Milking twice a day, OR, I got my cow back, but I’m feeling kinda lazy

Gerty’s back. She’s been gone since the week of Thanksgiving, so it was a sweet reunion.

Our special cow

She was at the farm of some very generous friends who let her be courted by their bull — a very well-bred, pricey bull, at that!

They’re the folks that took Gerty a little over a year ago to let their bull (a different one at that time) breed her. From that union came Sassafras. And dear Sassy was given to our friends as payment for not only the bull-date (we really were only going for the milk anyways), but also for so many other ways they’ve helped us learn how to farm (and mistakes they’ve saved us from).

Does she have a pregnant look in her eye? Time will tell...

Does she have a pregnant look in her eye?
Time will tell…

That said, Gerty is bellowing in the pasture now. I think she misses Sassy. Which brings me to my next point: milking.

Formerly, I had been milking Gerty in the morning only — Sassy would suckle throughout the day, and we’d separate them at night.

Now, I have to pick up Sassy’s slack.

As I understand traditional milking, it is done in 12-hour increments. So twice a day. And the reason, I suspect, milking is traditionally associated with the early morning is that the farmer wanted to be done with the evening milking before dinner… or before he went out to hit the local hot-spots for the rural night-life. So: 4:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

No way. That’s not happening.

Now, I’ve recently learned from some friends who have several milk cows that a cow can be milked only once per day, and that will not harm her. Milk production will be less, but she’ll be fine. Our friends even said the cow doesn’t have to be milked at PRECISELY the same time every day. Now, obviously all these changes will result in lost production. But if a cow is giving 2 gallons a day at peak production, and with lost production, there’s only 3/4ths of a gallon… well, that’s not too terrible for a small family!

But I’m considering a twice-a-day milking schedule, at least for a while. And I’m thinking about doing it at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

PROS: More milk. The classic milking experience. Umm…. that might be all. I guess I’ve heard that a cow can get mastitis from having milk back up too much (as in, a once-a-day milking schedule), but I’ve also heard other things that contract that.

CONS: 5:30 a.m.

On a final note, our milking friends told us that once their cows wean the calves, cream production skyrockets. We were very happy to hear that… very happy indeed. More butter… sour cream… ice cream…

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Duck disappearance, Pt. 2 – Determination

Back to the duck story.

It turns out seven of our 12 ducks were most assuredly murdered. I found the evidence.

Blood and feathers. Not a good sign, but a definitive one.

Blood and feathers. Not a good sign, but a definitive one.

Needless to say, after two bloody nights, I was in a fowl mood, and I was faced with a decision: would I simply let my farm fall prey to villainous predators, or would I fight back?

My spirit roused, I resolved to lock up my remaining ducks—there were four hens and one drake, a viable combination to grow my flock next spring.

So after lunch, I spent the entirety of a Sunday afternoon finishing my duck enclosure. Dad and I had started it months ago, and I’d left it unfinished, because… well, honestly, the urgency wasn’t there until my ducks started being eaten.

The duck pen is in the pasture, near the pond. It’s a bit rough, but it seems to be predator-proof.

across the pond

Happy-ish... I mean, they'd probably be happier if they were swimming. But that's not an option right now. They'd be much less happy if they were being slaughtered by a raccoon or opossum or coyote. So this is a good compromise.

Happy-ish… I mean, they’d probably be happier if they were swimming. But that’s not an option right now. They’d be much less happy if they were being slaughtered by a raccoon or opossum or coyote. So this is a good compromise.

It still needs a gate latch, and a little patching of a few gaps, but overall, I’m fairly proud of it.

Annnd…

One of my ladies began laying eggs just a few days after I locked them up! Now I don’t know—it could be that several of them are laying. But either way, we get a single duck egg every day.

That's a duck egg at the top, and a chicken egg at the bottom.

That’s a duck egg at the top, and a chicken egg at the bottom.

The only problem is that their pen isn’t really protected from the cold, and so when it’s very cold outside, the egg freezes and cracks. Also, these Khaki Campbell ducks place skittishness above every other quality, including motherhood. So they flee for their lives anytime I come near (or inside) the pen, which means they inevitably step on and kick the poor egg lying cold and alone on the floor of the pen.

