Fried pastures fry a farmer’s brain

The 5 o'clock swill

Feeding the cows will be a challenge this summer

The fear that steals alongside a horrifyingly dry season robs this farmer of more than dollars. Confusion as deep and disorienting as a thick Edinburgh fog sets in. I knew it was going to be dry, but this? This can’t happen. The brain moves into the basic fight or flight mode, making it harder than ever to manage the complexities of cow, climate, cashflow and crops.

In counterattack, I create spreadsheet after spreadsheet, recreating a standard season, adding a “drought factor” and checking, checking, checking.

Still, I find myself lying in the midnight darkness, chest tight, heart pounding loud over the silence of a sleeping household. Rolling numbers over in a head spinning with scenarios and doubts. Then scolding myself for my lack of serenity and self control, knowing that smart decisions can only be made on the back of a good night’s sleep. Deep breaths, think of our children’s sweet faces. Sink back into slumber.

The antidote is a committed plan. A meeting with the bank manager and a handshake with the hay man put me back on a more even keel. Once I’d said it all out loud, ordered an inconceivable amount of hay and arranged the extra mortgage, the fog began to lift. Yes, it will put us back eight years but the kids will barely notice. They won’t be sleeping rough or missing out on school excursions. We’re lucky, really, I tell myself.

I’ve drawn heavily on everything we’ve built over the past few years: the equity we’d slowly clawed back plus networks of farmer friends, advisors and financial whizzes. But a lot of people down here are not so well supported, including one young farmer who called today feeling overwhelmed and isolated. He takes some comfort when I tell him of my own sleepless nights.

Our silage contractor, Wayne Bowden, goes on ABC Radio a couple of days ago, explaining the situation. We’ve had about a tenth of our normal rainfall all spring and only 4 in 10 farmers are making any silage. Hay simply won’t happen. In the days since his interview, he’s been stopped in the street by several farmers grateful to hear that it’s not just them and to know that, at last, someone’s telling it as it is.

Dairy Australia’s Neil Lane says talking about the situation is critical.

“You need to answer two big questions: how much feed to I need to source and can I afford it?,” he says. “But don’t try to manage it all on your own,” he counsels. “Get onto Taking Stock, chat to people you trust like other farmers, factory field staff, consultants, agronomists, feed suppliers and go to your local discussion group.”

Still looking for more resources? Try the:
Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (AgHealth Australia)
The National Centre for Farmer Health
Sustainable Farm Families
National Hay and Grain Report
Cool Cows

6 thoughts on “Fried pastures fry a farmer’s brain

  1. That’s hellish. It’s funny, I’m not that far away in West Gippsland, and we’ve had a reasonable season and everyone is busy cutting silage right now. Ahh, mother nature…

    Mind you, I was up near Bendigo the other week, and it was shocking how little grass there was there.


    • So pleased for you having a reasonable season, Wilful. It’s been very odd. Gippsland is a big place, as you know, and it’s been especially variable this year. The people in East Gippsland have even had flooding this week!


  2. Hi MMM,
    Your area is like what we had in the hills an fleurieu last season, except we were real wet till end of july and the tap shut off and the ground set like concrete, little pasture silage or hay was cut, sleepless nights pondering, how to make ends meet and be there for the family.
    You have done what you need to, TALK, Telling people but not whinging, seeing others in same boat and looking out for a mate. Talk to the bank, the hay supplier the local supplier store, better they are informed before not after. Good people understand and will help. Dairy has security in that the cheque comes every month.
    I have looked in hindsight where I went wrong last year and am now planning better to grow feed in autumn and winter as spring is so unreliable here. I shut out paddocks earlier this year as the season looked dodgy, we have had good average cuts with good quality. The greatest thing we can do is look at our farming practices and see where we can adapt and change. What worked 10 years ago is not as reliable now.
    Get together as farmers and have a barbie or go to the pub and chat about everything, weather,footy .cricket, kids ,politics,religion, farming, whatever, just look out for those who are struggling and encourage those who fail to plan.

    Next year will be different as was the last , Ahh the joys of farming!!!


  3. Hi
    Marian feel your pain x10 on the flats no pasture left poor silage season and the prospect of no hay when stocks are depleted summer crops may strike? And that black dog just sitting on our shoulder whating to strike we have been here before cost me half a house last time what this will cost is any ones guess maybe just my sanity plenty of talk will help we just need to talk to the right people


    • Hi Stuart,
      It’s unchartered waters for me – not sure whether that makes it better or worse!
      Maybe it’s time we scheduled a few get togethers of local cockies to see if we can pen up those black dogs and pool our resources.
      Always here. Give me a call before the dog gets too close.


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