Blog - Page 15 of 18 - Margôt Tesch, Writer
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!


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…

December 19, 2008

The Contrasts of the Traprock

October at Spring Creek Station

Our dams are full of dried footprints instead of water.

We found a dead cow by the track, ribs protruding.

The grass is dying and disappearing underfoot, crackling when you walk on it.

We move the stock to some sort of water supply, dirty though it might be. The costly winter feeding regime doesn’t end.

You need a gas mask driving around on the dusty roads and tracks.

Eucalypts are popping up in the creek beds.

You tap the wall of the water-tank and only hollow echoes return. We bucket water to the washing machine from another tank in the yard.

Our secondary water supply, the tank on the hill, is empty and the windmill broken. We bucket water to flush the toilets.

No water for the garden. Instead of watching it spring to life as usual after winter, I pull more and more things out, dead.

No sprinkler for the grass. The dam level is too low, the irrigation pipes exposed.

A sense of anxiety is rising, a sickening knot in the stomach.  “When will it rain?”

November at Spring Creek Station

Finally, the rains come!

The falls seem a little tentative at first, but as the days pass we enjoy steady, almost daily, registers in the gauge.

The dam levels creep up. You can’t see footprints anymore, even around the edge.

Green grass peeps out of the soil, but you have to look for it.

I check the house tank regularly, relieved to hear the sold “clunk” as the level rises.

Our expectations change. “It looks like rain again today.”

December at Spring Creek Station

More rain. Not enough to reach our annual average but encouraging none-the-less.

The dams are full.

If you listen at night, standing on the deck, you can hear the babble of the creek. It’s flowing again!

The grass is standing knee high and the paddocks a sea of green; the grass long enough to sway in the breeze.

The Traprock district is transformed! The plush green countryside, full of life and potential, pushes away the memory of our unforgiving, heart breaking start to spring. Even the Jacaranda has scattered purple blossoms.

The anxiety disappears. It is going to be a GREAT season. I’m ready for Christmas now and it’s going to be a good one.

October 25, 2008

Birgit’s Rescue

The Waterfall and the helicopter

The Overland Track, in Tasmania, is one of the World’s top hiking destinations. Fitness enthusiasts from across the globe tackle the six day hike to experience the isolated but breathtaking views of mountains, lakes, volcanic craters and spectacular scenery. However, the experience of absorbing this visual smorgasbord is inexorably connected to conquering the physical demands of the track and surviving the sacrifice of life’s little comforts.

Brigit Koerting, my dear friend, and I, were booked to undertake the track the first week in December. Preparation had been intense with weekly training regimes and regular rehearsals to ensure maximum preparation. Great motivation!

The challenging slopes of Mt Coo-tha were a perfect setting for our second major training exercise. Late one recent Saturday afternoon, we attacked the steep inclines with great enthusiasm, working to master our heavy backpacks.  Any stress we felt from the steep climb was lost in the intense conversation – catching up on life at Virgin Blue! We reached the Simpson Falls’ crossing on the down hill run, not far from our first rest stop.

Birgit, sure footed and confident with her flash new hiking boots, stepped onto the rocks without hesitation. But before she could take a breath or even pause in our conversation, her right foot had slipped from under her and, to my extreme alarm and dismay, was disappearing down the waterfall on her backside!

“Jesus”, I cried (actually I think I yelled it quite a few times) before holding my breath, waiting for Birgit’s bobbing torso to come to a stop. But it didn’t, she just kept sliding and bouncing down the rock face! Finally, about 20 metres down, Birgit thankfully came to a rather jarring full stop.

“Ooooh, Aaaaar, Ooooh!” was all I could hear. Groaning and moaning, what wonderful sounds, she was alive, and conscious. I ripped off my back pack and scrambled down the slope after her hastily but tentatively, fearing I might end up on top of her. A young man, fortuitously approaching the falls from the opposite side at exactly the right time, managed to reach our distressed Birgit before me.

Broken bones? Broken back? A quick examination from a medical novice did not bring any comfort except to ensure that no bones were visibly protruding. The nice young man (I never did find out his name) was quick to ring 000, while I fumbled with Birgit’s Blackberry trying to remember how to use it – without my glasses.

By the time the rescue crew arrived (which seemed to take forever), I knew Birgit was OK, maybe bruised, maybe sore, maybe a fracture here or there, but OK. Especially when she confided, “You know, having a bit of extra padding comes in handy sometimes!” I knew the worst was over, her sense of humour returned. But Birgit, and all her gear, was still at the bottom of the waterfall. She was in a lot of pain. Her right ankle was distressingly damaged and it’s circumference growing before our eyes.

The rescue crew was matter of fact. It was business as usual for them. A quick medical assessment deemed it unlikely there were broken bones but night was closing. Birgit was not in a good state to walk out and the nearest vehicle (in fact there were two fire engines by this time) was some distance away, along a narrow, uneven and sometimes quite steep, track.

Bring in the helicopter! It was the only way to retrieve her safely from her precarious position. The helicopter, holding a steady position, created a mini hurricane in the forest. I had to hold on to a tree trunk to prevent being blown away. The wind was so intense and frightening that two of the rescue team wedged Birgit between them to prevent her being blown further down the waterfall. “I can walk out! I can walk out!” she cried to no avail; the decision made; the rescue unstoppable.

Fighting with the wind, I just managed to see Birgit disappear into the belly of the helicopter through the gyrating tree line – to be safely delivered to hospital minutes later.

Birgit’s attention in hospital was immediate – well, she had been brought in by helicopter! No waiting in public hospital queues for her. Fortunately, the x-rays confirmed no broken bones. We needed time to digest what had happened. The only way to end the day was with a bottle of bubbly…or two.

The end outcome? Our Overland trip has been postponed and we have both learnt an important lesson in basic safety, care and FOOT PLACEMENT! Birgit is working to heal her bruised and battered body. I know with her determination and good sense she will be back on the trail as soon as possible.


October 5, 2008

Collecting Poo Samples

Collecting Poo Samples

Remember the old Combantrin Mum used to give you when you had worms as a kid? Well cows are at risk of getting those worms plus other parasites as well.

We have to protect our 106 weaners (calves about 6-12 months old) very carefully as they are our wages. They seemed to have lost some weight lately and we were concerned about parasites such as threadworms etc. We ordered a “Poo testing kit” to find out for sure. (Faecal samples are tested in the laboratory for eggs which provide an indication of the severity of any parasite infestation.)

The testing kit arrived in the mail. Chris thought it was a good Sunday afternoon job, so we set out together on the quad bike with the poo collecting kit under my arm.

“The samples have to be fresh. REALLY fresh,” announced Chris. (I love how he shares this level of detail at the last minute!) Yes, you guessed it! That meant we had to stand around in the paddock waiting for one of them to do a poo. I was about to become more intimately acquainted with the bowel movements of a cow than I rather fancied.

As soon as we spotted a tail going up and a back arching, we zoomed over to inspect the steaming prize. We used a stick to scoop it up and squash it into the little plastic bottle – rather like a urine testing bottle. You could feel the heat from the bottle in your hand. A little disconcerting but … they had to be “fresh, REALLY fresh.” At least the flimsy rubber glove provided a meager sense of protection.

But, it wasn’t over. We had to collect 10 samples of course!! Those calves must have thought we were nuts –so intent on their bowel habits.

The next day we popped the samples in the mail back to the lab for testing. The postman delivers some pretty interesting things, but it had never occurred to me that he might be carrying so much shit around day-to-day!