But we have been eating, and enjoying, our duck eggs. In the eating, there’s no discernible difference from our chicken eggs (of which we’re now getting one or two per day). But there’s a deep satisfaction in knowing I have been victorious over my carnivorous foes. And the taste of that victory is rich and sweet.

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An Intermission: Ozark Ice Storm

Before I conclude the story of our Mysterious Duck Disappearance, I thought I’d share some of the wintry beauty to which we have been subjected today.

Dogwood Ice

Who says dogwoods are only pretty in the spring?

Who says dogwoods are only pretty in the spring?

Frozen fescue Frozen Fescue 2

Winter makes dead grass elegant.

Winter makes dead grass elegant.

Our majestic pines stand defiant against the weight of winter ice.

Our majestic pines stand defiant against the weight of winter ice.

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Duck disappearance and patience, Pt. 1

I went out to feed our 12 ducks the other morning, and there were only 7.

There are only two possibilities: they either got eaten, or they decided to fly south during the nastiest weather we’ve seen yet this season. I didn’t see any blood; but we had rain and snow the previous night, so I figured if there was any, it was gone.

Now, these are true free-range ducks. They do what they want, and that includes refusing to go into a little house for shelter at night. For a while, they went in there voluntarily. But they’re very skittish—a trait attributable to the breed (Khaki Campbell), I understand—so if they saw me approaching the shelter to close the door, they would run out. So I had to do it after dark, and had to turn out my flashlight as I approached. Only the light of the moon would guide my hurried steps as I rushed the door before any could slip out.

It was super stupid.

I was in the process of working on a better shelter, nearer the pond, when they just quit going in the shelter altogether. And I got pretty busy and couldn’t finish it.

So now they just do what they want, which typically means nestling down in a relatively exposed place at night. Suicidal instincts.

Also, these are the most annoying ducks you can imagine. We originally purchased them for eggs—Khaki Campbells are reputed to lay up to 300 eggs per year—but we only discovered later how loud and skittish this breed is. They’ve gotten a little better lately, but for a while, I couldn’t get within 15 yards of them. And in the morning, they do this terribly loud “QUAAAAACK, Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack.” Once I feed them, they mostly quit. But I think the neighbors hate me. And I think the ducks are laughing at me.

Is he laughing?

Is he laughing?

We did butcher 3 of the male ducks, as they seemed unlikely to ever lay eggs. I was going to butcher 4, but one of them got away from me on butchering day.

I don’t know if there’s a point to this story, but if there is, it might be that I’m growing tired of tasting the fruit of my haphazard farming style. We love raising food, and we want to work towards making our farm more streamlined and sustainable. But my lack of preparedness in certain things has just caused needless frustration.

We’re moving closer to buying the farm, and I have lots of dreams about ways to grow and develop this place. The Creator just seems determined to teach us patience, and I seem predisposed to be slow at learning it. As day after day slips by in which my life does not yet look exactly as I have idealized it, I am seeing that only when I cherish the process of growth and give thanks for the less-than-ideal days am I reminded of all the Goodness. My son; my wife and the baby growing inside her; this beautiful place; a freezer full of food and a cow giving milk; our generous, loving family; devoted, good friends. I may be a lousy farmer, but I am undoubtedly a blessed one.

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Ozark hunting success

For the last two years, I’ve had zero success during deer season.

In 2011, the only deer I got was one that a person graciously hit in front of our house. It ended up in our yard, and I shot it in the head and dragged it around back to carve up for the freezer.

In 2012, I sat in my deer stand for hours and hours. I scouted for rubs—and found some—but I never saw a single, solitary deer. Not one. Frustration.

This year, however, I met with unprecedented deer hunting success at The Ozark House.

Ozark buck

Here’s how it went down:

I had been scouting for rubs, and found five or six on cedar trees just on the west side of what we call “the bald spot”—a hilltop at the northern edge of the property that is basically solid rock. A few wisps of grass grow across the bald spot, and around the perimeter, a thick hedge of cedar trees offer a nice haven for deer.

