Updated: Aug 9, 2018
I look out my bay window and see dust blowing on the wind. The people who make it possible for us to have food on out tables see this as their land blowing away one particle at a time.
It has forgotten how to rain.
When I left you, I was about to meet the remaining breeder cattle herd.
I was in charge of keeping them out of the hay shed while my friend drove the tractor with a fork attachment to carry individual round bales of hay to the paddock feeders.
This has been difficult for my friend as the hungry beasts are the original “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” type of animals.
I was once again left standing at a farm gate but this time my purpose was to ensure no trespassers entered; my only job.
I failed. As I was watching the larger part of the herd playing piped piper with the tractor one snuck in behind me. On discovering the intruder, and not wanting to be defined by my failure, I was escorted by one of the farm dogs into the shed area and promptly started to make, what I thought, all the right sounds, gestures and movements to encourage the animal away from the stored hay.
The dog was no help which I couldn’t understand as I’d just watched him direct the cows towards the feeder bins. Once I did look away from the massive head focussed on pulling apart an equally massive hay bale with its mouth I noticed I wasn’t dealing with one of the girls and the looks of distain I was receiving actually had a sinister meaning.
With a snort of disgust and victory, the bull moved further into the hay shed and the dog seemed relieved when I decided I would have to leave moving this one to my friend.
Yes, I bailed on saving the bales and chose the safety of the yard gate to rehearse my excuse for being a girl townie when it came to accomplishing the one job I was asked to do.
Being the person my friend is he wasn’t upset with my failure and was actually pleased only one to get past me. He has had the whole, small, herd make a break for the shed while he was on the tractor in the past so one wasn’t too bad an effort. I think he was being kind to me.
That one proved to be stubborn however and I now fully understand the saying stubborn cow, even though in this case it was the male of the species. Although the bull usually has a good temperament I was warned he could react in the same way a dog will if you upset it while it’s eating. As the beast is as tall as me and easy tip the scale well over 300 kilograms even my friend was cautious in his attempts to remove him from his feast.
As I mentioned previously, this was a day of new things to me and the lessons I learnt here included don’t stand on the opening side of the gate in case the beast charged it because I would have no where to go and get flattened by both the gate and the bull. It didn’t even look in the gate’s direction but the advice was appreciated.
I did have a win with a tan coloured cow who tried to get pass me to help herself too. Although I have to give credit to the dog this time as it helped finish my Mexican standoff with the stubborn lady at the shed paddock gate.
After deciding the bull could stay where it was for the moment a second bale was speared on the tractors tongs and deposited in a feed bin while I closed the gate on my stubborn new acquaintance.
It was now my turn to play pied piper with the tractor which in turn was following the energetic lead of the farm dogs. The black kelpies know this routine and take a short cut over rocks and through the remaining tuffs of brown grass to beat both vehicles to the property gates. We have to cross a dirt road and enter another gate before getting to the hay shed.
The kelpies lead us in and then headed off to scout the area while we do what they must consider boring human things.
I drove the four-wheel drive into position for loading and I must say, as a usual small sedan driver, I found it a little confronting watching a floating 5 x 6 foot, approximately 1,500 lb, bale of hay approach me. The size of the bale blocked out the tractor supporting it from my driver seat view until it was positioned over the vehicle tray.
With a gentle thump the bale was loaded and as fast as it took my friend to park the tractor and jump into the passenger side of the Toyota we were off again. As our vehicle started the dogs once again appeared, did a quick check to see if they could fit on the now full ute tray, and took off at top speed towards the next gate.
The farms only horse needed feeding on the way to the sheep paddock so I reversed up to the fence that separates its paddock from the shed area. By the time my friend mounted the tray it was cantering up the fence line towards us. The dogs, who had been frustrated by our change of course, gave it a couple of hurry along barks and waited on the well-worn track to the sheep paddock.
I was again struck with the contrast of the landscape from my previous visits. In the middle of winter the area is sun bleached and brown. There were no signs of grain spillage around the silo I had seen fill up a B-double semi-trailer only two years ago and there are no white cockatoos making a big noise and nesting in the nearby trees.
I wonder if any of the large flock of cockies now nesting along the floodplain river bank in town once called this place home. After all, the farmers aren’t the only ones being driven off the land in the dry time. Hawks are being blamed for flying off with small household pets for food, I don’t honestly know if that is possible, and kangaroos are eating town gardens and being hit by vehicles within town limits. The wildlife is just doing the same as the humans, trying to survive.
There is no time to ponder the meaning of it all. There are sheep to be fed and the kelpies are impatient to get the job done. Another gate and a small flock, attracted by the sound of the vehicle, eagerly await our arrival. The dogs have to move the sheep back so we can get in but once the gate is shut my friend barks commands to them to slow down their enthusiastic muster.
My next lesson is how to put the vehicle into the low gear that makes four wheel driving possible and my instructions where to not touch the accelerator and just steer along the fence line and stop before the gully.
This is where my friend found it hard by himself as he can’t steer and toss hay off the back at the same time regardless of how slow the vehicle is moving. I just had to resist the urge to put my foot on the accelerator which is harder than expected when your daily driving is on roads where people get upset with slow vehicles.
I did manage it in the long run and my friend didn’t end up laying on the cab roof or ground when I was called to stop so he could loosen up the bale.
Once slowly around the small paddock and we were back out the gate and heading to the hay shed to load up another bale for the next paddock. Again, the kelpies took the lead and were anxiously waiting on our arrival at the gate.
If the rest of the world had the same the passion for work as these intelligent creatures what a better place we would live in. And they are happy with the occasional head scruff, a full food bowl once a day and the company of their boss.
The fact they knew this routine so well shows how long the hand feeding has been taking place. While I’m impressed with their intelligence I find that a little sad.
We repeated the slow crawl around the paddock routine twice more before finishing for the day. The process was punctuated with short stops for my friend to answer calls from family with questions about and updates on the patriarch’s condition. I respectfully distanced myself during these calls to allow him privacy.
Between paddocks we discuss the quality of this year’s lambs and how the roos have got into the two paddocks they took a chance in and planted seed in hope of rain.
The kangaroos were getting the benefit of the struggling shoots and eating them roots and all as the soft, tilled, ground offers no resistance to the hungry creatures. The edges of the struggling crop had been stripped bare of plants and my friend wishes again for some good, although unforecasted, rain so they might get a little return on their investment.
In the final sheep paddock I have to steer the four wheel drive around an area with the scattered bones of unfortunate creatures. My friend is almost embarrassed by it as he hasn’t had time to bury or dispose of the bodies better but he says by having it away from the main flock predators such as hungry foxes will feed here and leave the live ones alone. It’s a good theory but as the lamb I met on my arrival proves, it doesn’t always work.
Although numbers are down more ewes are due to lamb soon. The family hope for a good price on the spring lambs however hand feeding like this is not the best conditions for the ewes or their offspring and my friend fears the quality will be down on previous years. For the moment he is still optimistic for the future and is looking forward to the lamb sales. They are doing the best they can with feed and supplements but with less to feed the better it will be for the breeding stock to maintain condition.
My first blog started with a declaration I had experienced a lot of firsts. I will finish with a short summary of what I learned from them.
I learned although I proudly state I’m a country girl I have no real idea of what life on the land is like. I had an afternoon view of it but I could go home and not worry about water coming through the tap when I turned it on and although my garden and yard is brown my house is not surrounded by the signs of the life and death struggle for livestock, our farmers and grazers and our native animals.