The beauty of trouble

Every now and then you have a day like Friday, a day marred by a flat tyre, stripped wheel nut, machinery breakdowns and a string of bad luck.

I was scrabbling through my paperwork with Alex tucked in for his midday nap when one of our Holstein bulls ambled across the lawn past the cubby house.

As I watched in dismay, the one-tonne giant turned nonchalantly to scrub his massive head against the base of a tree. Until that moment, I’d decided to sit tight and hope he would settle in for a quiet graze until Little Man awoke. But head scrubbing is the first step in an avalanche of bullish destruction that, set in my treasured garden, is too awful to contemplate.

I rushed outside with flailing arms and a bark bigger than its bite. It was enough to distract Bos Perditor and buy me time to rustle up the Little Man.

The Little Man is always up for an adventure and woke with bright eyes when I explained that we were going bull hunting. “Bull hunting, Mama? Like the bear hunt, it’s a beautiful day?”

Bouncing into the Bobcat, we pursued Bos into the wilds of the windbreak, where he turned and faced me. In the ensuing standoff, I broke a flimsy stick over his broad head. Bos didn’t flinch. Simply stood, staring, and then in his own time, wandered out to the road back towards the gate he’d broken and his buddy. So far, so good, but then his mood changed and off he went down the road.

By now I was on foot again with another stick and managed to get in front of him as a 4WD rounded the curve and slowed. The bull sized me up, lowered his head and simply stood there.

I wasn’t scared,
For I have never been afraid.
Of anything. Not very.

This stick, too, broke across his poll without any effect as the 4WD glided by. Now I was getting desperate and ran back to Alex and the Bobcat – at 730kg, the machine weighs almost as much as the beast and makes a more formidable opponent than a flimsy middle-aged farmer.

But by then, the man in the 4WD had done something wonderful. He reversed, pushed the nose of his vehicle towards the bull and tooted the horn like he meant business. My heart leapt. Together, we could win this. Armed a little more meaningfully with a star picket, I marched up to Bos, who turned and swaggered through the gate to join his buddy.

I didn’t get to thank the 4WD driver wearing his Chubb uniform – apart from a smile and a wave – but by taking three minutes out of his day, he made mine. Sometimes, it feels like we’re living in a dog-eat-dog world but a scratch of trouble reveals beauty that lies just below the surface.

 

Lovers behind the shelter shed

Lovers

Lovers

I was out shifting fences yesterday when, through the trees along the gully, I heard the tell-tale staccato of furtive lovers nearby. And there they were, in a hidden pocket of the paddock, him licking her flank, she still undecided.

I crept closer to take a snap and uh, oh, I’d been spotted. Like guilty teens behind the shelter shed, the pair straightened up, stared belligerently (if a little gawkily) and wanted to know what I was looking at.

What else should I expect? It is springtime, after all. Isn’t a cow entitled to a little privacy?

Painful fall as Ball Face ousted as king of the bulls

The farm’s most aggressive bull has reigned for about two years as no other bull, even those who stood several inches taller, were as mean as Ball Face.

Wayne put him in the bull paddock last night. This morning Ball Face was missing. We discovered snapped wires along the laneway and figured the grader had clipped the fence, shorting out the power, so after the afternoon rounding up, it fell to me and the kids to restore the circuit and find the errant king while Wayne milked.

I fixed the laneway and found Ball Face and Fernando in the newly planted-out wetland. Aargh! Not my precious revegetation!!! The pair of them had left a trail of sagging wires and were busily roughing up some melaleucas. Can you spot them?

BullsInWetland

I sallied forth armed with a pigtail post and a long piece of poly pipe, leaving strict instructions for Zoe to stay on top of the Bobcat. I tried to look big and summoned my growliest voice. Magically, the two of them hopped out quite obediently. All that was left was to strain the three wires and turn the fence back on. Until this.

BallFaceChase

No one bull may have been game to take Ball Face on but a pack of them wanted him dead. Shrieking but quick, Zoe snapped this pic as the group charged towards us and I scrambled back onto the Bobcat. They thundered right around us and pursued Ball Face, literally pushing him through the fence (again) a hundred metres further up the paddock.

