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Who Wants to Work on a Vermont Dairy Farm? A Reporter Spent a Week Finding Out

There is no clock in the milking parlor at Vorsteveld Farm. There are no windows, either, but a couple of hours into my first shift, I stopped wondering what was happening outside. The parlor is like a casino, a cocooned vault where the light is always fluorescent and the time is only now.

There's no point in knowing what month it is or what the weather will be tomorrow, because every day is exactly the same: The ladies come in to be milked 25 at a time, arranging themselves in the stalls according to a mysterious but inviolable pecking order. They don't like new people, I'd been forewarned. The nicer ones just kicked, knocking the motorized pump out of my hands as I tried to fasten the suction tubes to their teats; the more sadistic ones took warm, voluminous shits on my forearms. In the time it took me to hook up four cows, Victor had already finished a dozen.

Every 15 minutes, another 25 Holsteins entered the parlor, although time is not the relevant metric here; there are only cows milked and cows still to be milked. The shift ends not at 6:30 p.m. but when all the milk from every cow in the herd is sitting in the insulated steel Agri-Mark trailer outside. Then, the night crew comes in, time resets itself, and the whole process begins again. There is no Christmas, no snack time, no union-sanctioned piss break for either the cows or the workers, all of whom relieve themselves in the parlor when the urge strikes.