Heifers home from boarding school

Heifers return home

“State your business!”

Youngsters of practically any species are funny, curious creatures and young cows are no different. These are our calves of 2010, back home after spending a season with Madeline, a farmer an hour up the road. Does home feel familiar? I hope so but in any case, these little cows have a bravado beyond their years and they weren’t showing any nerves as we sidled up to them.

At two years, they are about to calve for the first time and join the milking herd. It’s bound to be an exciting time for all concerned. Suffice to say, I’m rushing around the milker’s paddocks shoring up all the fencing for a good workout over the next couple of months and hoping they will be as quiet and gentle as the class of 2011!

When the wheel falls off – literally

What a day. We have our heifers (teenage cows) on agistment an hour’s drive east of the farm and it’s time for the girls to meet their beaux.

The plan was to tow two of the four Jersey bulls up in the tandem trailer and return with two immature heifers. Well, for a start, the bulls had grown since last year (wouldn’t have been surprising if I’d thought a bit about it) and there’s only room for one. “Never mind,” say I as Fernando the bull leaps aboard greedily following my trail of grain, “at least we’ll manage to draft out the two young heifers and bring them back. We can send the other bulls up in a truck another day.”.

About 60 kilometres into the trip, the jolly bull leans on the back of the stock crate and sways like a Hawaiian dancer. Not just a little but a lot. Singing stops.

“Sorry Zoe, Mama has to concentrate for a bit.”

After a few deep breaths, the frightening fishtail irons itself out and I gently up the revs. Fishtail again. Ease off again to 60km/hr and Fernando stands up straight.

“Holy cow!”

After one more repeat, I decide it best to play it cool and nurse the flaming bull into town.

“This is bull#$%t” (muttered under breath)

Get to the yards – padlocked.

“What the?”

Turn around to have a think and, wow, an apology to Fernando is certainly in order. One of the trailer wheels is hanging on by a single nut. No wonder nobody dared tailgate me, even at 60km/hr. I’d figured the cowards were wary of an Aussie (green and gold) shower over their gleaming duco.

Dig out the car’s spare (thankfully the tandem has Ford Falcon hubs), borrow one nut from each of the other three wheels, find another gate for Fernando and limp home in the rain. Feeling blonde but blessed tonight.

I knew our heifers would be okay but I had to check

Yearling heifers

Our yearlings look lovely in their holiday home

Back in June, we were in big trouble. We’d had waaaay too much rain and there literally wasn’t enough dry pasture on the farm to feed all our animals.

I decided we had to send our precious heifers away on agistment. We were lucky enough to find a caring farmer just an hour away with just the right amount of land. While we know they are in good hands, it’s our responsibility to check in on them every few weeks and see how they’re going. Well, here they were today – looking great!

You can tell when yearlings are feeling good. They literally jump out of their skins. I walked into their paddock and caused massive excitement as they leapt and frolicked all over the place.

It’s been 12 weeks since their last drench and vaccinations, so we’ll organise another dose in the next fortnight to keep them looking terrific. They’ll meet their Jersey beaux later in the spring.

When there are just too many mouths to feed

We’ve hit the wall. We’re officially overstocked. The wet season has left too many paddocks out of rotation and we just don’t have enough grass.

Our options are:

1. Keep feeding out large quantities of hay, grain and silage

This is expensive and time consuming. Days are being consumed behind the tractor wheel and the guys are quickly becoming exhausted, even with extra labour. It’s also less than desirable to drive heavy machinery over soft pastures.

2. Sell stock

Not an option either. We need more milkers rather than fewer and a short term sell-off to buy back later is a poor choice – we like to keep a closed herd to reduce the risk of importing disease and so we can be sure of our bloodlines.

3. Find some more land

Our preferred option is to find top quality agistment reasonably locally for our yearlings. That means nice, well fertilised pastures, proper animal welfare practices, shelter, good fences and reliable water. Not easy to find just now, it turns out! For this reason, we’re touring far-flung pockets of Gippsland looking for the ideal home away from home for our little ones.

Any suggestions?