If You Love Her You Will Understand

G’Day Mob,

It’s 8am and I’m not in the cattle yards, nor in a cattle truck, nor even chasing paperwork for cattle. In fact I didn’t even get out of bed until 30 minutes ago. We are having a rare quiet morning and to be able to just sit and write is cathartic; a wonderful contrast to the last six weeks or so when I have been flat out like a lizard drinking.

At the end of September we poisoned a mob of cattle – not intentionally of course. We put 100 cows and calves on a paddock of vetch, which is a legume used as cattle feed. Over winter we had been fattening stock off this paddock but, for reasons unknown, at the end of September the vetch turned toxic. The first sign was intense rubbing on the cows, which we took as lice and so consequently drenched them, however when one started haemorrhaging from the nose we knew we were dealing with something much worse.

Vetch poisoning is very rare and as such not a lot is known about it. The government vet was out at Rocky on several occasions doing autopsies, taking blood tests and administering medication. He was intrigued. We were worried. All the literature suggested that even once the animals had been removed from the poisonous plants they could continue to die for up to 50 days. And so we waited. And so they died. I suppose that, after 40 days. I should be thankful that we have only lost 8 cows out of the 100, and the rest seem to be improving, but the pressure associated with watching and waiting, knowing we had done all we could for them, has been intense.

To help the poisoned cows we removed and sold their baby calves; also very sad.

To help us recover from our financial losses we have been like that lizard – flat out trading cattle. This has meant lots of mustering, lots of yard work, lots of trucking, lots of sales and lots of early starts and late finishes. I am definitely not a morning person. The pressure built.

Somewhere in that hazy six weeks I fell off a horse and wrenched most of the muscles in my left leg. Brian was at first blasé but then as the bruises developed I gained his attention. He even took me to the pub and showed his mates.

And it hasn’t rained since forever. The little dam at our front gate is my drought indicator. When we arrived at Rocky Springs the dam was empty and stayed that way for four years. In the last two years it has had water in it but in this hazy six weeks it has again turned to cracked mud. The cattle yards, of which I have become exceptionally familiar of late, are full of choking dust, which only exacerbates a lingering winter cough. While in the yards last week a protective Charbray mumma-cow came out of the mob at a run, put her head under my ribs and literally ratcheted me up the yard railings – no damage but she did re-tenderise those muscles from the horse fall.

The dry has meant fires, which has meant that Brian groans whenever the fire captain is on the telephone, which has meant that my work load increases in proportion. Last fire I found myself driving the cattle truck for four hours. That doesn’t sound too arduous on the surface but consider that this is a 30 year old truck with no power steering with four tonne of cattle pushing it around and some crazy truck drivers on the road because the wheat harvest is in full swing.

The pressure of the last six weeks came to a head for me a couple of days ago when we had to euthanase an injured cow. Brian pulled out the gun and I stood in the middle of the paddock and bawled my eyes out. Brian looked at me confused. “What is wrong?” he asked “You’re not usually like this when we have to shoot a cow and at least we’ll get some dog tucker”. But it wasn’t just that one incident. It was everything, brewing and festering inside until finally bursting through.

Once again from “My Country”, the immortal poem by Dorothea Mackellar – “when sick at heart around us we see the cattle die”.

But I take heart from her following lines, not only for their literal meaning but for the hope that sustains this land – “but then the grey clouds gather, and we can bless again, the drumming of an army, the steady, soaking rain”.

If you love her you will understand.

16 responses to “If You Love Her You Will Understand

  1. Alex Dudley

    That is a great piece of writing, Mandy, raw and real, cathartic and from the heart. I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with such unpleasantness but inspired that you have with dignity and gentle humour. I was hoping we’d get a lot more out of the pregnant clouds this afternoon, but they mocked the cracking ground and skirted to the west.

    Take comfort in the knowledge that you can deal with more than you expect to be able to; and that you have a proud and supportive partner.

  2. It’s really sad to see the relentlessness of farming taking its toll on such a capable woman. Let the frustration out but don’t let it beat you. The rain when it comes, and it will come, will change the demeanour of all of us and reignite that appreciation of all the good things we love about our life on the land.

  3. Stop looking at my legs you two ………. but thankyou.

  4. That was great Mandy, it made me cry. Such an intense time for you, wow. Come over for a cuppa sometime.

  5. What a time you have had ! The old saying “it never rain but it pours” is not really applicable BUT I guess you have had your share for a while – hope life is peaceful and sweet for a few months.

    • G’Day Shelley,
      Welcome to the Rambles and thank you for your kind comments. I will add the poem “My Country” as a page on this blog in the next few days – just in case you were lost as to what I have been rabbiting on about.
      All the best,

  6. Oh Mandy that made me cry just reading it. I know exactly that feeling – not with the death and destruction of farming but just that overwhelming helplessness. Hanging in there. x

  7. Glenys Taylor

    WOW – I have always been impressed at how you can write from the heart and make anyone who is reading it feel a part of your life. I feel for you. Take heart from the knowledge that there are others that are or have been there before. One time when Murray was in Aust and I was at home looking after this place after a drought we or should I say I lost 1 then 2 then 3 cattle from lush growth after drought. No matter what I did they kept dying 1 a day. When Murray eventually came home, he lost 3 in one day. Consequently we don’t run large numbers of cattle anymore. just enough for the freezer.

  8. Thank you everyone for your comments. I was just downloading my frustrations and did not expect it to affect you in such ways. Again from “My Country” – “her beauty and her terror, the wide, brown land for me”. I would not be anywhere else.

  9. Pingback: If You Love Her You Will Understand | Bobby Dazzler's Blog

  10. You’re writing takes me back. It is such a tough life. I’m glad most of your cattle got through but sad for the ones that didn’t. “Flat out like a lizard drinking” used to be one of my favorite expressions!!

  11. I will be so excited to talk to you!!

  12. What a read! It really brought me into the scene of ‘just one thing after another’, but you kept loving your life and your land. ‘All you who do not love her, you will not understand’ is such a powerful line and the reverse is great for a title to this punchy piece of prose.

    • Roobark, not many people can quote “My Country” other than the second verse. Thank you for the empathy and for the compliments. Come back anytime – it is not always so sad.

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