Norwegian cows on summer vacation
Even dairy cows deserve a break from their daily grind, and a soft place to lie down
Christine Foster Meloni
My Norwegian cousin Alf Erik Borgen is a dairy farmer. When I visited him last summer in Lom, I was very surprised to discover that almost all of his cows were gone. He had sent them away on vacation!
Alf wanted to give them a break from milking so he sent them to his summer farm in the mountains for two months, July and August. There they are free to hang out and do nothing from morn till night. They have grass to eat and water to drink. They sleep out in the open, breathing in the fresh night air. Alf goes up once a week to check on them and to make sure they have enough salt. The family tries to join them as often as possible because they enjoy staying in their mountain cabin (hytte in Norwegian), joyfully roughing it without plumbing or electricity.
Cows seem to have a very good life in Norway. The Norwegian government passed a law a few years ago that requires farmers to provide each cow with a rubber mattress. Alf says that it is better for cows to lie on these mattresses rather than directly on a cold concrete floor. Although it is not mandated by law, Alf also plays classical music for his cows. Cows appear to produce more milk when they are contented.
Alf has been a farmer for twenty-eight years. He had not originally planned to take over the family farm. Traditionally, it is the oldest son who takes on this responsibility, and since Alf was the second son, he had other plans. But, when the time came, his older brother decided that he didn’t want the farm. If Alf also said that he didn’t want it, the farm would have to be sold. This would have been very sad for the family because the farm had been in the family since 1836, for 178 years.
What Alf likes most about his work is that he is his own boss and can make decisions by himself. But these are hard times for Norwegian landowners. A farmers cooperative buys all of his products, but it decides on the prices. Alf considers this a serious problem. “I receive four kroner per liter for the milk that I produce,” he says, “but it is then sold in Norwegian stores for fifteen kroners a liter.”
When he retires, what will happen to this family farm? He has no sons. But he has four daughters, and he is pleased that his daughter Ingvill plans to take over the farm. He says that her interest in the farm is what keeps him going, what gives him the will to continue to be a farmer. He is very grateful that she will make it possible for the farm to remain in the family. I am also grateful, as my great-grandmother was born on the Borgen farm, and I too want the farm to remain in the family.
This article originally appeared in the July 11, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.