Goodbye Russia & cycling to Shlisselburg

Time has truly been flying. Almost 3 month in Russia are over. Feels somehow I leave just in time with the arrival of colder weather and ever shorter days. The time here has been rich in old and new friendships (thanks all again!), new knowledge be it the Russian language, farm life or the ins and outs of this country and its people. I also regained my pre-Lhotse weight thanks to an uncountable number of Soljanka’s and other russian meals. But now its time for new adventures and three weeks with my son after a brief stopover in Kiev and Chernobyl.

Goodbye Issad: I only spent half the week on the farm doing the routine tasks and helping Cohan to build the new milking parlour. We also had to replace a flat tyre, which was fun. We also had a visit from the Russian special police force at the farm looking for illegal immigrants. Given Jan, Cohan and I didn’t register our stay in Issad formally (you are meant to within the 24h), we figured its better to avoid them. The evenings seemed like a non-stop good bye party. Tuesday with Richard and Wednesday with the entire issad gang. Thank you all and see you somewhere in the world another time.

Cycling to Shlisselburg: Before I came to Issad i had prepared a list of things to do in and around Issad. The only point missing was a cycle trip to/from Issad and the city of Shlisselburg with its fortress. I decided to go for it on Thursday and made the 100km ride through mainly forests, old villages and along the Novoladoshskiy canal. It was beautiful though admittedly tiring. Well, never done a 100k ride in my life. I arrived in Shlisselburg around 8pm. Next morning i visited the fortress. Its located on an island and needs a ferry to get there (RUB250 return +RUB entrance at fortress). The name Shlisselburg, originally built in 1323 and now unesco world heritage, comes from german for key (=Schlüssel) fortress (=Burg) and was given to the place by a peter the great after he took it back from the swedes at the cost of 1500 russian soldiers. In the time before and after WW2 its been used as a political prison and was host to names like lenin’s brother.

I dropped my initial plan to continue cycling to Peter given my bottom was still sore from yesterday. Instead i took the 575 bus back (RUB75 bike included) and spent some time reading. Once in St pete i just cruised about town mainly along the Neva and delved into memories as i cycled past many places i been to in the weeks before. I felt a bit melancholic.

Goodbye St Pete: Friday eve i stayed with Katya, Max and Hadley in Sestroretsk to chat a little about my farm experience and share some of my thoughts. Saturday last evening out with Nika, Yuri and Daniel. They had booked a real nice Georgian restaurant not far from Nevsky prospect. Vodka was part of the menu and set us up for a good night out. After a bar i hadnt been to (Orthodox) we went to my favorite pub (fiddlers green on Rubinshteina) where Felix joined us. After off to poison karaoke bar before we retired. Big night, many memories.

Sunday started unsurprisingly slow, but i didnt have too much time to rest with lunch at larisa’s & victors coming up. That also meant a to of olivier and cognac as usual. In the living they keep a scales on which i ‘weighed in’ at 74kg during my first Wednesday after school visit. 3month later i had added 6kg. I collected some presents to take to london (alex has turned into a book worm and asked for russian books – grandpa larisa is just the right person for that. Time for a final good bye.

The evening was reserved for another group of friends – the 1703 guys. Anna mentioned that Artëm was in town and so we all ended up at this hip-hop bar where we met many weeks ago. Arthur, the cab driver who took us for a night-tour, also came along. I once more admired the battle rap skills of some Russian rappers and karaoke at nearby poission with some good eminem tunes. Fast these guys. DJ – spin that shit! Eventually we ended up in the flat i had booked for the last evening and chatted away. Cool icing on my Russia cake figuratively speaking.

And that was it. Next stop Minsk on my way to Kiev. I can now speak Russian. Basic, but I can. See you soon Russia!

