At Shiozaki Dairy Farm outside of Bifuka, Haokkaido we have truly found rural Japan. There is only a one-car train that runs 5 times a day from the station and barely anyone on it. To get anywhere else you really need to have your own car. The farm itself is about a half hour drive from the small town of Bifuka, it sits on 80 hectares of pasture and supports 30 milking cows, a handful of meat cows, 4 chickens, 2 dogs, 3 cats and a family of 2 adults and 3 kids. Satoshi and Rie are a young couple that started this dairy 10 years ago and have been feeding their cows with grass from their land and collecting the delicious milk. They are both hard workers and are not only hosting Wwoofers for the first time but raising an 8 year old girl who loves to dance, a very energetic 5 year old and boy and a smiling 1½ year old that we call Heehee for short. This is what I expected the countryside to look like before making it to mainland Japan two months ago. The farms are still considerably smaller than those found in the Midwest and most are run by individual families.
During out first few days on the farm we shared duties with 2 WWoofer girls from Thailand. Our main job is helping milk the cows twice a day. The first milking is at 5am and the second at 4pm. Before the cows can enter we give them measured amounts of ‘beet food pellets’ at their stalls, feed a baby calf, clean and get the wiping rags ready for the udders. Once we let the cows in they go to their stalls and chow down like they haven’t been fed in weeks. It’s pretty amazing that most of the time they go to the correct stall. We lock them to a metal post and begin the milking process. We clean each cow’s udders first and then attach a milking machine. While they are milked we prepare the next cow and go on down the line. There are 4 milking machines going at the same time so there’s always something to do. The whole operation runs fairly smoothly, but there are some intricacies that our hosts are used to dealing with like ‘slow milker’ cows, cows that kick the milker off, cows that try and kick us while we’re cleaning them and so on. Satoshi has even performed a few AIs (artificial insemination) the last few days. After the last cow has been milked and most of the others have laid down (I don’t believe cows sleep standing up after this), so we have to get them up, release them from their post and back out to the pasture. We clean the stalls and the towels and get everything ready to go for the next round. In between milkings we help with the kids and chores around the house like laundry or gardening.
Outside of work we are included in many of the family and community activities. We’ve gone hiking with Shatoshi, to ‘cabbage club’ where we helped harvest hundreds of heads of cabbage, made wool yarn at a neighbor’s house, picked berries, went to a bazaar, visited a 1 man cheese factory, helped with the rice harvest in another town and attended a midday BBQ. We really enjoy Japanese BBQ because its lots of grilled veggies like peppers, onions and pumpkin. There’s even grilled noodles which are really good and of course some marinated meat.
Our time here on the farm is coming to a close and so is our time traveling. As some of you might already know, Rachel and I are headed back home. We had plans to travel to Nepal, but the Colorado flooding caused some serious damage at my parents resort and they need our help to get it back in working order. So we were able to change our tickets and will fly home on October 15th. We will leave the farm on the 9th and hope to get in some hiking in a nearby National Park, swig some beer at the original Sapporo brewery and whatever else comes up before making the trek home. Hope to see you all when we get back!