The fence strainer got a workout and then it was off, again, with pigtail post and poly pipe to remove Ball Face from his refuge. The gang stayed close to the fence and it was painfully obvious they would give him the medicine all over again, so I put him on the far side of the wetland, nine strands of hotwire away.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a king deposed by a gang. Normally, it happens when an upstart matures, challenging the patriarch to a one-on-one duel with the rest watching. But then, Ball Face is something extraordinary. Maybe it really is time for him to go.

First day of spring and the bulls are a-leaping

It’s officially the first day of Spring in Australia and it feels like it, too. This was the view from the garden this morning. I almost wanted grass on my rice cakes!

House paddock

Welcome to Spring!

The cows seem to feel it, too. They play “butter-heads” (as Zoe calls it) at almost every turn and are shedding their scruffy winter coats, revealing glossy new hair underneath. The male of the species, I must say, is also enjoying himself.

We run three bulls with the herd while resting another group of four at any one time because it’s hard work jumping on cows all day (yes, I know what you’re thinking). There was a change of shift for the bulls this morning and I thought I’d capture a little of the courting game for you.

The first bull opened with an impressive display, enrapturing the cows, well not quite…Oh dear – I have a video but YouTube is taking all afternoon – sorry. Let me put it this way, while Buster bull roared, sang and dug up dirt, the cows simply continued to eat. I told you the grass was good!

The next step is to have a good sniff of everyone.

Sniffing bull

Ooooh, you smell gooooohd!

The curled lip is called the “Flehmen Response” and shows the bull thinks she might just be “in the mood”.

Sadly, she wasn’t. He got it wrong and she quickly scurried off. Oh well, Bully Boy, better luck next time!

Splat!

After a nose dive

Even where it’s not wet, we manage to get nice and dirty

Today was one of those days.

Zoe fell over in the yard and got her left side covered in muck. Then she fell into a drain and got her belly muddy. Then this!

Save me

Save me, Mama!

Apparently, a good daily diet of dirt is good for you, innoculating you with beneficial bacteria. If so, Zoe is already set up for life!

It’s been another busy day. Aside from the normal milkings and feeding, this typical winter’s day on our dairy farm brought:

  • Four new calves and one assisted birth
  • The job of sorting heavily pregnant cows from those who are on “holidays”
  • Repairs to a quad bike after its electrics were savaged by hayshed rats
  • Feeding our 47 new calves
  • Moving young stock around to eat new pastures
  • Mucking out calf sheds
  • A little drama

A little drama? Yes, while we were sorting out the “springers” (cows about to calve) from the mob of dry cows, somebody decided to try out for the Bovine Olympics and crash over/through a six-strand barbed wire fence. The culprit was a cow who’d clearly had enough of Romeo the Bull. Unfortunately, she – and Romeo in turn – blundered into a paddock of yearlings, who found the whole affair incredibly exciting.

The whole scene must have looked rather comical: cow desperately zig-zagging through the paddock hotly pursued by Romeo, visibly equipped and amorous, followed by a roaring Bobcat staffed by a giggling 6 year old and white-knuckled mud-spattered farmer, plus a teen on another quad, Patch the yip-yapping pup and 60 bucking yearlings.

Thankfully, the besotted Romeo didn’t latch onto any of the yearlings and the cow seemed relieved to be out of there, so the carnival was over almost as quickly as it began.

You have to laugh!

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.

That blasted bull just had to go

It was with a sense of triumph that Clarkie and I closed the gates behind the tall bull today.

As you may have gathered, I’m a bit of a softie and almost always feel a pang of regret selling one of our animals but Tall Bull is going to market and will not be missed. This Friesian monster towers over cows and our other bulls, gallops like a racehorse and leaps fences like a showjumper. He’s also (pardon the pun) a bully. We were awestruck when we saw him toss a Jersey bull over a fence onto the road with a toss of his massive, triangular head.

