Being a second generation city girl, my favourite holiday destinations as a child were my relatives’ farms. Mum’s cousins graze sheep on their farm in Gippsland. My father’s Uncle ran sheep and grew cereal crops on his Central Victorian property.
Spending time on either farm was always a great experience. There so many things to do and see that just did not exist in suburbia. Helping to feed sheep, milk the house cow, riding on tractors and motorbikes, using outdoor dunnies. These were all wondrous adventures to me and my brothers.
There had been farmers in my family since for centuries, so it was only a matter of time before somebody in my generation went back to the land. As an eighteen-year-old, I went to study on a training farm. I learnt how to muster, drench and dip stock, build and repair fences, drive tractors, and other general farming skills. For almost a decade, that is as close to becoming a farmer as I got.
At the turn of the century, Mum purchased a small farm in West Gippsland. Springsure Heights was a sixteen-acre property on a quiet dirt road between two towns. If you turned left out of the circular drive, you had a fifteen-kilometre drive to Neerim South. Turn out to the right, and you had a twenty-kilometre drive to Warragul. Sixteen acres is not a large property by country standards, but for a girl who had grown up in suburbia, it was like another world.
When we first arrived on the farm, the only source of hot water was an old wood fired furnace out on the back porch. Soon, the novelty of having to cut the wood every morning wore off, and a modern electric hot water service was installed.
Mum purchased ten weaner calves from a property the other side Neerim. But it was the four heifers she bought at the Warragul sales that turned life at Springsure Heights on its head.
Despite the fact they would be sold one day – most likely to be seen again only on the dinner table – all fourteen calves were given names. Mum was less than impressed when I suggested Big Mac, Whopper with Cheese and Quarter Pounder as names for three of the cows.
When you buy cattle, they have to be ‘drenched’ to prevent worms and other parasites. After the initial drenching, you have to repeat the process monthly. Drenching involves rounding up the cattle and herding them into the yard. This sounds simple enough until you have to do it.
With no horse or motorbike, Mum and I had to round the girls up on foot. This consisted of chasing cows round in circles. If you were not quick enough, you would get kicked stepped on or squashed against yard railings by hyperactive bovines.
After the purchase of the yearlings, it was sometimes days between cow sightings. At first, we did not think anything of this, as our bottom paddock was down in a gully and not visible from the house. After a couple of days, the cows would reappear in a closer paddock. You can imagine our surprise one day when we got a call from the people two properties away. They had returned from holidays to find they had a dozen extra cows – ours!
The yearlings had managed to lead six weaners through the boundary fence. From there, they crossed the neighbour’s property. They got through their boundary fence, into the property of the returned holiday makers. I would like to say that droving them home along the road was fun, but I would be lying.
There are many new technological advances in farming, but not the one thing our mad cows should have had – built in GPS tracking!
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