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.