Monday, 24 February 2014

My Other Girls

I'm very happy to have these old favourites back home.  After a few months of r&r at Bottle Tree, during which time I've had to suffer 'bought' milk in my coffee I'm glad to have welcomed these girls home in preparation for babies.  

Priscilla is due to calve next week,

her expanding girth and burgeoning udder a clear giveaway.  

Unfortunately her old udder has got a little closer to the ground (gravity favours no species it seems) and her baby will need a little help learning how to 'go low' in an effort to get a drink.  Usually a couple of days is all it takes, milker calves known for their ability to latch on to anything.

Her Brown Swiss cross daughter Penelope, who happens to dwarf her mother,

will be last to calve, due several weeks after Priscilla and Olivia.

Olivia, the cheekiest milker by far is perhaps my favourite to actually milk.  Provided enough grain is placed in front of her, she'll fill a bucket with little effort.

We're looking forward to an abundance of milkshakes, custards and puddings in coming weeks. And with these three giving me as much as twenty litres a day, I'm thinking of giving cheese-making a red hot go.

Cue eye-rolling from the big fella.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Agriculture ... my industry

I'm unable to lay claim to generations of pastoralists in my family tree.  One of my grandfathers was a pie-man, the other a pineapple-farmer who due to ill health moved to town at a relatively young age.  I do have fond memories of riding shotgun with Grandad Cec and being given the rather daunting responsibility of hanging the bell out the passenger side window of the pie-van to signal our arrival at various workshops around town.  An important job for Grandad's 'little bush princess' at age four.  And I'm still rather fond of a McHugh's Pie on a drizzly day in town.

I am no less proud of my heritage and equally proud of how far Matthew and I have come in our pursuit of a slice of the agricultural pie.  My love of animals, and in particular cattle can be firmly blamed on my own parents who, like us, worked hard off-farm to buy their own small parcel of land and raise some cows.  From an early age I can remember days spent with my family, working with horses and cattle and dogs, making do with antiquated machinery, fallen down yards, an often absentee-Dad (away driving a dozer, in an era when interest rates reached over 20%), experiencing anger and frustration throughout the day, and laughing around the dinner table that evening as issues were re-counted.

The agricultural industry can be a fickle one, and is more often a tough one.  The vagaries of the weather being first and foremost a huge variable with which we dance each year.  We are ever at the mercy of Mother Nature, rain being the integral ingredient necessary for all that we do, and a harsh reality of Australian agriculture is that we live on the driest inhabited continent in the world.  It is a difficult business scenario when the most important aspect of that business (weather) is one over which you have absolutely no control.  Thrown in the mix with world currency fluctuations and an inability to accurately guage forward pricing for our product, it's little wonder farm profitability is waning.

99% of Australian farms are family-owned and operated.  And 2014 has been declared by the United Nations "International Year of Family Farming", a great time to recognise and celebrate the achievements of all those family farmers.

(Words from

The beef industry, our particular area of agriculture has endured some particularly hard times in recent years. In May 2011, Four Corners aired "A Bloody Business", the explosive expose which showed the horrific mistreatment of cattle exported to Indonesia, slaughtered in the most inhumane of ways.  I clearly remember being unable to watch the footage, so saddened I was by the sight of such abhorrent cruelty.

However, the knee-jerk reaction of our government to suspend all live-cattle exportation did little to rectify the problem, but instead caused the most profound ripple effect through the northern beef industry, the consequences of which are still being felt, possibly even moreso now.

More incredible though than the financial woes, devastation, loss of income for graziers and all those associated industries and communities brought about by the suspension, was the tidal wave of anger, resentment and disdain cast upon those in the cattle industry.  Truly hurtful, nasty, untruths hurled at cattle producers by some of those within the animal liberation movement.  I spoke to cattlemen and women who said they'd never felt so lost, so misunderstood, so un-liked.

There is no greater advocate for cattle welfare than those people who breed, raise and manage them.  They aren't just our source of income, they are our life, our love.  No cattleman tires of witnessing the birth of a baby calf, hearing the loving murmurs of its mother, those first, unsteady steps as he moves towards Mum's udder.  What cattleman hasn't sat on the edge of the water trough in the weaner yard, enjoying the company of all these babes, their curiosity inevitably leading them towards you for a sniff, a lick.  What cattleman hasn't worked into the night, delivering lick, checking water troughs, ensuring the welfare of his charges.  What child hasn't grown up in the bush, learning the simple rule that animals must be tended to before ourselves.  From the age they could speak, our children have recited 'the golden rule' of our family "Look after your animals and be kind to each other", the latter not always strictly adhered to.

Combined with the drought that has since taken hold in the north and west of our state, graziers were forced to send cattle south, flooding southern markets and depressing prices statewide, a situation from which we are yet to recover.  Some optimism is returning as the boats are again sailing, solid prices are being offered for export cattle, and at the same time our presence back in countries like Indonesia ensures high standards are adhered to and education processes are in place.