Recently, he’s just begun moving around the farm at will, too. He’s too cocky to be called safe, too big to sire easy birthing progeny and too uncontrollable to have near people, infrastructure or calves.

The decision to send him away was easy. Getting him on the truck played on my mind a little more. It started off badly. We offered him companions on his walk across the farm to the yards but he rejected them, opting to leap a fence and take on a rival. Thankfully, his speed ended up playing into our hands – he was easy to separate from everyone else because all were left far behind.

A regal presence, certainly, but not a fitting king for our farm. So long, Tall Bull!

A day in the life of an Australian dairy farming family

I kept a time log yesterday. Here’s how our busy but not unusual day went.

5.00am Wayne hops on the quad bike to round up the cows and slowly and quietly bring them to the dairy

5.45am Milking starts

6.30am Marian hits her desk to catch up on paperwork before Zoe wakes and checks the online forecast. All three computer models agree there’s a little rain coming tomorrow. Better get the nitrogen onto those paddocks we just grazed early tomorrow morning!

8.15am Milking’s finished and the cleaning begins

8.30am Zoe and Marian shift the effluent irrigator, fill the pump with petrol and get it going.

Zoe with effluent irrigator

Time to shift the irrigator

9.00am Marian and Zoe arrive on the Bobcat to give Papa a kiss and cuddle before we head off to feed the springers grain and anionic salts. The new calf spotted being born last night is a baby bull, who will be reared by one of our neighbours. We bring him and his mother back to the shed.

Anionic salts

Anionic salts (Zoe pic)

9.30am The milking machines, the yards and the vat room are spotless.

9.40am The three of us walk a couple of cows across the road to start their annual two-month holiday before they calve.

Cows going on holiday

Cows going on holiday

9.45am Wayne feeds three rolls of silage to the milkers

10.10am Zoe and Marian bring back two cows from the holiday paddock to join the springers in the TLC paddock.

10.45am Zoe and Marian refill the effluent pump and set it off again

Refuel Pump

Refuel pump again! (Zoe pic)

10.55am We all meet up again to feed the youngest calves and muck out pens. Discover one is sick and Wayne heads off to town to get treatment for her and refill the jerry cans.

11.30am Zoe and Marian are starving. Lunch time!

12.50pm Treat the sick calf and muck out more pens while Wayne welds up a broken gate in the dairy

1.20 pm Wayne’s off to feed silage to the dry cows, calves and heifers. Zoe and Marian take a look at the heifers to see if any should join the springers. We decide to do a big sort out in one to two weeks.

1.40 pm Refuel the effluent pump and get it running again

1.50 pm Load up 10 buckets of grain to feed to the youngest of the one-year-old calves. They are very happy to see us!

Feeding Calves Grain

Grain for calves (Zoe pic credit)

2.30 pm Check a new pasture on the way back

Zoe checks new pasture

Check new pasture

2.40 pm Quick snack and conflab with Wayne. 15 minutes later, we go off to round up while he feeds our maremmas, Charlie and Lola, and takes a bit of a break before milking.

Cows on the track

Rounding up

4.10 pm Finally get all the cows into the yard – Wayne’s already got the first 32 cows milked. The cows were in one of the furthermost paddocks from the dairy, we had to set up paddocks along the way and deal with a broken fence. Also discovered a major water leak 🙁

4.20 pm Equipped with tools, start prodding around in the mud.
Zoe’s taking pics now while Mama makes a mess.

Zoe's pic of Mama looking for the leak

Mama looks for the leak

Oops! Zoe’s got a bootful but let’s make it funny.

Zoe on the Bobcat after mud accident

After a boot full of water

The cows crowd around us on their way back to the paddock.

5.06 pm The Eureka Moment! An old (but still connected) water line has burst a fitting.

Pipe fitting

Unearthed the blasted leak

5.10 pm Outta there.

5.15 pm Set the travelling effluent irrigator on a new path, refuel pump and pull the rip cord!

5.35 pm Marian and Zoe home at last!

6.25pm Wayne’s home from milking. The end of a big day.