Mike Rowe wasn’t sure what to expect. He’d been to multiple dairy farms before and they were all mostly automated processes, except for the actual hookups of the milking devices. Here, a three tiered carousel rotated around a central hub of televisions whiles tubes of the creamy white miwk ran along the underside towards a central tank. As fluffies babbled to each other, Mike couldn’t help but noticed that it looked like every single one was laying down on the job
“So tell me what I’m seeing here,” said Mike.
“The entire process is automated,” said Mary. “You need a lot of fluffy ponies to get all the miwk for all the products we make, so hooking them all up would be a hassle. I designed this system instead.” She walked up to the carousel, where a barrier lifted to let a mare off. The brown unicorn stood up for her laying position and waddled off the carousel and into the field. Looking down on the empty plate, there were four depressions, each with a hole at the bottom and clear plastic tubing attached. Behind the depression was a trough stained with filth covered grate.
“So when the Mare comes in to be milked…”
“I notice you said ‘milked’ and not ‘miwked’,” said Mike.
“Milk as a verb isn’t subject to the same legal protections as milk,” said Mary. “Lawyers, you know? Anyway, we train our fluffy mares to come in and lay down on the depressions. Once they’re down, the grate slides back so she can do her business freely into the trough. These depressions generate a light vacuum, so the fluffy is stuck for the duration. Since they don’t lactate for that long per session, the generally go around three times for a total of an hour. They’re gently milked, rest for fifteen minutes, milked again, rest for fifteen minutes, then milked a last time before the suction releases and they’re let go.”
“Don’t they get bored?” asked Mike. “Every fluffy I’ve ever know has an attention span of about two minutes.”
“That’s what the TVs are for,” said Mary. “It just loops the same ten hours of content, mostly telling them how to be good miwk mares and what a good job their doing. It also shows the nursery, so they know where their miwk is going. And if they do get bored, they’re stuck for the duration. They learn not to whine after a while. Whining is not tolerated at Fwuffy Fawms Cweamawy.”
Mike paused a moment. She said it with such finality and seriousness that he immediately saw her in a new light. Here he’d thought she was just some hugboxing hippie, but that cold sincerity told him that she was a business woman first, a farmer second, and probably no great lover of fluffy ponies after all. The nearby mares visibly cringed when she said it too and turned all their attention to the happy singing CGI fluffies on TV.
“Where were we?” she said, the smile returning to her face. “Oh yes, lets watch a mare get ready.”
A small light blue unicorn shuffled through the door and up the entrance of the carousel. She waited a moment as the system seemed to think. A ramp slid into place, directing her to the second tier. The light turned green and the barrier lifted. The unicorn walked over the grate and laid down with her four teats in the depressions. She spread out her legs as she sank slightly, the vacuum taking hold of her. The waste grate slid back and a few moments later, creamy white miwk flowed into the tubes beneath her.
“If you see that black box beneath her,” said Mary pointing to the tubes. “That a colorimetric reader. If the miwk is the wrong shade due to blood, infection, or substandard product, the system dumps it to another container and she’ll get flagged for inspection. Cuts and other owies get healed up, other problems get evaluated and dealt with appropriately.”
There was the darkness again. Mike smiled for the first time today. He was really beginning to take a liking to Mary. An obviously pregnant earthie waddled up through the doors and up to the carousel entrance. The barrier didn’t open and instead flashed a yellow light.
“Huh?” asked the fluffy, clearly confused. “Is time fow miwkies! Meanie thingee go up so gif miwkies fow bebehs!”
“It’s almost time for you to be a momma again!” said Mary, retuning to her cheery, sing-song voice she used when talking to the mares. She pointed to a one way pet door that led back outside. “Go through that door there to the almost momma room.”
“Interesting it knew that,” said Mike as they followed the mare along the short path to the next building.
