It’s not all beer and skittles, this farming business.

Posted by on Jul 29, 2013 in Around the farm

Campaspe River

Tim’s father taught him well. At any one time we have about 100 cows and nearly as many calves. That’s about 200 cattle all up.

Tim knows all the cows …….by their colour and markings ………by their ear tag colour and number ………their age and how many calves they have had ……which bull they are out of …….which bull they are in calf to ……which calf belongs to which cow ….. which cow is quiet enough to foster a calf. That’s a lot of detail. While we also record a lot of that detail in a “blue book”, he carries it in his head. I, on the other hand, need to check the book. Unless it is a cow who I have hand reared as a calf, one we have “helped” through a difficult calving or one who has needed special attention in the ‘hospital paddock’ because they have had a retained afterbirth, mastitis, milk fever, grass tetany or some other ailment.

Calving time is when all this detail is often most important. Mobs of cows due to calve are given special care and watched closely. First time mums (aka heifers in calf) are put in the paddocks immediately around the house so they can be monitored for any signs of trouble. More experienced mums are not put quite as close but are still checked once if not twice a day to ensure everything is going smoothly. Cows show subtle signs that birth is near and we use terms like ‘bagging up’ (aka udder development) and softening.

But even the best of plans can go awry. Back at the start of this years calving we were checking a cow daily for about 4 days fully expecting that each time we went to the paddock she would have her calf on the ground. On the fifth day she was missing from the mob and we couldn’t find her anywhere in the paddock or along the riverbank. Thanks to the vigilance of a neighbour we found her, sitting in the river about a kilometre from our boundary and on the other side. The bank was steep and despite her efforts she had not been able to climb out. It was getting dark by this time but the difficulty in getting her out of the river and up the bank was made easier with the assistance of another farmer friend who stopped what he was doing to come and help us, farmers are like that.  Once out of the river and sitting up on firm ground she was happy to eat and looked bright.  But as a few days passed and we continued to provide food and water, support for her to sit upright and assistance in her attempts to stand it became clear that there was no further improvement.

Sitting for long periods is not good for cows. The limiting of circulation to the legs makes standing and walking after being down for several days more and more unlikely.  You start to question whether what you are doing is really in the best interests of the animal or just making yourself feel better.   Cows won’t stand just because you want them to or will them to, they can’t point to where it hurts and they can’t tell you how great the pain is.  There is, in many respects, a great responsibility on us to make the right decision. We lost this battle because it was the right decision for the welfare of the animal. Believe me when I say they are hard decisions to make.

Last week we again made the hard decision about a cow. She had a tumour on her side which had clearly become cancerous. While she did not appear distressed by it, our observation of her indicated that she was increasingly unwell.

This week we have to give consideration to making the hard decision about our beloved Poss. At the age of 13 she is well and truly retired as a working dog and while that doesn’t stop her heeling the odd cow around the house paddocks or leading her daughter, Fly, on an excursion down the yard, something tells us the end is close. The lump on the top of her head which had been unchanged for a few weeks is now changing and we need to make the decision before her quality of life here suffers. We think her place will be outside the stable on the hillside, overlooking the river. She loves sitting outside the stable, against the corrugated iron on the north wall to catch the morning sun.
Tim will sometimes remark that his father used to say “if you have livestock, you will have dead stock.”  I’ve heard other farmers say it too. While it may sound a bit cold to some people, it is never said flippantly and is often said after someone has shared a story about the lengths they have gone to to save an animal. As a good farmer friend of ours has been heard to say more than once, “it’s not all beer and skittles, this farming business.”