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Family Stories from the Farm

   

MOTHER AND BABY… SOMETIMES IT JUST DOESN’T GO TO PLAN!


If you continue to read these stories, you will read plenty of events involving cows and their calves. Debra and I had such joy, and sadness during the calving season. 

Baruch HaShem it was mostly joy… but there were times of great sadness. 

Today we bring… well you will have to read the story.


Day is breaking, time to leap out of bed, have breakfast and go around the cows. As I jump on the motor bike, I always have a prayer that the cows will be ok, no calving problems. Most times our heavenly Father answered our prayers… but sometimes things didn’t always go according to prayer or plan.

This year our cows were calving in what we called the “back paddock”. The paddock was approx. 300 acres in size, with creeks, gullies, swamps and plenty of hiding holes for mums to hide their calves.

When riding around you count the cows to see if all are accounted for. Naturally if all are accounted for and there are no problems you are relieved and can relax.


PERSISTANCE PAYS.


There were supposed to be 55 cows in the paddock. No matter how many times I counted them I could only count 54. Believe it or not, it is not easy to count cows in the paddock, they move and shift making it hard to know if you counted some twice or left others out. 


I rode all over the paddock and could not see any so-called missing cow. I convinced myself that I must have miss counted. On one count I came up with 56, on another 53, so I thought… clown you just can’t count. 

After some time, I thought no sense in riding around and around, either I have miss counted or it has gone into the neighbour’s paddock. I was doubtful if this was the case, this neighbour had no grass and our cattle never went into this particular neighbor’s property.


I couldn’t let go of the fact that this cow was missing… I decided to do one more count. This time I really took time and effort to count… 54 cows. Repeated the process… 54 cows.

Where was this cow? I had been up and down the creek, looked in the swamp, checked every gully, tussock, hidey hole… nowhere to be seen.


Well better head home and come back later to see if she has turned up. Heading home, I turned off the bike at the gate to “relieve myself of some pressure”. I heard this faint bellow. Sounded like it was down the creek near the boundary. I had ridden down there, but didn’t see a cow. 


Thought… better take another look.

 

Heading down the creek, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Standing between some bushes was missing cow, large as life, but looking down a small cliff face into the creek.

Walking slowly towards her, talking as I went, I could see she was distressed. She was an Angus cow, not known for being quiet or easy to handle, especially when they had small calves. 


Seeing what was before me, all I could do was shake my head. This cow had just had her calf. The reason I couldn’t see her earlier was because she was lying down behind bushes… in labour. 


Now Angus cows are known for their “smarts”, but this one had picked the worst place possible to have her calf.

She was on a very small parcel of land with a cliff and a creek on each side. Not only that but the whole area was dotted with Wombat holes, literally deep and big enough to lose a small calf.


I could see the cow, but not the calf… my heart started to pump. The closer I got, the more agitated the cow became… was she going to charge me?


Then I saw the calf. 


Keep in mind this calf was born a short time ago. Here it was in the creek, standing up [couldn’t believe it] in the freezing cold water, shivering. Mum had the calf on this small parcel of land… it had slide down the cliff, through some blackberry bushes into the creek when born. 


I waded into the creek through the blackberry bushes to hold it up so it didn’t collapse and drown. Mummy cow stood on top of the cliff looking down, extremely stressed and agitated. She wanted her calf.


How was I ever going to get this calf up the cliff, put it next to mum, hoping she wouldn’t charge me and hoping the calf wouldn’t fall back down this cliff or the other one, or into a Wombat hole.


I struggled to push the calf up the cliff face… I couldn’t carry it because it was to steep. The closer it got to the top, the more the cow paced up and down. Then the calf started to kick and bellow… mum started to snort and paw the ground. I could see cow, calf and me in the creek together… with me worse for wear.


I kept my cool [had no choice] and kept pushing the calf up the cliff face. What seemed like forever [in fact only a few minutes] I had the calf on top of the cliff on level ground.

Task was not done… I had to somehow drag the calf away from the cliff, if I left it where it was it would only end up in the creek again and drown.


How was I going to do this without mum knocking me flat? 


I waited on the cliff face, holding the calf so it wouldn’t slip back down. Unless the cow jumped down the cliff, I was safe. Mum came over to the calf and began to lick and clean it… good sign. She settled down some, but still looked at me with an expression of, “don’t come any closer”. 


I still had to get the calf away from the cliff face. When a young calf [just born] tries to stand up and walk… it staggers around and has no real control. I had to get it into the middle of this small patch of ground.

I began to push the calf along the ground, with me sliding along the ground after it. I was still only half way over the cliff face, so I did have an escape route. I kept pushing until I was on the same level as mum and calf. Mum was backing away, then walking forward, head down… looking menacing… far from comfortable.


