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.

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.


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…

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.