Farm debt has reached an all-time high.  Though astute managers of costs, farmers are price-takers and thus struggle to remain profitable whilst expenses escalate.  We will watch with interest as the government's white paper for agricultural competitiveness is developed, one issue being discussed is how to increase farm-gate profitability.  Whilst politicians have a great gift for 'talking the talk', I'm unsure how they will implement the changes necessary to lift profitability for producers, or even what those changes will be.

Yet people in the agricultural sector will carry on, for they know no other way.  It will rain again, interest payments will somehow be made and children will still feed the dogs and ride their ponies.  Cattle will be tended, crops will be planted and life will go on.

And in this International Year of Family Farming I hope that all people will gain a greater understanding of agriculture and those who make it their life's work.  For rural producers certainly aren't seeking sympathy, nor hand-outs, nor attention, but would very much like to be valued and understood.  As everybody deserves to be.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

My Valentine's Day

Last Friday Matthew and I had the opportunity to attend the Queensland Rural Press Club's first luncheon of the year in Brisbane, an event held once a month with a variety of interesting guest speakers in attendance.

"The RURAL PRESS CLUB (RPC) aims to strengthen the links between rural media, public relations, agriculture, business and government groups in Queensland. It was founded by a group of agricultural journalists over 40 years ago who wanted to promote the development of pastoral and agricultural resources in Australia and to spread knowledge of new farm developments, ideas and techniques to the Australian community".

As well as being able to listen to National Farmers' Federation president Brent Finlay talk about the future of family farming in Australia and the NFF's involvement with new trade negotiations, the yet to be announced drought relief package as well as the government's recently announced Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the RPC also announced this year's Excellence in Rural Media Awards.  It also proved an exciting opportunity for a socially-starved mum to dress up and pretend my husband was flying me to Brisbane simply because it was Valentine's Day.

I was extremely humbled to be awarded the inaugural 'Excellence in Social Media' award for this blog.

Pictured with National Farmers' Federation President Brent Finlay and Rural Press Club (Qld) President Brendan Egan. (Photo compliments of Qld Country Life).

I'm guessing that's my fifteen minutes of fame done and dusted.  Thanks to those who have already forwarded congratulations, it was an unexpected honour.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Sally ... diminutive of Sarah

My first born daughter and last born daughter are very similar.  Not only in appearance with their dark hair and eyes,

but also very much in personality and characteristics.

Had I availed myself of a baby name book at the time I was having babies, I'd have learned that Sally is defined as the diminutive of Sarah, or at least a variation of that name.  Which is exactly how it's turned out to be.

Though I often wonder if Sally's slightly more gregarious personality is a result of genetics or perhaps birth order, the baby of the family seeming to learn early how to get their way.  Something about the squeaky wheel getting the oil springs to mind.  I remember explaining to Sally at age five whilst she demanded to sit on my lap, that when Sarah was her age, she had three younger siblings and rarely had an opportunity to sit on Mum's lap, nor even get a look-in with Mum.  I'm sure five year old Sally reflected deeply on these words.

I find it rather fascinating to observe my children with their shared genetics and marvel at their vast differences.  We focus so much effort on choosing the best genetic crosses with our cattle, yet naturally the variations in the product are going to be as great as those within our own offspring.

But I digress.  Sarah's love of all animals, but in particular dogs has been no secret.  Ruby, her pride and joy has never been far from her side, and now it seems Sally has formed a similar attachment with Amy, daughter of Ruby.

They've been spotted recently enjoying all manner of fun.

I think every kid deserves to know a dog's love.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Feeling the Burn

Jess received her 'Bunsen Burner' licence this week in science class.  I chuckled when she told me she was one of the limited number of students who'd actually struck a match before in their lives.

Wallace and Sally have had ample opportunity this weekend to hone their skills.

Windrows resulting from recent stickraking just waiting to be burnt.

Surrounded by green grass and water, and the possibility of further rain later this week, the timing was just right.

I'll be throwing pumpkin seeds in the remaining ash come the end of the week.

It's wonderful to be hearing reports of rain falling in some of those areas that have previously missed out.  Hopefully the gaps will continue to close in as the week progresses.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Monday Morning

I couldn't let my girls head back to school early this morning without first pulling out the camera.  After a weekend of birthday celebration, para grass planting and a rather damp day-trip to Bottle Tree, they enjoyed a hearty feast of thick pork sausages and eggs for Monday morning breakfast and were set on their way ready for another big week of learning.

Note to self:  don't make your subjects face into the bright morning sun.  Though I don't think it was as bad as they made out.

I'm so fortunate that we live close enough to town that I can see these girls regularly.  Plenty of Mums and Dads aren't so lucky, and I can only imagine how tough it is for them.  Here's to a wonderful school week for all.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

A Reunion

I'm so enjoying a weekend with my big girls at home.
We celebrated Jessie becoming a teenager one day after the fact. 

(Blurry photo pinched off Sarah's phone).

Please note the strawberries on the cake.

Practically health-food.

I'm yet to master night-time photography,
so you'll have to excuse my blurry photos.

Jess is absolutely loving school, music to a mother's ears.
I'm absolutely loving weekends like this ...

with my awesome foursome reunited.


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