I just had to get that little calf another 5 meters away from the cliff face. I backed away from mum and stood on the edge of the cliff… it gave me a chance to pull the blackberry thorns out of my trousers.


Time ticked by and mum continued to clean the calf… she was becoming more relaxed. My next worry was, could the calf stand after it’s ordeal and get a drink, it would soon try and it was still to close to the cliff and surrounding wombat holes.

Suddenly the cow turned and walked away… here was my chance… running forward I grabbed the calf and moved it to safety. Calf bellowed mum turned around, took one look and came charging towards me. I dropped the calf and headed for the cliff and blackberry bushes.


Fortunately [Baruch HaShem] the cow stopped where the calf was and didn’t come after me. Mission accomplished. 


Cow and calf stayed in that small, dangerous area for 4 days. Nothing further happened and both survived.

If I hadn’t stopped at the gate and turned the bike off… the calf would not have survived.


Went home to report a “good news” story to Debra.


  

 

Close family bonds are important...
Close family bonds are important...

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STORMS DO ARRIVE

   

CHALLENGES REQUIRE DECISIONS.


The challenges that you encounter on a commercial farm are many and varied. There is the need for a balanced response to situations between heart and head. This is not always an easy process, especially when animal welfare is involved.

None the less there are times when the decision is not between heart and head, but between responsibility and couldn’t care less.

It is a sad fact some farm operators are nothing more than hired shepherds that leave their posts when they are most needed.

There are situations that arise when such decisions need to be made. Take for instance the following:

We used to shear our sheep in the month of September… it was spring time and the weather was usually warm, with plenty of feed… conditions mostly good.  Yet it could turn nasty… weather conditions were known to change where it could snow and become bitterly cold. 

I remember a time when this happened… we finished shearing, the weather was fantastic, mostly bright sunny days, the sheep were enjoying the sun on their backs, grass was growing and everything was as good as it gets.

Two weeks on and everything changed. The weather turned completely… conditions became almost unbearable… rain, hail then snow arrived driven by an icy cold wind. Temperatures plummeted.

It was dark when this happened and we were sitting around the fire place enjoying the warmth listening to the rain on the roof.


THE UNEXPECTED WILL ARRIVE.


We never expected the conditions to turn as bad as they did. We did expect a little rain and a small drop in temperature, but nothing like we were experiencing at that moment.

We looked at one another knowing that the sheep were now in danger. They had very little wool to keep warm under such terrible conditions and if left many would perish. 

What were we to do? Trying to round up flocks of sheep in the dark under such terrible conditions and take them to shelter would be almost impossible. It would also mean freezing “to death” in the attempt. Yet we knew if we just ignored the situation and went to bed, many sheep would die for sure.

Decision was made to try and bring them into shelter. Keep in mind this was when I was a child and we had no motor bikes, only horses. We had to catch the horses [who were so cool calm and collected – NOT] and negotiate our way through these conditions. 

Whilst dad was saddling the horses, I went and let the dogs go. They were curled up in their kennels with their tails over their noses, keeping warm as possible. They were not all that keen to race out into the blizzard type weather. None the less they obeyed as good dogs do, even wagging their tails, showing enthusiasm for the work ahead. 

LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS PLEASANT.

Jumping on our horses, calling the dogs, we headed out into the night in the hope we could save the sheep. This was far from a pleasant experience, yet if we didn’t do it there was no one else who would or perhaps could. I doubt if horse, dog or sheep would have obeyed the voice and directions of a stranger… in fact I know they would not have.

I can tell you, if we didn’t have good horses and sheep dog’s we would have lost the battle. These experienced “servants” knew the drill, they went around the sheep, in the dark, and started to shift them towards the shelter. We had to be there to oversee the project, but the dogs and horses did all the vital work.

It was an interesting experience, the horses behaved, the dogs behaved and the sheep gave little trouble. It was almost as if all knew how dangerous the situation was for the sheep. 

I can almost guarantee if we tried the same exercise in good conditions very little would have gone smoothly. The horses would have played up, the dogs would have got distracted and gone off chasing Kangaroos and the sheep would have scattered into the night.

A few hours of work and we had the shivering sheep under shelter. Horses, dogs and men returned back home tired, cold and needing our own “shelter”. 

Arising in the morning we were greeted with fields of snow… there is no doubt if we had ignored the situation, stayed indoors in front of the cosy fire, we would have witnessed dead and dying sheep everywhere. 


EXPERIENCE CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE.


You see previous experience had taught my dad that if he chose to ignore the situation, dead and dying sheep were a forgone conclusion. He knew if we were to save these sheep we had to act, we had to bring them into shelter.

We could have just gone and opened all the gates that led into the shelter and left the sheep to find their own way, but this would have failed. We could have then said, we opened the “doors” but they failed to see, stupid sheep, their fault. 