On opening day, I grabbed my gear and ambled through the woods, thinking about how rugged the terrain is and how miserable it would be if I actually killed a deer and had to drag it all the way back to the house.

I set up my seat amidst the cedar grove, and pulled out Steinbeck’s The Winter of our Discontent, and waited. The sun was just beginning to rise.

Right on schedule, shots began to ring through the woods, as my neighbors found success before me. But I was confident in my hunting spot, and I waited. I should mention that it was breezy and in the 50s—not ideal hunting weather, but certainly nicer for sitting than breezy and in the 20s. The weatherman had forecast rain for the afternoon, so the clock was ticking.

I saw him striding up the hill, antlers riding high. Well, actually he was limping. I didn’t know why. Eight points. Legal take.

Then he vanished.

I slowly stood up and crept around the cedar tree I’d been sitting behind, picking my way among the fallen leaves. Soon I spotted him again—he had laid down.

I waited… and waited… for him to stand up so I could have a clear shot. I rustled the leaves; I blew on my grunt call. He looked around, but refused to stand. As he sat up a bit straighter, I saw I had an open shot at his left shoulder. I took it.

There are those shots when you hit perfectly and the deer just drops and dies within seconds. I’ve never had one of those.

Instead, this fella jumped up and bounded away, sans limp.

In that moment, there’s always the inevitable thought, “Did I MISS him?” Then my unfounded self-assuredness kicks in. “I CAN’T have missed him!” Then the doubts, “Was my hand shaking? Should I have sighted the gun in again?”

Regardless, I walked toward the area where I saw him bounding away.

Blood. Then I looked up the hill, following the trail, and saw him.

It was a good shot.

I field-dressed him, preserving the vitals—liver, heart, and testicles—in a ziplock bag. I, of course, sliced my fingers in the process.

Then I began dragging him home. Over hill and dale, through creek beds, across logs and rocks, and finally up the mountain upon which we dwell. I made it, and I felt like I had earned him.

We put about 70 pounds of meat in the freezer. I cut up the carcass, froze the pieces in a trash bag, and I am progressively feeding Ozark Pup the pieces. The other day, he got a nice rack of ribs.

pup

We, on the other hand, have already been enjoying venison liver and deerburgers. (I won’t say whether or not I ate the testicles, deep fried, and whether or not they tasted like chicken.)

The End.

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Autumnal gifts

My previous post was in response to what I view as our society’s current insanity. Take it or leave it. I like to spice things up on the blog—a little farm life, a little narrative, some how-to columns, and the occasional philosophical/theological rant. I have long admired Moliére for his “Tartuffe” and how it mocked what needed to be mocked. Thus my last post.

The following topic, however, is far more interesting.

Twin maples at dawn

Twin maples across the street, at dawn.

Fall brings freshness every year to our heat-weary, work-weary farm life. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but the bright colors and cool breezes challenge us to pause, breathe, give thanks to the Creator, and enjoy the world He gave us.

Bubtime

Enjoying a lollipop on a cool, fall day.

We’re still milking sweet Gerty every morning, and she and calf Sassafras are happy and healthy as they can be. For that, we are thankful!

We’re also thankful for Gerty’s improving bounty. We average just around or under a gallon per morning milking. Yesterday, she gave over five quarts!

The volume of cream in her milk has been slowly increasing too, which means more butter, ice cream, and so many other tasty treats.

Gerty and Sassafras

I’ve discovered a setting on my camera that’s ideal for close-up shots. So I’ve been having fun with that.

Fall maple leaves

Our summer garden was mostly a flop. We got a few tomatoes, a few peppers, and a small watermelon. But my absence meant certain things necessarily couldn’t be tended. Next year, I expect a mighty bounty!

