Can do attitude: a dairy daughter’s tribute

DadMumAndrew

Dad, Mum and my brother Andrew at Wilson’s Prom

It never occurred to me that there were any limits for women during my childhood. My strong, stoick mother had it all: an off-farm teaching career that was as much vocation as occupation; family; weekly squash competitions; a trumpet; horse riding; a massive garden encircling a newly-built home and the farm.

But I did confuse what it is to “have it all” with “do it all”.

It was Mum and we kids who raised the calves before and after school, Mum who built the calf shed out of hand-mixed concrete and recycled iron, Mum who managed the finances.

She was no matyr but she did work smart and very hard. Everything was organised to the nth degree and time was a precious commodity.

Now Mum lives on the other side of the state but something of her continues to live on here, too. While I had no doubt that women can do anything, even after a neighbour told me girls were only good for getting married, I suspect the thought has never even crossed my daughter’s mind.

Times are changing, yes, but my mother’s legacy will endure for generations.

 

Little man’s milestone a Milk Maid’s journey, too

schoolmorningdriveway

Today is Little Man’s first day of school and, inside an incredibly still house, my mind spins.

The little boy who leapt onto the school bus without looking back this morning was born while Milk Maid Marian was in its infancy.

baby

The blog has tracked Alex’s life on the farm, from supervising operations through to being a hands-on member of the team with his own favourite jobs. He’s seen flood, fire, drought and snow in his five years. What adventures will the next five bring?

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Infectious farm life

gullynudge

I did not choose to become a farmer “for the lifestyle” because it’s harder than you’d think.

It certainly wasn’t for the money. My decision to buy out the farm was something I found hard to explain to my incredulous accountant even though it could not have been clearer to me. Maybe if I’d had The Wind in the Willows handy, I’d have shown him this:

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in.
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

My childhood was filled feeding calves, riding ponies, priming pumps, dodging snakes and learning how to drive. That stuff, the snuffling of grazing cows and the wildness of the farm through its changing seasons got under my skin.

Today, my own children play with the calves. I do everything I can to tend their love for all things living and build their capability with all things mechanical.

mechaniclores

And they’re thriving. Not that every day is like a scene from the lid of a chocolate box. Farm life is great for kids in so many ways despite – or because of – the challenges it brings. Resilience, independence, self esteem and a work ethic flow from long days dealing with setbacks and simply doing what has to be done. No need for tough love to learn life’s lessons.

Even so, there’s a part of me that questions whether we’re doing the right thing, infecting our kids with farm life. Opportunities for young people are undoubtedly richer in well-resourced regional cities.

And what will life on the land be like for my grown-up little people in 20 years’ time if they, like Mole did, feel the tug of home’s invisible little hands? I don’t know for sure but I soothe my mother guilt by remembering that at least they have the chance to grow up slowly.

Secrets of a happy life revealed and it was here on the farm all along

“If your New Year resolution is to be happier, make your priorities fruit, nature, sun and sleep.”

This simple prescription for a happy life stems from Otago University research reported in the NZ Herald this morning.  Sounds a lot like farm life, doesn’t it?

From all of us here on the farm, have a wonderful 2015!

Before we say goodbye to 2014 though, I’d like to pay tribute to our wonderful fellow Landcarer, Margaret Ferguson, who helped us plant trees this summer and tragically lost her life in a farm accident this month. I still can’t believe this magnificent lady is gone but she would be delighted to see how well our trees have already grown.

The trees arrived in September

The trees arrived in September

 

The grass was sprayed to give the plants a head start

The grass was sprayed to give the plants a head start

 

We finished planting in the first week of October

We finished planting in the first week of October

 

Giving the trees a helping hand when it got dry was noisy work

Giving the trees a helping hand when it got dry was noisy work

 

Look how much they've already grown: the same trees on Boxing Day 2014

Look how much they’ve already grown: the same trees on Boxing Day 2014

 

RIP Margaret. We miss you.

RIP Margaret Ferguson: a passionate fellow Landcarer (Photo courtesy of Kaye Proudley)

RIP Margaret Ferguson: a passionate fellow Landcarer (Photo courtesy of Kaye Proudley)

 

Frugal farm fun

The green knight comes to a milk maid's rescue

The green knight comes to a milk maid’s rescue

Zoe: “I love it when we get bogged. It’s fun.”

