Wwoof!

Ever heard of Wwoofing? Yes/No? Well … I am a wwoofer and you can be one too if you like. A woofer has the opportunity to live and learn on organic farms. It is volunteer exchange on sustainable and organic farms and properties. Wwoof is an acronym for willing working on organic farms.

At the end of August I volunteered for 9 days at the organic dairy farm of Cedric and Susan, which was thirty minutes away from Palmerston North. The agreement Susan, Cedric and I had made was very simple. I helped out at their organic dairy farm from 8 am to 1 pm from Monday to Friday (yep, I had the weekend off) and in return I received a first hand experience to learn about the principles they used. As always for woofers, accomodation and food was provided, which deepened my rural experience and made it really great.

For the first time in my life I milked a cow! And then I milked another one and another one. It was a daunting task at first, approaching these huge animals at short range while they eyed me, chewing their grass slowly. But I worked myself in gradually, started washing off the green behind my ears by washing their udders with a rag.

Soon I learned that every cow was given a name after a few months, when the farmers had found a name that suited the cow. Richard who was a young assistant farmer with a full grown beard knew all the fifty cows by name. He taught me many things.

Of all the cows I met at the farm there were nice ones and there were kickers. When it was milking time and the cows came to the milking spot the cows who kicked were mostly the younger cows who were not used to being milked. They resisted it and made the process difficult. Every time there was a kicker Richard took over.

I also learned that the calves are not taken and separated from their mothers at birth. At the time I volunteered at their farm it was calving season and many calves were recently born. It was heart warming to see the calves as part of the herd, closely under their mother’s protection. I have seen footage of slaughter cows and calves who became so stressed out because of their seperation at birth. Really terrible!

The second monday on the job I found out about two cows who gave birth, one mother cow whose calve was healthy and walking already and another cow whose calve was stillborn. The mother whose calve was stillborn became confused and tried to steal the calve of the other momma cow. The following morning the farmers had to seperate the mother and her calve from the rest of the herd, especially from the cow who had just lost her calve. They placed them in a paddock further away so that the new momma cow and her newborn calve could bond in peace. But o, the look on that sad, mourning cow who stood desperately alone by the gate without her baby. In one word: devastating!

Another thing that stood out for me, although I knew that they were organic, was that they used essential oils and homeopathic products to treat their animals, for example to calm them down. Being organic means no antibiotics and other chemical products are allowed. The organic label which they were granted by the farming association meant the world to them. They were of course very proud of it.

The organic sector (2.5%) in New Zealand is rapidly growing, but is frowned and looked down upon by many non organic sectors in the food and beverage industry. Susan and Cedric had to deal with many neighbour farmers who had that kind of distrusting attitude toward them. But, to S & C it was worth the blood, sweat and tears, and I commend them for it.

Now then, what have I learned about myself? Though I am not born and brought up as a farmer I stand valiantly behind their principles. I believe in coöperating with nature. I love animals and have respect for their lives.

Later, I would like to plant and grow fruit trees, adopt a dog, a cat, some chickens, perhaps also a swarm of honey bees.

So, what are your thoughts on organic farming?

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