Self-Milking Cows and Wellness in Wald

Having been collected by Pat’s parents and friends at the guest house we arrived at in Wald from Berlin, we now load our stuff into their vehicle for the short drive to where we’ll be staying.

Pat’s parents and friends have been traveling together for several days already. The friends, Dieter and Gisela, have traded their car with their daughter so they have a mini-van to fit us all in for this trip. The mini is a little more mini than a typical American mini-van, but we all fit perfectly. They take us to the “wellness resort” we will be staying at for the next 3 nights. This is an interesting concept in Germany. These are guest houses equipped with pools and hot tubs and various other amenities that help restore health and sanity. They typically are quite economical, although only available in pretty, country areas outside large cities, and are often free for Germans who are suffering from illness or stress that their doctor feels warrants a break from everyday life.

This one is located on a working farm. They make most of their own foods served in their restaurant from the butter and cheese to the beer. When we have dropped our bags in our room, our group reconvenes and takes little tour of the farm. We visit the horses and donkey in one barn, and the milk cows in another. We watch as a cow milks herself–the most fascinating thing I have ever seen. When a gate is opened, a cow with a full utter walks into a pen and lines herself up in the milking station, where grain releases into a bucket so she can happily munch while being milked. A robotic milking machine starts by washing each of her teats with rollers. Then, laser beams line up the suction cups on the milking machine with the teats until all four are properly captured in the milking machine. The milk is matched to the cow using an electronic chip on her ankle. If the cow has recently calved, her milk is rerouted to her calf in a barn next door. All the milk is automatically tested to make sure the cow doesn’t have any diseases and that there isn’t dangerous bacteria in the milk before it is pumped into the milk storage container. When a teat stops producing milk, the machine releases it until all of the teats have been milked dry. A gate opens, the cow walks out, and the next cow, when ready, enters. I wish I had thought to bring my camera down, but maybe I am the only one who gets excited about cows that milk themselves?

We visit many calves next. They are at various stages of growth. Some are in large plastic huts and they stick their heads out as us as we walk by. I reach out to one and let it suckle my fingers while I rub its head. I don’t think anyone else in the group has ever seen someone do this because they were all pretty surprised. The calf holds its tongue over its teeth so it doesn’t bite, but the force that calves suckle with is pretty amazing. My fingers are covered in slim when I extract them. I do my best not to touch anything. We wander over to the building where they make cheese and beer. Nothing is currently being made, but it’s still nice to see. Pat buys some Landjaeger (something between sausage and beef jerky) that is also home made. We then wander back to the main guest house to have dinner. I scrub my hands twice before sitting down to eat.

The restaurant serves four courses, with the only choice being which of three entrees you want. They bring us a soup to start with a meaty broth and a large noodle. It’s delicious and hot. Then we have a typical German salad with lettuce on top hiding an assortment of other types of salad underneath. I have the fish. Dieter describes the fish as a “salmon trout,” which is exactly what it’s like. Flaky trout meat that’s firmer and pinker than most trout. While it’s delicious, the filet they brought me was about the size of a flattened football and I couldn’t eat it all. The dessert was warm chocolate cake with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and fresh currants. Surprisingly, I find I have just enough room for the dessert.

We sit and drink beer and swap stories in German and English. Two of us do not speak German, two of us speak German and American English, and two speak German and formal English. It makes for interesting translations–it’s amazing how many words we use in everyday conversation that don’t make it into language classes. But, we have a good time anyway. Giesala has a warm and ready laugh that is infectious and Dieter has a quiet sense of humor that catches me by surprise, making his jokes even funnier. Both are patient with those of us who don’t speak English and make a tremendous effort to speak English whenever possible so we feel included.

We discuss our plans for tomorrow and decide to make a change from the original plan. The cold and rainy weather is supposed to improve the following day, so we decide to switch days. We will all go to see some castles tomorrow and we will go to the Oktoberfest the following day. All in all, it’s been a good day.

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