My paddock handbag

Look into a woman’s handbag and you see deep into her soul. Tucked into its folds, you’ll find clues about what makes her feel secure, competent and even sexy. Oh, and boring stuff like grocery lists.

That’s how I like to think of my paddock handbag. Escaped heifers, broken fence, tired kids on board? No problem – with my paddock handbag, I’m Superwoman. Compartment A (the glovebox) is kitted out with wipes, toys, snacks and drinks. Compartment B has just about every tool to deal with almost every agrarian contingency.

TailgateTools Ready for surgery

Toolbox top A good girl scout is always prepared…

The big guns

And if all else fails, the big guns

I guard my paddock handbag with my life. Yes, the fellas are allowed to borrow select items from time to time but must promise to return said item on pain of death. Call me a drama queen with control issues? Maybe so, but I dare you to return toddler on the verge of a meltdown to within cooee of home “just to grab another set of pliers” and then whisk him away again. It had better be an exciting agrarian emergency with helicopters (aka “copot”), trains and whooshing irrigators aplenty or we’ve already lost the battle.

On second thoughts, maybe I’ll get a padlock fitted to that paddock handbag.

What would Dad think of the farm?

It’s at family occasions like Easter that I think of Dad most often.

Dad died at Christmas-time in 2006 when Zoe was just six months old. A new mum with a thriving micro-business and a husband from the city, I had to decide whether I would take on the family farm. Michael, the wise local accountant, advised to sell – I was doing well, farms are far from the most lucrative investment choice and why work so hard, anyhow? After all, my parents had invested in a great education so I didn’t have to be a farmer.

But I love the place. And the cows. And fresh air and the contentment that sore muscles bring. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed my career, a working life spent wholly indoors would be unimaginable. When I said I just couldn’t bear to lose the farm, Michael clicked his tongue, shook his head and said, “Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you”.

Michael was right, of course. It’s been a tough few years. The farm was run down and it’s taken a mighty effort to restore it to manageability, so now and then, I like to imagine what Dad would say if he could see it now.

With a lot of help, we’ve removed tonnes of old stuff, repaired kilometres of fencing, renewed kilometres more of the water system, installed 21 new troughs and a couple of water tanks, renovated 200 hectares of pasture and planted 8000 trees.

I thought I’d take a few photos to remind myself how far we’d come and discovered something humbling. For all we have achieved, it was Dad’s accomplishments that stole the show.

Dad planted the tall trees in 1999. The small ones went in two years ago.

Dad planted the tall trees in 1999. The small ones went in two years ago.

Dad built this wildlife haven in 1984 and planted the trees

Dad built this wildlife haven in 1984 and planted the trees

This is what would have taken Dad's breath away

This is what would have taken Dad’s breath away

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.

Meshing farm and family

Farm kids get to spend lots of time with their Dads

Farm kids get to spend lots of time with their Dads

When I was a little girl, my brother and I had to feed the calves before we went to school and had plenty of jobs on the farm waiting for us once we got home. Naturally! It was the same for everyone else at our primary school.

It was an entirely different picture at our private secondary school in Sale, the home base for the oil and gas industry. Most of my classmates only had to take the bin out or do the dishes and some of them had never even been to their parents’ workplaces. To a teen who had to spend a couple of hours a day on the bus, it didn’t seem fair.

After a while and a few sleep-overs, though, I began to see some merit in living on a farm. We were certainly never bored and we did get to know Dad very well, even if it was while we worked.

It was all brought home to me the other day when Zoe’s kindergarten class put on a little performance for us. One of the songs, “I’m a little teapot”, made tears well up. My Dad had taught me the same song 35 years earlier as I skipped alongside him to round up the cows. Dad would have been so proud of my little girl and even though we round up with the Bobcat these days, Zoe prefers to walk along behind the cows while we sing silly songs together.