When analysts talk about softening milk supply, there’s a whole other layer that’s anything but soft. It’s uncomfortable chats in the dairy about next week’s roster, sleepless nights worrying about where the next load of hay is going to come from, and long, long hours.
He spends more time in the tractor, she spends more time off-farm to pay the bills. The office is a mess, the kids watch a little more TV than usual and the mummy guilt rises with it. They all get snappy.
He comes in from the chilly night air long after the children have gone to bed. She’s in the office doing the books. Farms are not selling. There is no light at the end of the tunnel and there’s no way out, either.
Then one afternoon, the farm consultant brings a welcome dose of encouragement: the place is in great shape, poised to take advantage of any recovery, and the gossip around the traps is that an upbeat announcement from the co-op is imminent.
That night, as she takes her little boy out to check on the maternity paddock, the farmer is drawn by a ruckus at the dam. A moorhen hangs about a metre above the water, caught by one leg in a twist of wire and flapping its glossy blue-black wings desperately even though there’s clearly no hope of escape.
The farmer cannot stand and watch any more than she can walk away. With toddler on her shoulders and Blundstones squelching through the shallows, she wades towards the struggling bird. There is blood on the wire but with a deft spinning wrench, the fence springs back to shape, releasing the bird which, to the farmer’s astonishment, paddles away seemingly unhurt.
In the morning, the most anticipated email of the year arrives. To the farmer’s astonishment, the milk price will open 24 per cent higher than last year and the co-op has a little rescue package in the shape of a pre-payment for those prepared to pledge their loyalty. She reads the email twice more, just to be sure.
Never say die.