Silence

Zoe: “I love it when we get bogged. It’s great!”
Alex: “It’s not great for Mama, Za Za.”
Zoe: (Dancing on the spot) “I LOVE IT!”
Alex: “But Mama doesn’t, don’t you Mama?”
Me: “No, Little Man.”

He was right: I wasn’t pleased to be stuck in the sticky sulphuric sludge of the gully but wind the clock back 35 years and it would have been a different matter.

I remember the delight of being bogged amidst the despair of my father. Every bogging was an adventurous departure from the daily grind, complete with desperate stuffing of the wheel tracks with bark and anything else that came to hand before spinning wheels sprayed mud from here to kingdom come as the fishtailing ute wrestled its way free.

I was reminded of all that as the three of us trudged (or skipped) across the paddocks back to the dairy at dusk and again this morning reading The Conversation’s article about the cost of raising children. It turns out parents are really no less wealthy than childless couples. One of the reasons offered by the Curtin University scholars rings true:

“When children are present, nights at home with the family, a simple visit to the park, or watching your child play sport may provide enjoyment that would otherwise be gained through income-intensive pursuits, such as holidays and going to restaurants. This is more than a direct substitution effect – parents’ own utility may increase at a lower level of financial outlay.”

The best things in life are indeed free.

Life in the farm lane

Image courtesy of Dynamite Imagery / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Dynamite Imagery / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Something has shifted in me. Standing on the footpath on a balmy Melbourne evening only last month, I was afraid.

Just a couple of metres and a shallow gutter was all that separated our tender little family from a roaring battery of motorbikes, cars, buses and even semis bouncing along the bitumen at 80km/hr. I gripped Alex’s still baby-soft hand protectively and found that despite his fascination with the unfamiliar lights, sounds and smells, I could take it no longer.

It wasn’t always like this. I lived in the city for a decade or so, growing my career and establishing a flourishing micro business that fed my curiousity. True, it always felt as though I were on a camping trip rather than at home but I had my bearings.

Perhaps it was the fear that comes with being a mother that propelled me to usher the little people back to our hotel room. Perhaps it was simply that I am now acclimatised to life in a different lane: the farm lane.

The background sounds tonight are the chorusing of frogs and the intermittent bellowing of bolshie bulls. The scent that wafts through my office window is pure freshly cut grass. Gentle, calming, natural.

But don’t be fooled. Nature sets the pace here, where a sense of urgency courses through the day. She demands the farmer rises before dawn to gather the cows, who must also be fed and protected from her vagaries, only to congregate once again at sunset. And if something goes awry, whether mechanical, physical or personal, Mother Nature is unforgiving.

We, too, know deadlines, budgets, the rat race and all the anxieties they bring. Like most parents, we worry that our children are somehow missing out, and, like most children thrust into the realities of adult responsibilities, we despair that so much is passing us by.

Don’t imagine we are so different: what binds us is so much stronger than that which divides us.

Rush hour in the farm lane

Rush hour in the farm lane

Tribute to a farmer who’s not a farmer

My husband was not born a farmer. While I rode my pony to primary school, Wayne caught the tram through the, err, “colourful” streets of St Kilda.

Before we took on the farm, Wayne had the idea that after milking you could have a nap on the couch – a ritual my father had adopted. But that hasn’t been our experience. I was bequeathed a terrifying mortgage along with the farm and making ends meet means running the place at fever pitch. Wayne is still driving up and down to Melbourne a few times a week and rounding it off with 14-hour days on the farm. He’s doing it so I can follow my dream. Maybe I sold him a pup.

The workload is exhausting. Things are improving – we’ve fixed most of the water, weed and wire problems that hobbled the farm just a few years ago – but it’s really hard yakka and, with a toddler literally strapped to my chest, I’m still not pulling my weight in the paddocks.

We keep reminding ourselves how much we’ve accomplished in just a few short years. I keep thanking my lucky stars for the man I married.

Life lessons for a dairy dog

Patch was just sniffing about while I was moving a temporary fence this morning when all of a sudden, he yelped, dived into a drain in sheer panic and splashed over to the other side. The dousing must have done him some good because he emerged calm but with a reproachful look that suggested I had committed a terrible crime.

