Focus : Woofing at Kiyuna Farm

Discover in twenty photos my woofing at the Kiyuna farm from 18 to 27 January 2016, in North Okinawa.


North of Okinawa, on the west coast is the village of Ôgimi. Sprawling on the seashore and the small hills covering the north of the island, the houses are rural and fairly isolated from each other. On a plateau a little outside the village are many small family farms including the Kiyuna farm dedicated to a small milk production.


The surroundings of the farm are filled with a kind of jungle made of a mixture of hardwoods and tropical trees. The atmosphere is hot and humid. Most of the time. During half of my woofing I had the pleasure of undergoing a very strong rainstorm with very strong winds and a very sharp drop in temperatures. I thought that our accommodation made of odds and ends would yield under the power of gusts.


Kiyuna Farm has about twenty dairy cows, twenty-four heifers and six calves. Each cow has her own character: the group leader, the energetic, the curious, the cheeky, the brute, the calm, the fearful, the anguished, the “push me that I pass” …


The Kiyuna farm belongs to a couple of older Japanese still in great shape. Asahide is a joker, kind, smiling guy who lived for two years in the United States in his youth. With Parkinson’s disease, Otôsan (japanese nickname meaning “Daddy”) has some difficulty speaking when he is tired. Passionate about music, he spends much of his time singing, carving small flutes from bamboos or playing shamisen (a kind of traditional three-stringed traditional Okinawa guitar) inside the old silo, now empty and allowing a nice resonance. Asahide’s main job is to evacuate the manure and milk the cows.


Keiko Kiyuna is also smiling like her husband but much more authoritarian. She prepares the meals for the woofers and takes care of feeding the calves. She also maintains a small vegetable garden and a small garden containing medicinal and aromatic plants. Here with Akiko, one of the woofers, she shows how to make butter in the traditional way: mix a little milk and cream, shake everything for five minutes and add a few pinches of salt.


Kiyuna Farm only works mainly with woofers. The only other permanent employees are a man and a woman coming to milk the cows in the morning and evening in turn with Asahide. The walls of the farm are also covered with drawings of woofers from around the world. During my stay, I worked with two Japanese, one English, one German and when I left, an Austrian arrived. Sonja, pictured here, is a 23-year-old German girl who came to Japan for a month and a half. A month of woofing followed by two weeks of discovering the country with one of his friends coming to join her. Quiet and very friendly girl, we talked a lot about our similar questions about our future, our job and our travel desires.


In addition to cows, Kiyuna Farm has about fifteen goats, ten rabbits, about thirty roosters and hens and a couple of black pigs more like wild boars than pigs.


The work at Kiyuna Farm begins at 6am to gather the cows who have spent the night in the outdoor meadow. While they are being milked, we take care of cleaning the barn and evacuating the manure from the stalls. Around 7:30 we feed them with hay, then half an hour later with esa (Japanese term for a food supplement). Breakfast at 8am. Until noon, the cows are fed every half-hour alternating hay and esa </ em>. Goats, rabbits, roosters, hens and pigs are also fed and the cages cleaned. Lunch at noon and free time until 3.00pm. The work then resumes until 5-6pm to clean the stables and evacuate the droppings and feed all the animals.


Theesa is a dietary supplement to feed the cows made of a mixture of cereals, tofu, another substance of an excruciating smell of which I did not remember the name, rice and vitamins. Cows typically eat two large wheelbarrows of sea per day. So we had to prepare and mix the mixture by hand two to three times a day.


Working on the farm is not a pleasure. Cleaning the stables, preparing the hay, mixing the esa, cleaning the calves, etc. are long, difficult and painful tasks for the body especially in the first days. Whether it’s a beautiful sun or the storm, the job must be done. The lack of diversity also makes the work a bit monotonous. Fatigue is all the more important as free time is few and short. I admit that the big workload surprised me a little when I arrived and that the work did not particularly delight me. But I enjoyed working all day outdoors with animals and see the sunrise every morning.


The housing of the woofers is a small hut made of odds and ends, wood, sheets and plastic sheeting right in front of the enclosure of calves, roosters and chickens. Wake up at 5am by the roosters guaranteed! The accommodation consists of a common room and a dormitory room. The equipment is minimal and the thermal insulation does not exist. During the storm that took place for five days of my woofing, the tarpaulins slammed so loud that we could hardly hear each other anymore. The toilet and the shower are outside with very rural sanitary conditions. You have to make fire to get hot water. Nevertheless, the whole thing has a certain charm, thanks to the successful paintings that line the walls of the dormitory and the farm.


Naturally quite calm in normal situations, cows turn into real brutes when food arrives. The weakest cows are then hunted with horns. Many cows have scarring marks and several times I saw a cow bleed after a violent blow. I also observed this kind of behavior in goats and rabbits but less violent.


oney Bunny is the weakest cow in the entire group. Being constantly brutalized by the other cows and being unable to eat, she was separated from the group to be “housed” in a small space alone. Naturally quiet, Honey Bunny is the only cow to have received a name that refers to her dress of a pretty honey color.


The farm is home to a dozen cats and three small kittens mostly wandering who decided to settle in the stables after realizing that it was easy to get food. When I arrived, most of them had caught cold weather and it was a bit painful to see them sniff or choke, their eyes watering. The common cold is a disease that can be very dangerous for the cat. Sonja and I have built small shelters for them to protect them from the cold and the rain. The three little kittens (I have no idea how old they are, but they must not be old) were absolutely irresistible. In search of love and caresses, they came all the time meowing and rubbing our legs to be hugged. Love at first sight! I shared some very nice moments of tenderness with each of the three, especially in the evening when I brought them with me in the little shack where was the internet connection to protect them from the cold. In a ball on my legs falling asleep or following attentively one of the episodes I watched, claiming caresses truffle to nose, purring, small hot body so thin. I was not a huge fan of cats before that, but my heart changed sides.


Four male calves were sold during my woofing, most certainly to finish on our plates. To make them leave their enclosure was a little fight each time. But a calf alone is powerless against two decided men.


Kiyuna Farm has a silo today transformed into a sound box for Asahide’s music sessions. He arranged the interior by installing lamp, small table and chair. Shamisen, flutes and sheet music sit inside. When envy takes him, Ôtosan sets out to interpret great classics, including singing. It is also possible to climb the outside of the silo. The climb of about thirty meters (I think) is painful for the hands but the view at the top of the area is worth it.


The return of the sun after five days of storm was experienced by everyone as a deliverance. All the animals basked in the sun to store the heat. Ni, the dog of the farm (“Ni” means “two” in Japanese), particularly liked to spread in the green grass on one side of our lodging.


Kiyuna Farm regularly hosts tours of nearby schools. Children discover work and life on the farm, learn how to make butter, test milking cows and play with kittens. A lot of hustle and bustle during these visits but smiles and enthusiasm are a pleasure to see.


For the children’s visit, Keiko Kiyuna had prepared cow-shaped bread rolls. But most children found that they looked more like “oppai” (“breasts” in Japanese). So they were renamed “oppai-pan” ( “pan” meaning “bread”). The children laughed a lot. Joking aside, the breads were very good.


Sounds of Kiyuna Farm – Milking :


The introduction to this focus is available, here.


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