This may have passed the mustard if we knew no different, but we knew that doing that wouldn’t work. My dad was an experienced shepherd, who had learnt off his dad and he knew he had to take control and do what he needed to do. 

None the less he couldn’t do it all himself… he needed help from willing participants… not only willing, but glad to follow instruction in such trying conditions.

This was no time for horses to play up, for dogs to ignore instruction and for us children to rebel and complain about the conditions… a team effort was required… even the sheep had to behave.

Sadly, I know of some who would not have made the effort, preferring to stay inside by the fire. Even some experienced shepherds choose the comfort of the fire, less experienced know no better… either way the sheep perish. 

I can tell you… a shepherd without dedication, experience and a willingness to learn from others will witness far too many dead and dying sheep. There is no doubt some sheep will perish… no matter who the shepherd is… but the fewer the better.

If one is not prepared for a storm, and doesn’t know how to react when it hits… there will be loses… unnecessary loses. 


Not sure about you… but I see storm clouds on the horizon… may Yeshua be our shelter.

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SOME LESSONS ARE LEARNT THE HARD WAY

   

There are times when you wished you didn’t learn lessons the hard way, especially when it costs the life of an animal.

But as my dad used to say, “If you have live animals, you will have dead ones”. 

There are circumstances you cannot control. Wild dogs can kill your sheep or calves. Disease can cause death. Accidents can result in death. Birthing problems can result in death… the list goes on.


Contrary to some beliefs, farming animals requires experience, patience, hard work and a willingness to learn. Take on farming without experience; your animals face an increased chance of dying from preventable deaths.

Without experience you put your animals in a vulnerable position. You will struggle to read the signs when an animal is ill. 


Without experience you can put your life and an animal’s life in danger.

Without experience you will not pick the changes in behaviour that tell you so much.

Lack of experience will cost lives… 


FLY BLOWN SHEEP.


The following account gives an explanation of what I mean.

I remember the time when my dad bought home some prized merino sheep. They were bought so we could produce high quality wool. Dad was excited, as he loved sheep farming and wanted to produce the best wool he could.


In those days merino sheep had numerous wrinkles, this gave a greater skin area to grow wool and it was the general character of the breed.


These prize beauties were no different… plenty of wrinkles and grease tips on the end of the fleece giving them a prestige look.

 

Each day dad would go out and look at his prize flock, making sure his investment was in good shape, no doubt telling himself what a great buy they were.


There was little doubt they had fantastic wool and would improve both quality and quantity of production. What could go wrong??


Answer… plenty.


Sheep are hard work, needing constant attention. They require dosing on a regular basis. They require shearing. They can require shedding under severe weather conditions. They cannot defend themselves against wild dogs or dingoes. 


AND THEY GET FLY BLOWN!


LEFT HOME ALONE.


These merinos presented a serious challenge in the fly strike/blown stakes. They were the worst sheep we ever had for fly strike. Many died due to fly strike… why… let me explain.


Dad and mum went off to Melbourne for a week to visit my mother’s parents and left me home to look after the farm. Normally not a problem.

This time was different. Some of dad’s prize sheep died because of my lack of experience. Even though I was raised on this farm, taught animal husbandry from my parents, these sheep had a flaw that I didn’t pick until too late for some.


I went out and around the sheep on a regular basis, looking to see if all was ok. Nothing seemed out of place on my first trip or my second trip. The third proved different… 4 sheep dead.

The crows, eagles and foxes had had pulled the carcasses apart, so I didn’t inspect the dead bodies. I was confident the foxes, eagles and crows weren’t the cause behind the deaths.


Next morning another sheep lying down in the paddock with the crows trying to pick her eyes out. I rushed down on the horse, to attend to this poor sheep. It was then I discovered the problem.


These sheep had become fly blown and the maggots had eaten away flesh causing weakness and death. I hadn’t picked up what was happening, due to lack of experience with this sheep breed.


Remember I said these sheep had extensive wrinkles and dark grease tips on the wool. Well the flies had laid their eggs in the wrinkles and because of the wool tip colour you couldn’t pick up the maggot infestation under the wool.


With our other sheep you could see the dark weeping patch of the wound caused from the infestation of maggots… but not on these. 

When I understood what had happened, my approach changed completely. Much closer attention had to be paid, and regular check ups in the sheep yards took place.


From that time on I never lost another sheep to the flies while dad and mum were away. Plenty became fly blown but I treated them before they died… I knew what to look for and how to treat them.


These deaths could have been prevented, I just didn’t have the experience or knowledge with this particular breed to pick up the signs of trouble, preventing their deaths. 

I still remember the frustration and anger of losing those sheep. 


We didn’t continue on with that breed, they didn’t suit our climatic conditions… they became more trouble than they were worth.


Lesson learnt… experience is vital… be careful what you take on and what may work somewhere else does not guarantee success for all.


There are other lessons, but I will leave those for you to ponder.

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