Patch, you see, has working dog blood running through his veins but this town-bred pup has had a lot to learn since we adopted him from the volunteers at Homeless Hounds this Easter. One of them is to treat all fences as though they are electric.

After that disgusted stare, he took off down the paddock, refusing to answer my calls. All I could think of was: “What will I tell Zoe if he disappears?”. Zoe and Patch have become inseparable. A sample of her writing exercises from her school book includes:

“I have a nu dog and i love mi nu dog” and “i love mi dog and he love me” and “This is mi star and this is what it says homeless hounds rescue dog” and so on and so on.

Zoe and Patch in the paddock

Zoe and Patch on Sunday. Yes, they were running very fast!

Thankfully, the bedraggled Patch ran home and was happy to be reunited but it got me thinking about some of the lessons he’s had to learn about farm life.

Lesson 1: When mum says to be quiet, listen!
Remember when Patch met the cows for the first time?

Lesson 2: Bulls are bullies
Patch decided to take on a bull and lost. Nothing broken but he was sore for a couple of days.

Patch and the bull

The working dog instinct needs to be matched with experience

Lesson 3: Sometimes it rains ice
Patch didn’t want to ride in the Bobcat the day after the hail incident.

Lesson 4: Don’t run too close behind the Bobcat when the track is muddy

Muddy Patch

What mud?

Lesson 5: Don’t run into the Bobcat
Ouch! Patch ran into the side of the Bobcat while it was motoring along (slowly) and ended up with a black streak on one leg. He’s now aware of traffic.

Lesson 6: Shade sails are fun to climb but don’t try to get down at the top

Patch on the shade sail

Nice day to go for a sail

Lesson 7: Farm life is fun
Patch is one of the happiest dogs in the world.

Zoe and Patch

“Mi dog Patch is cleva”

Hail and hearty on the farm

Angry anvil clouds appeared above the ranges all through yesterday, sweeping rain up into the skies and pelting it down again with icy fury. In between were the most heavenly though frosty blue skies. As the day wore on, these glorious intermissions grew longer and we seized the opportunity to round up in the sun (albeit with at least three layers of clothing on).

With the cows yarded, we set off to open the gate to their new paddock. Just like the unfortunate Mr Gumpy, however, we were out in the middle of nowhere when the skies turned black.

As hailstones the size of garden peas stung our faces, Patch leapt from the back of the Bobcat onto my shoulders. Zoe buried her head in her coat shouting “It’s raining ice!” while Alex squirmed in his carrier under my layers of shirts and fleece. Our beanies were still in the tumble dryer after an earlier downpour and the hail was merciless.

But it was fun! Zoe began to laugh and so did I. Farm life is like that. It builds resilience and a sense of, dare I say it, dry humour.

To the victors flow the spoils

To the victors flow the spoils

Dad always said: “Happy is he who appreciates what he has” and I think it’s very good advice.

Accursed trough crashes through again but the kids triumph

A wisecrack of a boss once told me that photocopiers can sense human stress levels and know exactly when to break down. So it is with troughs.

Alex was beginning to squirm with annoyance in the carrier on my chest and it was past Zoe’s dinner time as we headed home after setting up paddocks in the late evening sun. Then, a minor catastrophe.

A laneway trough with water gushing over the edge couldn’t be left until the morning and this was no simple task of adjusting the float, which is usually the case with this infamous trough. It was properly busted.

Trouble at the trough

This trough is always causing trouble Pic credit: Zoe

A little brass pin that holds the float arm in the valve had failed. Now the big question: can you fix a water trough with a baby in a front carrier without unintentionally baptising the poor little fellow? Sorry Alex. No, you can’t.

The only thing for it was to take him off, put him down in the paddock and see whether Zoe’s charms could keep him entertained while a much more slimline me could do a bushies’ repair.

Zoe entertains Alex Spanish style

Zoe entertains Alex Spanish style

A couple of minutes later, here was the rather rustic repair:

Bushy's trough repair

Bushy's trough repair - not proud of it but it works!

And the end result? Alex squealing with delight at Zoe’s matador antics and dinner delayed by just 10 minutes! Now, if only I could work out what that trough has against me…