Fried pastures fry a farmer’s brain

The 5 o'clock swill

Feeding the cows will be a challenge this summer

The fear that steals alongside a horrifyingly dry season robs this farmer of more than dollars. Confusion as deep and disorienting as a thick Edinburgh fog sets in. I knew it was going to be dry, but this? This can’t happen. The brain moves into the basic fight or flight mode, making it harder than ever to manage the complexities of cow, climate, cashflow and crops.

In counterattack, I create spreadsheet after spreadsheet, recreating a standard season, adding a “drought factor” and checking, checking, checking.

Still, I find myself lying in the midnight darkness, chest tight, heart pounding loud over the silence of a sleeping household. Rolling numbers over in a head spinning with scenarios and doubts. Then scolding myself for my lack of serenity and self control, knowing that smart decisions can only be made on the back of a good night’s sleep. Deep breaths, think of our children’s sweet faces. Sink back into slumber.

The antidote is a committed plan. A meeting with the bank manager and a handshake with the hay man put me back on a more even keel. Once I’d said it all out loud, ordered an inconceivable amount of hay and arranged the extra mortgage, the fog began to lift. Yes, it will put us back eight years but the kids will barely notice. They won’t be sleeping rough or missing out on school excursions. We’re lucky, really, I tell myself.

I’ve drawn heavily on everything we’ve built over the past few years: the equity we’d slowly clawed back plus networks of farmer friends, advisors and financial whizzes. But a lot of people down here are not so well supported, including one young farmer who called today feeling overwhelmed and isolated. He takes some comfort when I tell him of my own sleepless nights.

Our silage contractor, Wayne Bowden, goes on ABC Radio a couple of days ago, explaining the situation. We’ve had about a tenth of our normal rainfall all spring and only 4 in 10 farmers are making any silage. Hay simply won’t happen. In the days since his interview, he’s been stopped in the street by several farmers grateful to hear that it’s not just them and to know that, at last, someone’s telling it as it is.

Dairy Australia’s Neil Lane says talking about the situation is critical.

“You need to answer two big questions: how much feed to I need to source and can I afford it?,” he says. “But don’t try to manage it all on your own,” he counsels. “Get onto Taking Stock, chat to people you trust like other farmers, factory field staff, consultants, agronomists, feed suppliers and go to your local discussion group.”

Still looking for more resources? Try the:
Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (AgHealth Australia)
The National Centre for Farmer Health
Sustainable Farm Families
National Hay and Grain Report
Cool Cows

Fur flies as seven bulls join the herd

We did something desperately silly yesterday: we pushed not one but six fighting bulls along a one kilometre treck (including a road crossing) at once, just before milking time. Silly because I was very worried someone might get hurt. Desperate because they’d broken into the yearlings’ paddock.

Yearlings get as randy as a mature cow but until they’re 15 months old, their bodies just aren’t up to carrying a calf, let alone a one-tonne Friesian bull.

Strangely enough, the six jousting bulls went across the road okay. It was “Buster” who had my full attention. Buster the bull was in a group of seven until, suddenly, he was by himself over the fence. A seemingly impregnable, tightly strained eight-barb was no match for him and his mates. We hadn’t seem him exit the laneway but the fence was the worse for wear and a slow drip of blood from his tail showed he wasn’t completely unscathed.

As we approached – me, Zoe and Alex in the Bobcat and Wayne on a quad – Buster’s first response was to swing round at Wayne and put his head down. Now, that’s not a good start. That’s a threat.

Wayne very wisely stopped and feeling a little safer on the Bobcat, I called Buster’s bluff, who stood his ground. There we were in a bull to bull-bar standoff. I squeezed the accelerator and Buster pushed forward, then swung around again facing the Bobcat a-midships. Reverse, redirect, start again. This went on for about 15 minutes before we finally got Buster back out into the laneway.

We decided Buster was bound to make even more trouble with the “crew” in tow, so he had to be cajoled the entire way by himself. He was better with the cows but, even then, decided to pick a fight. Hope Buster just had PMT!