Week five on the farm: Danone bloggers & lake Ladoga

Highlights of last week included Monday’s group of bloggers sponsored by Danone, a first proper catch of fish on the river and my last weekend here that presented itself with beautiful weather and a trip to Lake Ladoga. The international crowd in issad now counts a further guest in Cohan from New Zealand who is in charge of building a new milking parlour. The russian crowd shrank in turn as Lisa headed back to St pete. Was a pleasure!

Danone bloggers: I had written about this earlier. Danone basically uses micro-influencers in form of instagram bloggers to promote their Tëma – childhood line. They had visited Danone’s production facilities in the past, but now went a level deeper looking at the milk origin here at our farm. Quite a few big insta names in town with a total of close to 3m followers and Russian actress Anna Mihailovskaya. Overall, it went quite well though one hardly will get 100% honest feedback for these (paid) influencers I should think. Here a short movie of the farm.

Otherwise the work week was mainly routine tasks and a lot of time helping the vets again.

Fishing with success: Having changed spots to the new one Jan located a bit further up the river, I finally caught two medium sized fishes last week. great success! Rather than eating these bony little things, I donated them to Evelina’s sea turtles.

Last weekend in Issad: The unbelievable happened … we actually had a few more guests at cafe Britannia and some sort of party. Must have been arranged ;o)

Lake Ladoga: To visit the lake has been on my agenda already when I left london. It’s the 14th largest freshwater lake in the world (by square meters) and an absolute beauty. We made our way there on Sunday hiring a small motor boat to get around (RUB2000/day from local campsite in Novaya Ladoga). However, since the local fish shop in issad had run out of worms we were a little short of good bait. We tried fake fish with mixed success. I caught a small pike before losing my plastic fish to the lake … just got stuck somewhere on the ground I guess. Anyway, relaxing in the sunshine and taking in the scenery was top class nontheless.

One week in Вязье …

We left St Pete in Richards car at 6am sharp for my village adventure though one of these random police checks delayed us a little (with no reward for our early morning friends from the Russian police this time). On our way down south we dropped by one of the other group farms – what a difference to Issad! Really back in time and a lot of work ahead to get this one modernised.

By lunchtime we were sat in the вязье’s village Stalovaya (well, really it runs only when farm business requires it) with the local manager Anton. Richard went straight into business. I accepted for now that Anton deemed me a dutch guy (there are plenty of them active in Russia). The farm setup there is distinctly from issad and much more decentral. Long ways … I think i did 20km a day. After a look around the farm with Richard and Sergey it was time to move into mu new home in one of the concrete blocks in Issad. Nicely refurbished inside though pretty dated outside. After shopping I got my last blog done and followed chelsea winning 6:0 in their champions league opener against some aseri team I have never heard of.

Village life was quiet at best. Kids have not much to do apart from some run down playgrounds. Not surprising to see them picking up bad habits early. Some little school boys (10-12?) asked me (demanded?) for cigarettes. You can see them already arriving with a fag at school – and it’s a school for younger kids only. Time really stands still here. Demographics stink. You seemingly only meet older or younger people. 20-30s much less it feel. They have left. Big issue for recruiting farm workers. Seemingly even bigger than in issad. But then also completely understandable given tough job markets locally.

Farm work was not overly busy that week. Animals I noticed look generally cleaner given they are chained and hence their rear is always facing the right way (to the shitpusher or how ever you want to call these devices). Downside obviously is a much more constrained life. I inspected some equipment for functionality (e.g. Pulsator) and cleanliness (milking & feeding gear), scored cows for body condition (handy app there from Bayer … no limits for mobile phone use these days) and some of the operating procedures and execution of the farm workers (e.g. How well tits are sealed after milking etc). The other main job was to organise the upcoming blogger visit to issad with some microinfluencers sponsored by Danone – chiefly to write the presentation.

