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The Milk House: Milking during a zombie apocalypse

Ryan Dennis Published on 09 October 2012

It could happen. Movies have shown us how.

Whether from the radiation of a NASA Venus probe, the mutation of prions from Mad Cow Disease or – as postulated by Harvard psychiatrist Steven Schlozman – a virus leading to the condition known as Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome, the threat of the infectious brain-eating undead looms over us all.

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The prospect of outbreak is real enough that even the Center for Disease Control has released material educating the public what to do during a zombie apocalypse. Nothing so far, to my knowledge, has been done to prepare dairy farmers.

Farmers often have to milk cows under severe conditions, whether due to financial difficulties, climate hazards, the stress of fieldwork or other vexing challenges. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared if the biggest challenge is yet to come – and indeed does come staggering through the fields and foaming at the mouth. Here’s a few things to consider when the time comes to extend your survival and make sure the milking still gets done.

  • Wear flannel – It’s an awful cliché, and I hope you’ve resisted it so far. But you have to say one thing for the material: It’s hard to bite through. Keeping infected saliva out of your bloodstream is going to be paramount. For the same reasons, you don’t want to lose your work gloves.
  • Use bill collectors as bait – Dairy farmers will have an excess of certain things under any circumstance. One of those is people looking for money. You never know when a fleeing man with a clipboard will be useful to lure away the frothing masses so you can make a break for it.
  • Get used to living in the barn – For most dairy farmers, this won’t be too big of a change. It may be too risky to go between the house and the barn several times a day, even if they are fairly close together. This is where a haymow comes in handy. They may have gone out of fashion with the square bales, but they’ll be quite a luxury during a zombie takeover – plenty of room, hardware floors and the crawl spaces can be closed off quickly.
  • Consider the co-op – The debate over the usefulness of milk co-ops rages on for now but will quickly die away when the undead rise. Still, consider the economics. You’ll have several resources that the surviving population will hunger for: milk, meat and tractors.

Think about establishing a community on your farm with the other local survivors. They can help protect these provisions from the zombies as well as others who want to take it from you. And who hasn’t dreamed of being king, anyway?

  • Hay bale fortification – If you have any extra bales rotting at the end of the field, now would be a good time to stack them in strategic places. The generator will need to be fortified (electricity will eventually give out), as will entrances to the milk house.
  • Find those old Shania Twain tapes – The best we can hope for is that the government still maintains one or two frequencies on the radio for emergency communication, but the end of country music is inevitable. Comb the milk house, feed room and parlor for any dusty cassette or CD laying around.

Ever tried milking cows without music? If you can no longer rock to the Oakridge Boys, Hall & Oats or Duran Duran collections from your childhood, it might be best to get on eBay and supplement your stocks.

  • Maintain proper sanitation practices – Biosecurity measures have been ingrained into us as a part of good farming. An attack from the undead is no time to get lazy. It is well known that the infection spreads through the saliva which, as much as zombies tend to drool, will be ubiquitous. Keep the teat dip handy, both during milking and afterwards. If you thought mastitis was hard to deal with …
  • Get used to running in rubber boots – A little athleticism could make all the difference. As far as getting in shape goes, I would suggest a variation of the Chinese fire drill: Put the milkers on, do a lap around the barn and try to get back before they need to be taken off. Or just let the heifers out.
  • Stock up on barn salt – It’s not only useful to preserve cull cows, but some legends maintain that zombies are averse to salt. It may just be the stuff of myths, but hey, you never know.

One advantage dairy farmers will have is that it won’t be the first time that it will all come down to surviving. Some have made it into an art. Farming is often an act of handling the unforeseen and unlikely.

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No one expects the E. coli outbreak that goes through the herd, the drought that lasts all year, the accident that changes everything or the invasion of fall army worms that destroy the hay. When you measure the guts and creativity needed for these circumstances, perhaps we’ve been fighting the apocalypse all along. PD

Dennis is the son of a dairy farmer from western New York and a literary writer. The Dennis family still dairies and maintains a 100-plus-cow herd of Holsteins and Shorthorns.

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