Of Drought

18th June 2008

G’Day Mob,

A drought doesn’t just spring up one day and say “Here I am”. It is not a natural disaster that is sudden and spectacular, but rather it is a slow and insidious decline. Nor does a drought end with the coming of rain. Rain may bring relief but it does not necessarily expel the demons of an extended dry spell.

And so, in winter 2008, we find Rocky Springs in drought conditions. We did get good rain for the first six weeks of the year but then the tap was suddenly turned off in mid February and we went for nearly four months with a grand total of 9mm of rain. Needless to say 9mm does not do a lot.

So far our mob of cows is intact and considering that most are raising calves they are doing OK. We are supplementing their feed with copra, which is basically crushed coconuts, and which has been imported from the Solomon Islands.

Bandit, my ageing thoroughbred, was looking very poor after the summer and Brian was threatening to put him in the pig trap, but I pinched some of the copra and added that to his hay ration and now he looks like a horse again.

The creek has stopped flowing but there are still pools of water, and the two dams that are not dry are reducing to bog holes. Thankfully we completed a new tank and trough watering system earlier in the year, which runs off a groundwater bore and that means we can distribute fresh water to the cows.

At the beginning of June we got a break with 35mm falling. Rain in June around here signifies one thing – sowing season. Almost as soon as the sound of rain had finished it was replaced with the sound of big tractors. Brian often refers to Rocky Springs as the pimple amongst all the cropping country for the land around us grows some of Australia’s best wheat, and so when conditions are right it is all systems go. Not wanting to be left out we jumped on our tractor and sowed our oats and barley but long after we had finished each day there was a low throated rumble from the real tractors as they geared up for night shift.

I have been told these real tractors have enclosed cabs, air conditioning and heaters, music, two-way radios and can travel at speeds greater than a crawl. They are supported by tipping trucks with grain augers, mechanics and fuel trucks. They are guided by global positioning systems (GPS) and are capable of towing more than one combine at a time.

The Rocky Springs tractor does not have an enclosed cab. Air conditioning and heating are regulated by how many jackets you remembered to bring with you at the start of the shift. The music is limited to your own singing above the ear muffs and the two-way radio is replaced by a walk back to the house. It travels at a crawl. Instead of a tipping truck and fuel truck, we haul bags of grain and jerry cans of diesel on and off the ute. The mechanic is the driver unless it is really serious and then the two-way radio is used. The tractor is guided by the driver and usually pulls one combine. It also has been known to pull no combines, which is not a good look – especially with the combine 20m behind the tractor and covered in hydraulic oil from the hoses that have been pulled off their bent and busted fittings. The two-way is particularly handy in this instance – as are the earmuffs.

Rain, freshly turned soil and plenty of free seed also means an increase in the feral pig population. We had barely seen a pig for twelve months and now they are quite common. I spotted a sow and a dozen piglets the other day and couldn’t help myself so it was off over the paddock – piggin’. I caught a little, black squealer and brought him home on the bike, much to Bo’s bewilderment. Piggy Piggy has been put in an old chook pen and is doing his bit for recycling – we feed him the kitchen scraps then later he will……………

Now it wouldn’t be a ramble without a hound update so here we go in closing, keeping in mind that the prime objective of all canines at the moment is working out how to extricate a pig from a chook pen………

Pep:  still wobbly and hobbly; on steroids for wonky back; has grade four heart murmur (grade six is the worst); still gorgeous

Wag: still limps from car accident three years ago but still likes chasing cows

Jean: getting better at chasing cows; still prolapses when on heat

Bo: still big; had first visit to vet for infected anal gland (yummmeee); still a sook; absentee Dad to six pups

Clyde: chases pigs, chases roos, chases cattle; still a terrier

Bonnie: part-time house dog; still has Brian wrapped around her little claws.

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