Loads of downtime. On top of the generally quiet place (not cafe, restraurnat, bar etc) I also didn’t feel too great myself -0with a sore throat nagging that basically grounded me even if there was something to do. On the flip side, I got through two books (detective novels of inspector maigret) and plenty of rest. Saturday I still felt bad, but used the time to do some planning for Spain and Colombia in fall as well as Thailand in January. Big world from my screen in little issad! The exceptions was Saturday evening. I had heard that there was a youth club in the village and finally decided that I can’t miss the only ‘party’ Vance in the village. It felt strange to walk into this place of strangers without knowing anyone, but turned out friendly be it a bit boring. Illuminated dance floor without dancers (only drink Igor sleeping on the floor), music not working (I fetched my boombox) and a generally pretty young and drunk crowd. But it was fun to chat and engage in yet another round of arm wrestling ;o) I lost after a long struggle to what seemed the local champion.

Back to issad. Sergey kindly gave me a lift Sunday morning to dedovice some 15km away me with a train service to st pete on Sundays. He is from the region and showed me around a bit to say the local power station, wood manufacturing plant etc. Right on time at 10.30 the train arrived and I made myself comfortable on the bed in my cabin. Love this way of travelling. More reading. Little conversation. Once in st Pete I met with Richard and together with kirill we headed for issad. Much prep was still to do ahead of the Danone event including fair bit of cleaning. Home sweet home again … for two more weeks.

Half time at the dairy farm – changing location for a few days

The end of last week (week 3) marked half time for me here on the dairy farm in Issad. It was also reasonably eventful with some new tasks such as replacing faulty tags on (kicking) cow legs, meetings in preparation of a blogger event at our farm sponsored by Danone to promote their babyfood line тёма, covered new silage clamps, watched the vets getting literally into it and work on the excel model for the new cheese factory. Back to the office job for a bit. I could also put my injection skills to work to make watermelon vodka – knew it would be good for something! And of course we went fishing (no success!).

Next week (eg as i write) i will go a bit deeper into village life at another farm of the group in вязье (yep, that little village). Since we departed there with Richard from St Pete, i threw in a few days in st pete to catch up with yuri & yuri, nika, anna and co. Life music in the liverpool pub, a police visit on yuri’s balcony due to my boombox music and a thai massage being the standouts. It was nice to taste some civilisation amidst decent weather (even the sun came out).

So how was it so far? Clearly, there are many day-to-day jobs at a farm that i could never do for a longer period without boredom eating me alive. The bigger picture stuff and management aspects are in turn very interesting. Much have i learned about agriculture, animal health and behaviour, modern dairy technologies, the soft commodity market (QE is now even impacting butter ;o) and now how to make cheese (well, a little anyway).

Trip to Veliki Novgorod & farm week 2 highlights

The highlight of the week was not farm related, but a kayak tour on the Volkhov river in and around Veliki Novgorod. The trip came after an otherwise disappointing Friday, as Russia celebrated the start of school and the corresponding ‘day of knowledge’ meaning there was no alcohol sold in any shops (bar restraurants and bars with beer on tap … you guessed it, no on tap beer in our village ;o). Very healthy evening ;o) On the positive side this allowed us to leave for novgorod fresh and early on Saturday – a 3h drive (200km) plus 30min waiting due to construction work.

Kayak trip: Lisa had helped to book the kayak tour albeit we weren’t sure it would go ahead by the time we arrived in the city. Then all went super smooth. We met two guys from on a parking lot near one of the feeder rivers flowing into the volkhov. Very friendly people, no hassle with documents (none require) and all in EUR20/day per person including pick-up. We followed the feeder for 30mins until it flows into the main river. Stunning views of the Novgorod kremlin emerged. As we paddled downstream, many churches, bridges and other landmarks followed.

The city was founded in 1158 and has a beautiful historic centre. Only afterwards the usual concrete blocks emerge before very quickly the scenic Russian countryside takes over. Kayaking has to be on of the best ways to do sightseeing here. Freedom pure. Altogether, we spent 4 hours (15km) on the river before we landed in the village khutin. Very pretty indeed and as Nikita from the kayak shop explained later, a pretty rich one too. The amazing local monastery plays a good part in that, but also the proximity to the town center (15min drive).

