Tuesday, 16 November 2010

My first day at the farm...

...A 'how to' in disappointing your father-in-law

We arrived at the farm on a sunny (what are the chances?) Friday afternoon. We settled into the farm house and had a few drinks before heading to bed to prepare for my first full day of work at the farm. I asked Cristina (the missus) what time she thought her parents would start in the morning to which she responded '5am'. Early I know, but to be expected really, so I snuggled down for a cosy nights sleep.

Imagine my horror when at 3:30am I heard a stirring coming from Cristina's parents room as they awoke. I was still in a state of shock when the front door closed at 3:45am as they headed down to the farm. I quickly jumped out of the bed leaving a very much awake and disgruntled wife (the best reason to get up in the morning in my opinion). I quickly got changed and headed for the guest's bathroom where I hurriedly brushed my teeth with the first toothbrush to hand - I prayed to god it was not regularly used to clean the toilet.

Picking up a few Pão de Queijo (the staple breakfast of Brazil) I headed for the door and out into the morning at 3:55am. With the farm being in the middle of nowhere and no lights on anywhere nearby I was surprised that even at this time of the morning, in pitch black, the full moon cast shadows. Anyway, I made the ten minute walk down to the farm to the cows enclosure.

Next followed for me a relatively surreal moment.

I arrived at the cow enclosure to see around 40 cows all huddled together. Although the lights were on, as far as I could tell there was no one there. Not unusual you may say, but for the fact that a radio was blasting out Prince's 'Purple Rain' to the cows. It was like some late night bovine club as they shifted from foot to foot, jittered and moved about slowly, bleary eyed as if they'd been taking drugs.

It was only after about a minute of taking this in that I realised that Cristina's parents and Maurice the farmhand were hunched under the cows milking away on their stools. I lumbered over the fence and proceeded to join them. I took it slow and milked four cows dry by 6am – they weren't impressed. After this I  helped Cristina's dad (Carlinho – little Carlos in English) to feed the cows.

After a quick refresher course on the tractor I was ready to go and moved the beast into place next to the storehouse. Carlinho and I lugged six bags of food each half the size of a man to the back of the tractor and drove off to the feeding fields (two gates away). We laid down the mush (not very appetising, but I guess it had a lot of fibre in it – probably the reason they fart so much) and headed back to the milking pen where we carried the five full urns of milk to the milk storing machine (not it's technical name, but I don't know what it's called. It's a big metal tank which holds around 1,100 litres and has a big spatula type thing in the middle of the lid which periodically rotates to stop the milk settling). These things were heavy, but after a lot of huffing and puffing we managed to lift them up and empty them into the tank.

It was about 7am now so we drove the tractor up to the house for a half an hour breakfast before heading out once again.

Getting back onto the tractor we were to head to another farm. The trip was going well right up until the point I nearly ran over a colchete (a type of fence which is purely wire and wood for ease of access). Carlinho had to quickly ram his foot on the brakes as the tractor hurtled towards the thin pieces of wire. I feigned ignorance and blamed it on my lack of glasses, but in truth I think I was looking at the scenery... that was disappointment number two! He got down and opened the fence and we headed to the next farm where we greeted the farmer and settled in for a few drinks. The reasons for going here are still not obvious to me, but I think it was to drink a couple of shots of cachaça as this was all we did!

On the way back to Carlinho's farm we picked up a trailer and attached it to the tractor which upon arrival we filled up with prepared posts and wire to build a fence around a new sugar cane field. It was only after picking them up that we realised we were three posts short of a full fence. Darn it. This meant that we had to endure a torturous two hour tractor drive round a neighbouring field to find three pieces of broken tree that were straight enough and about six foot in length. Not easy, especially with me not wearing any glasses. We eventually did find three pieces of the right size and stature, but not before I had managed to drop one of the said pieces of wood on my foot. Considering it took two of us to carry this thing I'm surprised I didn't break anything. Carlinho just gave me a nervous laugh...

With our wood collected and dropped off at the field we headed back for lunch and a siesta. I had an hours sleep and was a bit peeved to wake up to find a swarm of flies hovering overhead. They'd obviously been attracted by the smell of cow shit, sweat, and calf saliva all over me. Cristina's a lucky lady.

At 14:00 we headed back for another milking session which lasted 3 hours, after which Carlinho and I went about placing the posts for the circa into the field and ensuring that they lined up. All of this was done by eye which made it even more painstaking. Again, largely because I refused to wear my glasses. This was so painstaking in fact that we got to about halfway when Carlinho asked if we should go and have a drink at his friends farm (the same one who supplied us with the alcohol earlier). We got to the farm and he wasn't there so we helped ourselves in, had a bite to eat, and helped ourselves to some more cachaça. I thnk Carlinho decided to call it a day at this point as we didn't head back to the half built fence, but instead went fishing in the farmer's field. In total we caught two fish, but in the process I managed to break two fishing lines much to Carlinho's disappointment. It appears as though fishing isn't my strong point as we would have managed to double our catch otherwise.

As the winds signalled oncoming storm clouds we ran to the tractor and back to the house where after an evening meal I fell asleep. The first day at the farm was long, but wasn't as tiring as I had expected – I could imagine however that doing it day in and day out was what made it tiring. One thing was for sure however, I certainly wasn't a natural farmer!


  1. I think all guys disappoint their father-in-law at some point, you're not alone!

    Sounds a bit different to sitting at a desk 9-5 - and I'm liking the "cachaca breaks", a great addition to the working day

  2. I think Menzies should instigate a Cachaca break. Maybe you could ask Tom about it??

    It's certainly different there's no killing cow's at Menzies (the deed is done, I'm in the process of writing it up), although I think that would create an interesting office dynamic! Bring it on for an Alan Mason event!!