The tractor, the toddler and the ejector seat

The neighbours will think I have gone mad or won Tattslotto. The Macdonald farm is not known for gleaming machinery but, in the last few days, an updated tractor has arrived, followed by a new feedout cart.

The reality is that our ancient tractor was getting so tired I just had to trade it for a 6-year-old replacement. Then, in spectacular fashion, the geriatric feedout cart snapped a structural member and twisted itself into an irredeemable mangle. We’re currently feeding the cows 4 tonnes of hay and silage per day and, without it, the feeding regime would take at least an extra two hours that Wayne just doesn’t have.

The tractor may not be brand new but it’s seen barely any work in its former life as a parks and gardens curator and has gleaming paintwork teamed with dark tinted windows that instantly captures a milkmaid’s heart. Fortunately, there was urgent and important work to be done, so with toddler strapped to chest and dog in hot pursuit, I set off to christen the Green Machine and its pristine bucket.

And, oh, the experience was indeed rapturous! The new tractor was clearly designed by another child-wearing tractor driver. Alex cannot reach the forward-neutral-reverse lever on this model and a single, aptly-named joystick controls the front end loader’s up-down and tilt all at once, eliminating even more hazardous handholds!

Christening the Green Machine

Christening the Green Machine

The only thing that got me out of the tractor seat was the little man’s demands for food.

The next day, Wayne got his turn. Had to do some customisation. There was a cumbersome box to remove, the little spray tank that obscured the view, the radio key to re-enter, the steering wheel positioning and the ejector seat to adjust.

Me: (Distracted by toddler attempting to wear potty as a hat) “Hang on – what did you say?”

Him: “It was nearly impossible to squeeze in behind the steering wheel, so I had to get it up out of the way. You can see where the council blokes have been wearing the upholstery away trying to push their big…”

Me: (Hastily) “No swearing in front of Alex! What was that about the seat?”

Him: “Oh that…Yeah, well, I’d put the steering wheel up nice and high but that meant the seat was too low so I had to get it up too.”

“There’s a button between your legs to push and – can you believe it? – a little compressor starts up ‘brrrrrr’ and I’m being lifted up towards the roof! Problem is, the seat carries you away from the button and, pretty soon, you’ve got your head between your knees trying to keep your finger on the thing.”

“As you’ll no doubt remind me, my perfectly proportioned arms don’t reach all that far, so once I couldn’t touch the button any more, I let go and sat up to have a look. All I could see – right before my eyes – were the air-conditioning controls.”

Me: (Laughing) “Those ceiling-mounted knobs? Did you hit your head?”

Him: “Yep, it’s the world’s slowest ejector seat. Put that in your OHS manual.”

Big girl’s toy (my Big Rig)

UTV towing tandem trailer

Well, it’s not just a toy

This is a seriously fun way to get the farm work done. And, now, in relative comfort thanks to the posh roof and screen that came with my new beast on Friday.

WorkSafe and a consortium of others have been running a big campaign to move farmers from quads to UTVs like our Bobcat and, yes, they’re great. You can get the family (parent, two kids and dogs, at least) around the farm safely with a whopping toolbox and all the bits and pieces you need to tackle maintenance chores or major emergencies. It also has the grunt to carry about half a tonne in the box and tow another half tonne behind.

But there are limitations and we won’t be selling our two quads any time soon. Although difficult to bog, these machines do not float on excessively soft pastures, nor do they have the tight cornering needed to thread a wily heifer through a gate.

A UTV like this is a fantastic piece of farm transport that sits somewhere between a quad, a tractor and a ute. Just try taking mine away from me!

Take to the tractor if you can’t get baby to sleep

At 8pm, which happens to be “acid hour” for Alex, a truck carrying four pallet loads of calf feed arrived. The calf feed comes in unsealed bulk bags and forecast drizzle would wreck it, so the stuff had to be moved to shelter before long.

I was singing “Pop goes the Weasel” for the millionth time and Wayne had fallen asleep cuddling Zoe.

Wayne had told the feed guy it was okay to deliver late but when push came to shove, he couldn’t be woken despite repeated attempts. On the other hand, Alex couldn’t sleep. The only thing to do was put on the baby carrier and jump in the tractor.

Milk Maid Marian and baby Alex brush up their loader skills

Alex and I brush up our loader skills

But, jeepers, it took me forever and I was like a jack in the box, checking and double-checking I wasn’t skewering a bag in the pitch black driveway. Alex was fast asleep by the time I had the first pallet loaded up though and I might just blow stockfeed Scott a kiss for the unconventional but effective baby soothing lesson.

Night-time feed delivery

All done!

I must have offended the tractor god

Zoe plays on an old relic while we prime the modern equivalent

Zoe plays on an old relic while we prime the modern equivalent

The more modern pump

Our almost indestructible pump

I don’t like spending money on tractors. They depreciate very quickly and, so long as it’s reliable and reasonably comfortable, we don’t need anything flash. Yes, so long as it’s reliable. Oh dear. This is the second tractor we’ve bought in four years.

The first one was nothing but trouble (spent half its value in repairs in 18 months) so we traded it in on one that a friend had owned and said was solid as could be. Less than a year later and after fitting a new turbo, its engine needs rebuilding. Aaaargh. Any suggestions for an offering to appease the tractor gods?

The farm’s main water pump, on the other hand, works away tirelessly without complaint. Occasionally, the foot valve on the suction line gets jammed open with sticks and that’s what happened today. There’s nothing more critical than water, so we were onto it straight away. Of course, water disasters only ever seem to happen at milking time – maybe water lines have pheremone sensors that can tell when you’re a little bit stressed!