One night in Novgorod: There are days where all things come together. We had such a day on Saturday. Given the long journey home we decided to stay for the night and booked ourselves into hostel Yaroslav. Walking distance to the Center, only 500 rub / night and super friendly staff. Once checked in we already heard the music from a concert in the Center. Some mostly screaming Russian pop star was on and we enjoyed the athmosphere of the free gig with shashlik and a beer.

Afterwards we headed to an irish pub and watched Italy getting trashed 3:0 by Spain in the RUSSIA 2018 qualifiers. i guess the Guinness revived us a fair bit and so we stopped at a boat club (Fregatte) on the way home. Turned out to be fun and so we didn’t leave to early. Jan was busy talking to some locals via google translate, I practiced my spoken Russian with some good success. Fun night.

Lada niva on strike: by the time we got up and had lunch it was past midday on Sunday. Going home turned out more difficult than expected. We had left the lights on and the battery was dead. Pushing the car didn’t work though wee were stuck. Thankfully the hostel staff helped to ca a taxi with a starter cable and all worked out well yet again. Cost rub200 … Not bad. 

Farm week in review

Monday: Jan and I started the day with some early morning fishing at 6.30am before dealing with our normal farm routined. The afternoon kexxtone session turned out rather lengthy and caused some minor injuries from resentful cows. By the time we had completed our weekly report it was 8.15pm.

Tuesday: we continued with blood tests, helped moving and sick and very heavy cow, delivered some meat to evelina’s parents is staraya ladoga on a day where my russian wasnt up to speed (i thought we all gol for a meat dish instead), enjoyed more fishing and welcomed richard back.

Wednesday: Interesting day as a dairy farm consultant as well as a Finnishdairy food/supplement provider visited and i survived without problems my first police stop. After fishing we treat us to a beer at cafe britannia and at home with vlad and roman – the new project engineer for the milk farm. Good evening all in.

Selective Consultant insights

  • Hoof trimming: on the farm there is a specific hoof trimmer to keep the feet healthy. Incorrect trim can cause lameness while a good treatment can heal. The idea hoof is 5-7mm thick on the bottom and 7.5cm long towards the tip. He trimmer has a template to check thencorrect size. Problems found were either a too short trim and/or some ulsters in the hoof overlooked. The latter are treated by cutting it out and adding a block to the hoof so it doesn’t stand in the mud, gets air and doesn’t carry full weight either. Normal lame rate in a herd is 2.5% to 31% (our farm being at the very low end) and is the 3rd biggest reason for reduced output after reproduction & mastitis (udder inflammation). 90% of lameness stems from claws (rest upper limb) and mainly back & outer claws. Most commonly you find white line disease sole injuries and foot rot. If the cow can’t be helped (as was the case with one), it becomes a cull case and goes to the slaughter house. Receiving advise from an outside clearly causes some friction judging by th faces of some employees during the consultants lecture. Change isn’t always easy. 

  • Manure analysis: not exactly my favourite though important. You basically collect a Liter of cow shit and put it through a three stage sieve to separate smaller from larger content (just like shaker test). That then gives insights on digestion, Fibre fermentation, appropriate feed mix, acidosis (excessive acid in body fluids) etc. We found that some cows maybe overhead (esp. low/medium cows) and costly feed might be wasted. Hence, rations will be reviewed. 

Thursday: we helped the vets to deliver vaccines to young cattle and listened to the consultants conclusions. In the afternoon i stopped for a tea at the students house on the farm where evelina & lisa life. To my great surprise there was a turtle (evelina’s pet) and i had the chance to admire her handicraft skills for a moment as she finished off a blue elephant. After work we headed to volkhov for dinner at a sushi bar (very average) and to see the hydro power station.

Friday: a bit boring to be frank after we quickly completed the routine tasks and helped the vets again. Need to look for some new jobs next week. As mentioned above, first September celebrations meant no end of the week beer in the one pub we have here … scandalous! ;o)