Category Archives for "Life on Spring Creek"

Posts about my transition from city to remote rural life. I talk about the challenges of grazing, the frustration of primary production and your vulnerability when facing the elements.

September 29, 2009

We lost one of our bulls

A tragic loss

This week we had to bring in the main herd. Despite our feeding regime, some of them are looking poorly – especially those feeding bigger calves. It’s an opportunity to do a bit of stock take, look over them all and to wean the bigger calves.

We set off reasonably early and checked each paddock, gathering them together. We were about 500 yards from the gate to the laneway when I came upon one of the bulls, Investigator. He was down.  He didn’t look very well. His eyes were bulging a little and his tongue was hanging out inelegantly to one side. His legs stuck out in front of him like four pins. They looked a little stiff and awkward. Our other bull, Injector, was circling him. Injector nudged Investigator’s back, trying to push him to his feet. It was distressing to watch. My throat felt choked up.

I pulled up on the quad and called Chris on the two way radio. We decided to finish mustering the herd into the laneway so we could go back to assist Investigator.

We invest a lot of money in our bulls. You need to put a good bull over your cows if you want to breed prime beef. They are quite majestic beasts weighing in around 600 kilos (or more). They have a presence of their own. You can only really muster them because they want to stick around with the cows. On their own they’ll just stand and look at you and not move no matter how much you beep the horn and yell.

Investigator wasn’t looking very majestic today.

It was probably about 10 minutes later we came back to see what we could do to get him back on this feet.

When we got there, he was stone cold dead. Just like that, gone.

Injector was still circling and nudging his mate. We had to wait for him to move away before we could get a closer look. He hadn’t put up much of a fight. We’ve had cows go down before and they usually thrash about. Investigator hadn’t thrashed about. We went through the possibilities.

Why did he die?

Had he starved? No, he wasn’t looking poorly with his huge gird sticking up from the ground. That couldn’t be it.

Had he been overworked? We are short one bull. You normally have about 1 bull to 30-40 cows. We had two bulls with about 130 cows. But if he had been overworked you would think he would have been looking poorly. That couldn’t be it.

Had he eaten something poisonous? We don’t know of any poisonous feed on our property and he didn’t seem to have gone through a struggle. He had basically just dropped dead. But I guess it’s possible.

Had he been bitten by a snake? The snakes are mean this time of year. This thought freaked me out a bit. If a snake bite can drop a beast this size, what could it do to me? (I’ve been looking out so carefully since then.) I guess a snake bite is possible. But why did it have to bite our bull!

Well I guess we will never know for sure. But it was a very sad day.

An Aside

While Investigator was down on the ground I was able to inspect him closely – more closely than you ever could if he was on his feet. I was intrigued to notice that he had a couple of nipples at the top of his scrotum. Apparently this is normal. I guess guys have nipples that don’t serve any specific purpose, but I hadn’t considered bulls had them as well. They were funny looking things. They didn’t really look like they belonged.

You learn something new everyday on the farm.

September 19, 2009

The Adjustment Continues

What am I good at now?

Instead of persuading executives and coworkers to change their perceptions and work differently, I’m now pretty good at persuading cattle to go where I want them.

I’m great at zooming around the countryside on the Quad bike and love it. There isn’t a creek I can’t cross (though I might have to search for a bit to find a place I’m prepared to tackle). Even the hills are easier on my new quad bike.

I’ve also learnt to read the cattle and understand where I need to position myself to get them to move in the right direction. I’m more alert when one is about to charge off in the wrong direction. I can anticipate them somewhat. I also know the naughty ones by sight.

When we first started, the cows would always bunch up in the corner as we struggled to get them moving through yards. Now, somehow our expectations have changed so that doesn’t really happen. There is only the odd recalcitrant that needs a sterner voice.

I can work a fence line confidently. I have a set of tasks that are well within my capability, so no more standing around waiting for something to do or just watching. It is great exercise and very satisfying to look back along the fence as it is erected. I’m even good a sighting in the posts – a very responsible job. The fence just has to be dead straight!

What am I still working on?

I still don’t like being in the yards with the Brahmans. They charge and snort at you. I don’t like them. They make me nervous.

Coping with the isolation is ongoing but the internet helps a lot as do frequent visits to town.

My tennis game is still sadly lacking. The district has a monthly tennis day. It is a great social event and has really helped us integrate. They all love a drink, well lots of drinks actually, so they are always memorable events. I just wish I could hit the ball into the right place a little more frequently.

The anxiety when we are waiting for rain is tiring. It is such a relief when it does rain but the waiting is frustrating and saps your energy. We seem to be waiting a lot.

Baby Piglets

We were out mustering the other day and came across a family of wild pigs. The sow had a big litter – about 12. Chris ran them down and managed to catch three. We brought them home on the bike. They are so cute. We called them Greasy, Pork and Chop. This is to make sure we don’t get too attached to them before we eat them. We will grow them out for about six months. They are getting fatter already. So we have pigs as well as cows to look after now.

