mastitis, is the result of over-milking and constant exposure to feces. The byproduct of any infection, of course, is pus. That's right; you're drinking pus. The dairy industry keeps track of pus levels by counting the number of somatic pus cells per liter of milk. By industry standards, milk with a somatic cell count higher than 200 million per liter shouldn't be consumed by humans. The average count in New York is 280 million per liter. The national average is 322 million.

Every once in a while, we had to move cows that could no longer walk with a backhoe into quarantine. Hoof infection was rampant, and a lot of the cows had problems walking. I was instructed several times to lay down a trough filled with some medicine that the cows would walk through. I never saw any recoveries. They continued to limp miserably in their own crap, each cow excreting about 120 pounds daily. The mess was swept away once a day by a large squeegee on a tractor. And to think when I lived in Eden I drank well water.

The only cows exempt from wallowing in the dimly lit swamp of waste were the expecting mothers. Only once did I have to assist in the birth of a calf. That consisted of locking the mother's head between two gates, chaining the calf's legs to a third gate behind the mother, and pushing on the gate as hard as possible until the slimy baby shot out onto the floor. Then I had to hose the calf down and shove a two-foot tube down its throat to feed it a special mixture of milk filled with antibiotics and steroids. The dairy owner was disappointed because it was a bull, worth almost no money. The next day the calf was dead. The boss told me the mother had slept on top of him, but after his initial response, I wasn't buying it. It was time to get a new job.

I wish I could end this story by saying that I gave up milk and dairy as a result of working on the "farm," but I can't. Like most Americans, dairy still makes up the largest fraction of my diet. According to the USDA, the average American eats 586 pounds of dairy products annually, almost 40% of our total diet and 52% of our calorie intake.

The Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported in 1996 that 75% of the world's population is lactose intolerant. In America, 70 percent of African and Native Americans, 95 percent of Asian Americans, 50 percent of Mexican Americans, and 15 to 20 percent of Caucasian Americans have difficulty in digesting lactose, which causes symptoms like gas, bloating, cramps, nausea and diarrhea. Many of us suffer these symptoms daily with no knowledge of their cause-a great boon for the antacid industry.

This "wholesome" stuff contains antibiotics, pus, blood, bacteria, allergenic proteins, and growth hormones. I'm no vegan, but these facts are something for fellow dairy-lovers to consider-after all, the vegans have nothing to worry about. The deplorable circumstances at dairies are a direct result of lax regulations, which favor the producer rather than the consumer. You may not feel much sympathy for the suffering of these animals, but your health may also suffer as a result of their wretched conditions. Think on that the next time you're chugging a latte or ordering a double-cheese and pepperoni.

And, whatever you do, don't quit your factory job to work at a dairy.

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