However, we have had surprising success over the past few years with our fall and spring crops. Our fall lettuce patch is coming on strong, and we’ve already enjoyed a salad out of it. And some turnips emerged in a bed I had covered with wood chips. I didn’t plant them. But we let them grow, and ate them for the first time last night. Sauteéd in butter, finished in a little red wine (the recipe calls for red wine vinegar, but we didn’t have any, and we didn’t have any red wine, so we used port—it was nice!). Fantastic. And we simmered the turnip greens with some onions and garlic; they were savory and delicious.

Fall turnips

Fall is overall a delicious time. It is certainly a wonderful time to live in the Ozarks, amid crisp weather and painted landscapes. Gerard Manley Hopkins says it best: He fathers forth beauty who is past change.

In fact, here’s Hopkins describing exactly how I feel about God’s autumnal beauty.

“Pied Beauty”

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

GLORY be to God for dappled things—

  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

 

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Boring mid-American couple keeps up with new norms

Boring mid-American couple keeps up with new norms

by John Silento

For Jack Jones and his wife Katie, “normal” was something long taken for granted.

“We had brown hair, a college education, and no one protested our right to get married,” Jack Jones explained. “We were the norm.”

But over the last few years, the Joneses say they feel more like the exception, and have begun to wonder if something is missing.

“We felt… boring,” Katie Jones said. “Like we didn’t matter—we were just some heterosexual, monogamous, traditional-gendered couple from Iowa, and that just wasn’t enough.”

Both Joneses admitted they get their news from sites such as CNN.com and NPR.org—and in light of an increased focus on diverse forms of sexuality, including transgenderism and polyamory, their “boring old marriage” had lost its luster.

“When we’re making love, I find myself thinking how neat it would be to have like five different men that love me,” Katie admitted, seemingly for the first time.

Jack, looking simultaneously surprised and relieved, piped up, “It’s the same for me, but it’s really more like 30 or 40 women!”

Sexual norms in society change fast, Jack pointed out, and the Joneses have struggled to keep up. “I was on the verge of deciding to be gay,” Jack explained, “And then bisexualism came in style. So I started gearing up for that, but then the big thing was transgenderism.” Some have accused him of  insincerity, of simply following the prevailing winds of the moment, but Jack says even if that is true, he should not be blamed for it. “I was born this way,” he said, referencing a Lady GaGa song.

Jack says he and Katie finally settled on a solution that works for them: “I’m a double transgender male,” Jack explained, “Which means I was born male, but a part of me feels female. But part of the female part of me feels male. So that saved me money on the sex change.”

Katie says she is a qualified pansexual and selective bisexual. “Pansexual means I find everything arousing,” she explained accurately. “But Jack is my everything. I feel like I see him everywhere I look. So really, it’s just Jack arousing me everywhere I go.” As for the selective bisexualism: “I just haven’t found the right girl yet,” Katie said. “I honestly don’t know if she’s out there, but if she is, I think we could find ourselves moving into a very exciting polyamorous marriage!”

Jack says the female part of him is actually heterosexual, and therefore finds such a proposal repulsive—then he backtracks and says that it might be fine for some people, but his female identity is “not into that.” However, the majority male part of him is noticeably excited by Katie’s proposition. “Yeah, that would be fine,” he said cooly, trying to suppress a grin.

The Joneses call this their “new normal,” and they say it has brought increased confidence into their careers, and intrigue into the bedroom.

“Nothing is off-limits for us anymore,” Katie gushed. “Knowing our lovemaking is on the forefront of the sexual revolution… That’s just exciting!”

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Milking rhythm

When I begin doing something and my unwieldy inexperience leaves me frustrated, I always imagine how it will be when I have someday mastered that thing.

It’s how I felt when I first began taking piano lessons at age 7.

It’s how I felt the first time I butchered a chicken.

And it’s how I felt when I first reached, nervously, underneath my cow to yank on her udder.

Gerty

The wounds of novicehood were tangible then. Kicks and bruises, grunts of sweaty frustration, and meager milk quantities overshadowed any potential poetic, idyllic, agrarian beauty that might be had.

Well, I’m getting better. And Gerty’s getting better, too.

As the weather cools and the horseflies sleep in, our milking sessions are proving more pleasant. Since I’ve narrowed her stall and built myself a stool, I’m exponentially more comfortable. And my comfort translates to Gerty’s comfort.