“Oh the tags are all RFID,” said Mary. “They tell us who’s pregnant, when they’re due, how many litters they’ve had, the quality of their miwk, everything. Her, for example. She’s due in two days so she gets to go to the Momma Center. We tried just one day, but we kept getting foals in the fields, so we do this now.”
They arrived after a short walk in front of a building that had a cartoonishly round pregnant fluffy mother painted on the side. The mare trudged along, finally waddling through the oversized pet door into the area beyond. Mike and Mary and the camera crew followed through the human doors. Inside, a tall, lanky woman with long brown hair picked up the earthie that had just wandered inside and already had her up on the table for inspection.
“This is Susan Shellmore,” said Mary. “She’s our resident foaling expert. She’ll help the mothers through their birth.” Susan waved a hand dismissively.
“Oh, they hardly need our help,” said Susan. “They get a quick checkup, then these ladies go in the HugBox until they’re ready to foal.”
“Did you say HugBox?” asked Mike.
“Well, let’s take a look,” said Susan, picking up the earthie.
They walked over to the cubicles arranged in rows where dozens of pregnant fluffies sat inside each one babbling about “soon mummah!” and “wuv bebehs!” Susan found an unoccupied cubby hole and slid the mare in tail first. Her rear butted up against another waste trough, while a water bottle hung at the front of the cubicle. The cubicle beeped, then what looked like a blood pressure cuff detached from the walls and inflated around the mare.
“Eee!” she shrieked. “Nu wike! Nu can muv!”
“Yes, you can,” said Susan with an exasperated sigh. “Stand up.” The mare tentatively put her feet down instead of flailing them uselessly.
“Can muv!” she said, as if shocked by this revelation. She was able to take a step forward and a step back, but no further. “Nu muv faw.”
“And you won’t till you’ve had your babies,” said Mary. She checked the screen. “This is your third litter, you should know this by now. I suggest you learn quickly.”
The fluffies visibly quailed at her words and took a step back if they were able to, but what they didn’t do was cry out. Mike smiled again. This place wasn’t as hugs and smiles as it seemed. One of the cubicle lights gave a soft beep and a blue light flashed.
“Oh look. It’s time for foals,” said Susan. “You get to see the HugBox in action.”
They walked to the cubicle where an enormously pregnant unicorn screeched in pain. Mary took a look at the e-ink display, and frowned.
“This is her twentieth litter, which is lucky for her,” said Mary. “We use the HugBox to keep them from fluffsploding.”
“I thought that was just a myth?” said Mike.
“Oh it used to be super common,” said Susan. “The first generations of fluffies would explode if you so much as scared them while pregnant. Early fluffies had such weak tissue structures that the stress of birthing caused the uterus to basically grab everything it could from the rest of the body and used it to apply pressure. Any additional stress and pop went the fluffy.”
“That sounds disgusting,” said Mike.
“Oh it is,” said Susan. “Foals getting thrown all over the place, mares screaming in terror. It was bad times. These gals are champs, though after fifteen litters or so, they tend to get worn out. The HugBox applies constant pressure, keeping the fluffy safe and ready to be milked the very next day.”
“BEBEHS COMIN’” shrieked the mare. The cuff hummed and massaged the fluffy as five newborn foals slid from the mare. The HugBox continued to whir and churn for a few more minutes as Susan picked up a plastic container from the ground. She slipped between the cameramen and Mike and flipped the foals over one by one. They chirped in protest as she poked and prodded them. Satisfied, she tapped the tag on the bin to the cubicle, and it beeped.
“Good Job, Bessie,” said Susan. “Three fillies, two colts. And that’s twenty for you, which means you get a special prize!”
“Tank yu,” the mare replied. Mike looked up for a moment as a thought occurred to him.
“Why didn’t she….” Mary held up a stern finger, warning Mike not to finish that sentence. They went to another nearby room where dozens of foals chirped and peeped in plastic containers all around the room. Bottles of what Mike assumed to be miwk hung from the sides with foals greedily suckling at the rubber nipples.