June 24, 2009

My Love Hate Relationship with Spring Creek

The Good the Bad and the Ugly

I love the privacy and space at Spring Creek. We can make as much noise as we like and we’ll never disturb anybody. I love it that I can’t hear the neighbour’s toilet flushing.
I hate the isolation; not seeing anyone face-to-face for days. I miss the lively conversation and different points of view.

I love waking up and choosing how to spend my day.
I hate having no pressure and miss the stimulation of deadlines.

I love my large country home that can accommodate lots of visitors at any one time.
I hate the house mostly empty and rooms only entered for dusting and cleaning.

I love the green paddocks after rain.
I hate the unforgiving dry, dusty Traprock; its harshness ever-threatening heartbreak.

I love the sound of the water babbling down the creek, the trickle and splash of mini waterfalls.
I hate the forsaken empty creek beds weaving through paddocks awaiting the torrent.

I love the peacefulness of hearing only nature’s sounds; it’s healing to the soul.
I hate the cries at weaning time, mother and calf calling each other for days – another stolen generation.

I love playing jillaroo working the stock in the yards – climbing up and down the rails; the excitement of chasing them up the race.
I hate to see the trembling weaner collapsed in the crush, unable to move, frozen in fear.

I love feeding the stock as they jostle and bustle so close you can touch them.
I hate to see a calf trapped and injured – their head stuck in the hay feeder or their hoof caught in a fence.

I love the trust that’s built when I can pat a cow’s head or rub her neck.
I hate the shriveling carcass of a cow found dead, too late to save.

I love the wet inquisitive nose of a new born calf too young to be afraid when you come so near.
I hate the piercing cry of a calf wedged in the yards, jammed by its own frenetic struggle.

I love the sight of a new born calf wobbling as it tries to stand and take its first suckle.
I hate the tiny limp dead body when a calf is lost and the heart-rending cries of its frantic mother.

But overall, I guess, I love the challenge of new experiences. There is no doubt that living here has expanded and grown my sense of the world; increased my understanding of life and has definitely broadened my perceptions.

I suppose that’s why I’m still here…Wont you come to visit?

 

January 20, 2009

Experienced Stockman at Work

14-experienced stockman

Weaners through the yards

We’re getting more experienced now, managing the stock – or at least we thought we were. Today was a simple job, not too many needing attention.

In the morning cool we hopped on our bikes and mustered 17 of our weaners into the yards. I herded them into the forcing yard. Its supposed to help you force them single file down the race. The stock don’t like the yards much. Things happen to them in there, unpleasant things, like – castration, branding, de-horning and ear tag piercing. You can imagine their reluctance.

“Get up there!” I yell, using my deepest, sternest voice, waving my arms threateningly. It works mostly but sometimes Chris has to help. (It annoys me that his masculinity seems to incite a better response!)

Inoculation (needle in the neck)

We had the first young bull set, ready to go – his head locked in the bailer. He didn’t like that very much. Chris fumbled with the needle, priming the syringe, making sure all the air was out before injecting it. Something wasn’t right and he seemed to be squirting the medicine onto the grass, I was worried we would run out. Poor young bull number 801 was snorting and flaring his nostrils impatiently. We did manage to inject something into his neck. I tried patting him on the head to calm him down but it didn’t have the desired effect.

We managed to fix the problem eventually but with barely enough serum to do the lot.

Stockman’s Tip No 1:     Prime needle before bull is in crush!

Weight Check

The fatter the weaners, the more money we make. We had the scales plugged in and ready to go, taking every opportunity to monitor their weight gain. The only problem was the battery went flat after two beasts!

A few of Chris’s choice superlatives, a quick trip to the shed, a wobbly trip back lugging an enormous tractor battery, a few more superlatives and we were on our way again.

Stockman’s Tip No. 2:    Remember, re-charge scales after use!

Castration

We’ve used the rubber band method of castration before but not recently. We had the first bull in the crush. It was my job to hold the tail in place. You have to bend it back abnormally – the opposite direction to which it wants to go. Holding it in place like that numbs their rear end – a bit like an anesthetic. It numbs your biceps too – it takes a bit of strength to hold still a 250+ kg beast. It wouldn’t have been so bad, if Chris hadn’t forgotten how to apply the band! I felt like my arms were going to fall off waiting for the deed to be done. Fortunately the bull was quite enjoying his testies being fondled. He waited patiently, not realising his balls would fall off in a few weeks. Poor thing!

My arms giving way, we abandoned the job. We had to go inside and re-watch the training DVD that came with the apparatus!

Stockman’s Tip No. 3:    Find scrotum-like object and practice, practice, practice!

Such experienced stockmen we are! It was after lunch, the hot sun draining our energy, before we finished our simple task. Sigh. Next time we will do better…

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