Thursday, October 6, 2011

Putting the "ow" in Cow

As you know, I work for an Ag NGO.  But, up until recently, I hadn't been doing too much with agriculture.  Mainly, I'd been working on the Special Projects Team (actually, we're now calling ourselves the Innovations Team because it sounds fancier).  My day-to-day was spent on products like solar lights, with only a fraction of time allocated to what would eventually be my first foray into the world of agriculture.

Cows!  Dairy cows, to be precise.

Cows are a beast.  And I do mean that in both senses of the word.  There are so many things to account for in figuring out cattle husbandry in Kenya - we're talking breed, shelter, fodder, milk collection, vaccinations, and so on.  There are about a million tiny little moving pieces that all have to be smartly, succinctly, and simply accounted for.  And, short of becoming a vet, how can I figure out if anything we do actually has any impact?

I decided to measure milk production.  And weight gain.  Simple enough, no?  (No.)

Take a second to consider how you would go about capturing that kind of information if you were me.  (I'd like to take this opportunity to inform the reader that I am a child of the suburbs; I think I touched a cow once at the Ohio State Fair petting zoo; and I majored in econ - so stop thinking that I have some sort of leg up on you in this little puzzle.)

Sure, milk is a challenge.  But, it's not nearly so taxing as weighing the darned thing.  I don't know about you, but I certainly don't have one of these bad boys lying around the backyard:

Even if I did, I don't know how I'd get it down some of the gnarly dirt "roads" around here and I don't even want to think about how much money that would end up costing.  So, you can see my conundrum.

I spent a week typing in various combinations of "estimate," "cow," "weight," and "frustration" into my trusty Google Search tab.

... I tell you, that thing never fails.

Thanks to the University of Arizona Ag Department and the Piedmontese Breeders Association, I found a tape measure method.  Yay me!  As for my survey agents - they're thrilled.  (That's a lie.  This method might be significantly more cost effective and, logistically, much less of a nightmare... but the cow-kick potentiality has definitely increased... and they're paid like 2 bucks a day.*)

Good thing there's workers' comp in Kenya.

*Note: Before you start hating on me for putting people in danger for 2 dollars a day - that's not a bad wage for a casual around here and cows are really pretty docile - we're relatively certain no one will get kicked.  Calm down.

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