“They know better than to ask for babies,” said Susan, answering Mike’s question. “They start asking for babies, then suddenly every fluffy in the room is screaming for babies and it takes forever to get them settled back down. The offender is reeducated and their behavior gets noted.”
“What happens to miwk mares with too many notes?” asked Mike.
“They get sent to a farm upstate,” said Susan, avoiding Mike’s eyes. “Nothing bad happens to fluffies here. Aside from using the sorry sticks to herd them, we never even so much as raise a voice to them. Happy fluffies give the best miwk, and we want to keep it that way.” She smiled again, seeming to realize the cameras were filming everything. “Let’s sort the foals, shall we?”
She set the box on the table where dozens of foals sat peeping and chirping. The room was stiflingly hot, and despite being outwardly clean, it stank of sour milk and poo. Susan and Mary looked over the multicolored pile of fluff for a moment before turning back to Mike.
“We’re looking for three things,” said Mary. “Sex, nipples, and oddities.”
“Aren’t we all?” asked Mike. Mary smirked at the remark before continuing.
“If they’re a male with two nipples, they go here,” she indicated a black plastic container similar to the blue one the foals currently occupied. “If they’re deformed, they go in here. Bad wings, anything other than four legs, missing eyes, anything but alicorns. Punch it into the terminal on the wall, but don’t tag them. We’re not keeping them so they don’t need tags, but they do need numbers.”
“You get alicorns?” asked Mike.
“Rarely,” said Susan. “Since we exchange with other farms, it’s been known to happen. Alicorns and four nippled males go into this gold bin. Those are the money foals. Tag them though the ear with this.” She picked up a small device that looked like a hole punch combined with a price gun. “Tap it to the bin tag to get the mare’s number, then just pull the handle. Females with two nipples go into the yellow bin, four baggers go into the green bin. Tag them as you sort. Do one bin at a time and don’t mix them up. We don’t want to accidentally breed a daughter back to a father.”
Mike nodded solemnly before taking up the tagging gun. He flipped over an ugly orange and grey foal to check the underside. Two nipples, male. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen to the foal, but he was sure it wasn’t going to be pleasant. He tapped the screen on the bin’s number where the foal came from, and then the button marked “male.” The foals fate sealed, he placed it into the black bin and kept sorting. The cameras rolled as he sorted: black filly, blue filly, green four bagger, male, male, no external genitalia at all, grey filly, red four bagger, pink filly, pink filly, pink filly. It wasn’t till the end of the line that he came across anything interesting. The last foal he picked up was a four nipple alicorn with hideous vomit colored fluff and an equally awful orange mane.
“What about this gal?” asked Mike. Susan took the foal from Mike and almost squealed with joy.
“They can happen!” she squealed. “Mary, look! Our first four bagger alicorn!”
“Good job, Mike!” said Mary. “You’ve found the holy grail of cweamay fluffies. We don’t process alicorn miwk here, but a four bagger alicorn has been the goal for years. This little princess is going to have such a fine life ahead of her.” Susan put the little foal into the gold bin along with the one four nipple male Mike found and took them away into another room. “The money foals get 24 hour care. We’ve got a team of alicorn nurse mares that watch over them at all hours. When the colt is old enough, he’ll get taken to the pens where he’ll learn how to be stud.”
“And if he doesn’t learn?” asked Mike.
“Farm,” replied Mary.
“So what was that special prize you were talking about earlier?” asked Mike.
“Oh, Bessie gets to go take care of babies now,” said Mary with a genuine smile. “Any more than twenty litters will absolutely kill her. They usually die at fifteen or sixteen. Mares that last twenty full birthing cycles go on to teach the next generation of mares how to behave. We’ll stop there last, but let’s head to the plant where our chi-kuns are laying farm fresh eggies for all our dairy products.”
“I’m sorry, did you say chi-kun?” asked Mike. “Don’t you mean chicken?”
Mary only smiled as the moved towards another barn, a combination of clucking and babbling drifting on the breeze as they approached.