Oh, we still have our mishaps. Like the other morning. The chickens were running about, scratching through last night’s manure. I was working through the last quarter, approaching the end, when the inevitable happened. A goofy rooster wandered underneath the cow, stumbled, thrust a wing into the milk pail, spooked Gerty, and WHAM! The hoof was in the milk pail and the milk was soaking into the dirt.

Another day, she hadn’t given as much milk as I would like. I was out of alfalfa and she was out of patience. She was scooting back as far as she could in the stall, but I was determined to get another cupful or two of milk. As she tried to move away, I stubbornly held on to a teat and kept milking. So she very precisely kicked the half-full cup of milk out of my hand, and just stood there as if to say, “Now are you going to let me out?” It wasn’t worth fighting anymore that morning, so I granted her wish, resolving to go buy some more alfalfa soon.

And today, as I prepared to let Gerty into the milking stall, she impatiently began hooking her horns onto the gate and pulling on it. I grabbed her horn and pushed her away. But she pushed back, and smashed my finger between her horn and a stretch of galvanized fencing. The pain was incredible, and she wouldn’t let off. Finally she moved back, and I hunched over, inspecting the damage. Not as bad as it could have been. But hurt like fire.

Yet amidst the mishaps, milking is actually pretty pleasant in the mornings.

Gerty chews contentedly on her morning feed ration, and it usually takes me about as long to milk as it takes her to eat, so she generally stands nice and still for me, save for the occasional swat of the tail or movement of a back leg. But no kicking. Well almost none.

I’m getting better at the two-handed milking, though I am daily reminded of how utterly useless (pun intended!) my left hand is. That thing simply will not obey instructions like the right hand! It’s weak and needs harsh discipline. So the morning milkings are still a sharp learning curve for the left hand. But we’re getting there.

Interestingly, Gerty’s rear teats are significantly smaller than the front ones. This might be partly because the rear quarters produce more milk than the front two (I learned that recently). But it might also just be the unlucky case for this cow. And even more interestingly, those teats are pointed slightly inward. So if there were a milk bucket directly beneath the cow, they’d squirt perfectly into it.

And that’s nice, but I have fairly large hands. So if I’m not especially careful, the milk runs down my hand and along my arm, rather than into the bucket. And—this might be hard to explain—if I try to milk the rear udder on the far side (the opposite of the side where I sit, which happens to be the left side) with my near hand… okay, this is hard to explain. I’m facing the cow’s flank, on her left side. And if I grab her back left teat with my right hand, and her back right teat with my left hand, then the milking goes fairly well. Because the palm of each hand faces in the direction that the milk wants to come out, so the milk finds nothing in between it and the bucket. But as I pointed out, my left hand is pitiful. So sometimes I have to grab her back right teat with my right hand because the left hand is tuckered out. So then the stream of milk is pointing directly at my forearm, and far too often runs down my hand and toward my armpit. Anyways, it’s a delicate process.

So I’m tasting the subtle nuances of milking my cow. And I must say, amid the crushed finger and spilt milk, I’m absolutely loving it. Come on over to the house; we’ll sit ya down to a tall glass of fresh, cold milk and talk about whatever the fall breeze brings.

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What is an egg?

Osage Beach Farmers Market

Eggs

Senate Bill 329 — Which came first, the politician or the egg?
Most people can tell just by looking, but the Missouri legislature this year held a slew of debates, hearings, and votes in its attempt to decide exactly what an egg is. They finally settled on a definition they could live with. But it will just spell more intrusion and regulation for farmers and farms large and small.
The legal definition of an egg formerly only included that which came out of the bottom of a chicken. Now, after Governor Nixon’s signature on Senate Bill 329, “Eggs” refers to “The shell eggs of a domesticated chicken, turkey, duck, goose, or guinea that are intended for human consumption.”
Apparently no one told the government the definition of the word is not allowed to contain the word itself. (e.g “What are eggs?” “Well, they’re eggs!”)
According to the Missouri Department of…

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Bovine trickery

Milk production’s been down the last few days.

