A milkmaid’s dirty linen and why you shouldn’t see it

In the three years since I started Milk Maid Marian, I’ve written about everything we do here on the farm. I’ve got nothing to hide. Well, almost nothing.

You haven’t seen our kids running around starkers in the paddock because, goodness, there are some weirdos out there and, in any case, my little people deserve some privacy.

You haven’t seen much in the way of veterinary treatment, either. I’ve written about sick cows here and here, for example, but I’m not going to post a picture of a newly-lanced abscess; me in action using a tractor to lift a cow threatened with paralysis; or the face of a cow in recovery after eye cancer surgery.

Why not? Because it would be unfair. You might not want to see graphic images as you munch your muesli and, second, the images could be abused. In the name of a higher cause, it’s not unknown for activists to take images of cows being nursed back to health and portray them as abuse.

My family’s privacy and the potential for misleading the public are two reasons why I shudder to imagine activists creeping onto the farm or spying on us with drones. I’m naturally protective, so when an email came through from an animal welfare group on just this topic today, I read it with a sense of dread. Here’s part of what it had to say:

“Alarmingly, support for ag-gag legislation is slowly creeping into politics here in Australia.”

“Ag-gag targets undercover investigators, whistleblowers and journalists by criminalising the undercover surveillance of agricultural facilities or by requiring that any footage which is obtained must be turned over to enforcement agencies immediately rather than given to animal protection groups or the media.”

My farm – my home – is an “agricultural facility”, you see.

And, you know what? If cruelty on a farm was recorded, I’d want the information to get to the enforcement agencies immediately so the animals could be rescued straight away rather than whenever it fitted in with the media cycle, wouldn’t you?

How to get farmers wearing helmets on quad bikes

With my hair plastered to my head with sweat and feeling woozy, I conceded defeat. I’d been rounding up in 30 degree heat on a quad bike with a road bike helmet on and just couldn’t do it. At 2 km/hr behind 250 cows, each literally giving off the same amount of heat as a 1500 watt hair dryer, sitting astride a hot engine, the heat got to me and I was not far from passing out.

Road bike helmets are designed for use on bitumen at high speed and have no effective ventilation at speeds of one to three kilometres per hour. Having one strapped on in this type of environment could be lethal.

Why had I been so stupid, you ask? Because I was trying to do what the regulators would have me do and, as an employer, insist everyone else does it too. And yet I’m in The Weekly Times today saying we all wear helmets here; I won’t let our kids on quads; and that we have Quadbars on our bikes.

What the story doesn’t explain is that I won’t wear a road bike helmet. This seems to be something of a taboo and sadly, this means many farmers ride quad bikes without a helmet at all and simply hope nobody gets hurt.

This situation has arisen because:

–     Quad bike manuals stipulate the wearing of a road bike helmet that meets Australian Standard AS1618

-`    An Australian Standards committee dominated by helmet manufacturers refused to ratify a New Zealand off-road quad bike helmet standard.

I would never argue that riding quad bikes on farm – even at slow speed – without a helmet should be permitted but far lighter helmets are legal in much more hazardous circumstances.

Thousands ride pushbikes down Melbourne’s busiest thoroughfares at 40 kilometres an hour alongside semi-trailers wearing very light, yet legal, helmets. Thousands more ride horses equally as fast wearing cool helmets strong enough to withstand a collision with horse hoofs and a fall onto a hard surface at speeds of up to 55km/hr.

And that’s been our solution: we’ve chosen a light, really well ventilated equestrian helmet. Everyone here wears them without complaint whatever the weather, all of the time.

While many WorkSafe inspectors appreciate the hazards created by wearing road bike helmets for low-speed agricultural use, they are hamstrung by the absence of a specific standard. A new Australian Standard seems destined to be stymied by cost and disregard of the realities by those who work in air-conditioned offices rather than hot paddocks.

 

Lucky to be alive

Zoe drives the David Brown

Zoe drives the David Brown

I used to mow and rake the hay with this tractor and the brakes were so hard to operate, I had to stand up to put all my teenage weight on them to get the David Brown to stop. Those were the days before Roll Over Protection Systems (ROPS), let alone cabins, on tractors.

Today’s tractors must have ROPS by law and most have cabs as standard. Thank God. My husband, Wayne, was unloading a B-Double truck of hay recently, when one of the huge rectangles (8x4x3) weighing just over 500kg fell off the front end loader tynes, bounced off the tractor where the windscreen meets the roof and came to rest perfectly balanced on the bonnet. Without the ROPS built into the cabin, he would almost certainly have been killed.

Even though we are much better protected these days, tractors and quad bikes cause almost all the deaths on Australian farms. The introduction of ROPS on tractors was really contentious back in the 1990s (was it that long ago?) and now, the introduction of Crush Protection Devices on quads is causing the same controversy today. The sooner we just put them on and get on with it, the more lives we’ll save.