We are back on the road again now after our final week on the dairy farm passed by in a flash. In all we spent nearly four weeks with the Bayers and learnt heaps about the trials and tribulations of farming life. It was a steep learning curve and although the work was hard we are very grateful to the Bayer family for sharing their lives with us for the short time that we were there. I think I now have a new found respect for our farmers, particularly those who have gone down the organic route, which doesn’t seem to me to be the easy route at all.
We’ve experienced, for a short while at least, life in a traditional German rural village. We’ve eaten piles and piles of home grown and home cooked hearty traditional German food. In the time we were with the Bayers we had a different lunch everyday – Ilse has a huge repertoire of meals that puts me to shame and nothing went to waste. Homemade spätzle (a type of noodle), kartoffel salat (potato salad), pancakes, different types of bratwurst, soups, goulash with pasta, home-reared roast beef, beef stew, homemade pizza, fried egg and chips(!), bread and vegetable pudding, roast chicken, a type of sweet bread, homemade jams, cakes and yoghurt and lots of other things that I can’t remember. We also consumed our own body weight in bread. With the amount of physical work we did we should have left a few pounds lighter but with all the hearty food we had we were on a losing battle.
Oh, and what about the language? As it turned out both Gerd and Martin (sons) spoke very good English but the small amount of German we learnt in the week before we arrived did make a huge difference especially when working with Ilse in the kitchen and out in the fields. I think I’ve improved a little bit since arriving (ein bischen!). Having only done German for two terms at secondary school and only being able to remember how count to twelve, say ‘ich heisse Jane’ and ‘eine banane’ I was pretty much stating from zero. It did prove to me that with a bit of effort I can achieve more than I thought I could in a short space of time and I’m going to try to keep going with it. Next time we are in Spain I’m also going to do the same and make a start on that too so then I’ll have three languages I can’t speak!
Besides the cow care and the thistle clearing we’ve topped up water tanks, done some tractor work, helped with the harvesting, cleaned, cleared, strimmed, fenced, helped make silage, painted, picked berries, weeded vegetable patches, planted seeds, cooked, made jams and made cakes.
We’ve enjoyed spending time with the many other helpers from different countries to learn from and share stories and ideas with.
Seeing milk production from the grass roots level has certainly opened my eyes to the whole process. It’s kind of shattered my image of happy go lucky cows chewing the cud in the fields with the sun on their backs slowly ambling in to the milking parlour twice a day. Mmm, not quite.
The majority of dairy cows these days spend much of their lives inside as there is no requirement to offer outdoor pasture areas. The stipulation for organic dairy cows, though, is that they have to have access to pasture whenever conditions allow. Organic cows are also fed on a grass rich, GM free diet, and the use of antibiotics is banned but average yields are around thirty per cent less than for the more intensive methods. Suffice to say that seeing the whole process from calf to dairy cow the lot of the organic dairy cow is better than those that are more intensively farmed but by no means wonderful. It’s definitely made me think more about what I will be buying at the supermarket in the future.
Anyway, on that cheery note what are we up to now? Well, we spent last weekend relaxing on a free stellplatz by the river Tauber near Weikersheim. We were tired and needed a few days of rest and relaxation before continuing on our travels.
Unfortunately, it was roasting hot (in the 30’s) so we didn’t feel that rested after the weekend! It’s the first time on our travels that the heat really affected me and I felt I had no energy whatsoever. Fortunately, though, I was able to cool down by swimming in the river just a few steps away from the stellplatz which was very welcome.
After all the thistle clearing we had done in the few days before we left Dairy HQ our hands had practically seized up with no grip at all. After four days I knew things were improving when I just about managed to squeeze the toothpaste to the top of the tube. Well, ok, that is a slight exaggeration but it’s not far off.
We are now loosely following ‘The Romantic Road’. Apparently it is Germany’s best known and most popular holiday route taking in all that is traditionally German from walled medieval towns to fairy-tale castles and Rococo churches. It starts in Würzberg and continues in a southerly direction down to Füssen in the Alps. We picked it up in Weikersheim and we will continue south until the end or until we get Romantic Road burn out. The burn out is bound to happen as we experienced it before last year in France with all the Bastide towns we visited. So, we’ll see how it goes.