We were getting more than a gallon on our best day; today, it was less than half a gallon.

I’ve been at a loss. She has plenty of hay and a little bit of pasture. She gets grain to supplement what she might be missing on pasture. She has plenty of water. What gives?

Answer: Sassafras. Or more accurately, “Gerty gives to Sassafras.”

After frustratingly tugging on Gerty’s teats for 20 minutes or so this morning, I looked at the dismal puddle of milk in my 10-quart bucket and sighed in resignation. “It’s just not our day,” I thought. The only thing pleasant about this morning’s milking was the weather: just cool enough where the immense humidity wasn’t uncomfortable.

Then I wondered.

If she’s giving me this much, where’s all the rest going? I mean, I got just over a quart today; a week ago, I got a gallon!

A little white calf was pushing at the fence, eager to go join her mommy, and then I knew. Not only is Gerty holding back a bit of cream for Sassy (see my previous post); she’s holding everything back.

I glared over at Gerty in her stall; she looked back at me, casually munching on a bit of alfalfa. Too casually. She was hiding something, and I was determined to discover precisely what.

My first notion was to put her out in the pasture, separate from Sassafras, and begin training her that, unless she wanted to “hold it” for an hour, she was  going to have to give me all her milk, because she would no longer have the privilege of giving me crap in the milking stall and then sauntering out to her calf with a big bag of milk. I’d keep them separate for an hour after the milking.

Then I changed my mind. I was going to put them together now and just see what happened. I wanted to see with my own eyes if my theory was true. Test the hypothesis.

The gate was opened, and little white calf ran full speed ahead toward big black cow. They exchanged a brief greeting and then Sassy commenced head-butting Gerty’s udder and suckling—first at one, then at another, then to the third, then back to the first, then to the fourth, then back to teat number two…

And the white frothy milk began forming at the corners of her mouth.

I looked closer. The front right teat is usually the least generous of the four when I’m milking, and Gerty seems to enjoy kicking me more when I’m fumbling at that one.

It was full of milk. Veritably bursting at the seams… or… ducts.

I’d been had. And I would have felt sheepish if I weren’t so indignant and offended. Doesn’t she know we need her milk just as much as Sassy does? Doesn’t she know we feed her and house her and chase her when she tears the fence down and pat and scratch her and swat horseflies off her back? Doesn’t she know for how long we have ached for our own, fresh, raw milk from our own, sweet cow? Doesn’t she appreciate me?

Screw it, I thought, I’m getting some of that milk.

I grabbed a cup, and as I semi-confidently reached down toward the slimy, slobbery teat, Gerty began swatting and stomping. A horsefly. Of course.

In this most fleeting, crucial moment, I have to kill a horsefly. I mean, I actually did have to kill it. Gerty goes ballistic with horseflies, and there’s no milking her if there’s one around.

I snatch it, furiously—after several misses—squish it in my hand, and throw it to the nearest happy chicken. Then I lock in on my target—that goofy teat, now swollen with milk—and go in.

The milk pours out… gushes out. It’s the creamiest, most beautiful milk I’ve ever seen. I figure, sure, there might be a few molecules of calf slobber getting in this, but we’re drinking it.

Soon, my cup begins to fill, and the whole headbutting ritual becomes too intense for me, so I leave with a nice cup of milk and a problem: What do I do about this?

Will Gerty continue giving us less and less milk, realizing if she can just hold it up in the udder for a little while, she can give it all to her calf? I can’t have that.

I don’t know a surefire solution, but tomorrow I’ll be trying one idea. In the early days of milking, Sassafras was able to get her head between the slats in the milking stall, and she would slobber all over one or two teats, while I floundered at the other two. It was a ridiculous game, but I did get a decent amount of milk. And when she was giving us the most milk, Sassy couldn’t get in the stall anymore, but she was very close—close enough for Gerty to sniff and see.

So tomorrow, I’ll let Sassy get close. Maybe close enough to trick my tricky bovine into letting me have a little more milk.

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