After my last post, I’ve decided to highlight the joy I find in a job that can be very hard physically and emotionally.
Without fail, the sun comes up every morning! And although we desperately need rain, the sunrises on these cool winter mornings lately have been spectacular.
The most intense reds and oranges.
I am the calf rearer. This picture was taken from the spot I feed the bigger calves next to the dairy.
And there has been a planet just above the horizon of a morning. I’m not sure what it is, but when the moon was also there last week it was quite eerie.
I consider myself fortunate I get to witness the renewal dawn brings almost every day.
Especially these cool mornings, when the sun peaks over the horizon, I close my eyes and feel the warmth grow on my face.
Once the sun comes over the hill it rises fast, bringing with it a joyful feeling that today will be a great day.
The odd light frost settles on the flats but quickly melt away.
The calves like to find a sunny spot after their feed.
I feel sorry for those who are still in bed at daybreak. They don’t know not what they miss.
I haven’t written a blog for a while. I made a promise to myself I would only write about things that are important to me and readable and interesting to you, the reader.
I thought about the why/why nots of writing this. But if I can help just one person….. so here I am putting it out there.
Nothing here has been “going to plan”.
We had the drought that was broken by some well timed rain. This meant our cows would have grass, the creek would have water and we could restock our fodder supply.
And we could breath again.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray…..
In a conversation with my local vet about the dry and the effect it will have on calving cows he mentioned that cows that have a tough mid trimester will often deliver badly. That is to say, the cow will have problems at birth and/or the calf will be born in a poor condition. The cow and possibly the calf will have health issues and down cows would be an issue.
And that’s exactly what is happening now.
The majority of births are fine. We have a few purchased heifers that may just have been put in calf too early an are having some issues and we have had a couple of older cows get calving paralysis, one of which didn’t get up on their own again and eventually threw the towel in.
The foxes too are back at it. They take advantage of the cows while they’re calving and will chew on the soft areas – the calf’s naval, nose and dew claws and the cows teats and vulva. This I have written about before and can be read here.
But that’s not why I am writing this today.
This is for the other farmers out there doing what we do – just put one foot in front of the other, clean up the mess left by all this, and get up the next day and do it all over again. With dairy farming there isn’t even a day off. No matter what happens, we have to be back here for milking every afternoon and be able to get up and milk in the morning.
This is about the mental health perspective.
I have written before about BDP an the effect it has on me.
I am currently struggling to keep it all together.
We have had to put a few cows down and couple of calves have also had to be destroyed due to never recovering from the traumatic birth or because of the foxes.
Its getting to me. Its getting to both of us.
I am starting not to enjoy anything. Everything I need to do is a mammoth task. Music can’t cheer me up. I’m overeating and with all the wrong foods. Or I’m not eating at all. I find myself sitting in the car in town for 20+ minutes before I get out in case someone wants to ask how the farm is going. How we’re going. Or just interact with me. I get home an do the same except I don’t want to find out what has gone wrong this time.
The only thing I do like is reading, because I can escape into someone else’s world for a while.
I am fully aware these are signs of depression and anxiety taking hold and believe me I am fighting hard so they don’t. The demons that have pursued me my whole life are not going to win. I have skills now to keep this at bay.
And if worst comes to worst, there is always medication. I will resist for as long as I can though because waking with a hangover every day is not fun at all!
I also don’t want this to become a pity party all about me and my issues.
I want the other farmers doing it very tough financially, with the weather, with sick stock, sadness all around them, and a feeling there is no end in sight to know they are not alone! We are all doing it very tough. And that’s not to say what they are feeling isn’t important – it is. We are all going through it but its an individual fight.
The farmers need to recognize that nasty blackness going on underneath all the business in their heads is completely normal and nothing to feel ashamed of.
Seeking help is not failing.
If someone genuinely asks ‘are you ok’, answer honestly. Just sharing can lighten the load.
Visit your GP and let them know. There are services available through them to help.
There are also people you can contact over the phone or internet if going to the Dr is too much.
NSW has Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) aimed at rural and remote people. They can connect you with services in your local area.
What ever happens, farmers should not ignore what’s going on and just suck it up.
And if you know someone who has changed, become withdrawn, drinking more, angrier than usual, really not coping, ask them are they ok. There isn’t a lot you can do if they lie to you. But you are able to call someone like RAMHP, Lifeline or the metal health professionals in your area and ask what your options are.
Don’t feel like its interfering – you could just save a life and a family from years of torment.
This is a poem by Murray Hartin that has been doing the rounds lately. Everytime I hear it or read it I cry. I’m not sure of its the words or the crying, but I always feel a little better after.
Just know you are doing the best you can with what you have, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
In the last few months the creek that runs through the middle of our place had all but stopped running, leaving puddle holes and water flowing under the rocks that form the bottom of our creek to the next puddle.
We were fortunate enough to catch a break in our drought and get some rain a month ago. It took four days of heavy rain to start the creek flowing again but it is.
I didn’t realize how much I rely on the creek.
I know it waters and cools the cows, provides water for the house and the dairy and irrigates the pasture when required. We like to go swimming in it on a hot summers day. Our friends like to camp on the banks.
What I didn’t know was how much my soul needs the creek.
After a particularly stressful milking I took the bike down to the creek just on dark. I hadn’t been since before I’d left for Geelong nearly three weeks earlier and went to check the pasture on the other side and to see exactly how much flow was going past.
I stopped at my favorite spot. I turned the bike off and listened to the sounds.
The noises of the birds coming in to rest for the night.
The distant sound of town settling down after a long day.
The pound dog, Tiger, who came for the run, splashing and splooshing across the creek upstream.
But it was the gurgling of the creek that made me close my eyes, take a deep breath, exhale.
Off came the boots and socks and in I went.
The water was running quick over small rocks about knee deep. I could feel all the worries of the week just flowing away over the small set of rapids just below me.
The water was clear and the light was still good enough for me to be able to watch a small fish, no longer than my pinky, sit behind a rock on the bottom of the creek.
The odd leaf or twig flowed by. Spitty grubs must have been leaving their nest in the wattle tree up the creek as a few of them floated past too.
I resisted the urge to go a bit further up and submerge my weary body and troubled mind in the deeper hole I know is there. There is a ‘thing’ in there I didn’t feel like dealing with..
Instead I put my arms in. I could feel the pressure of the water. I moved my hands around and noticed the changes holding my hands at different angles made to the water flowing past.
I lost my thoughts, giving over to the little girl within. Listening, feeling, discovering, relaxing.
I remember now.
As I write this, 25ml or an inch in the old scale, of rain has fallen on our parched farm.
Its not nearly enough, bit we are grateful Mother Nature hasn’t forgotten how to do it!!
There has been a lot of talk in all forms of media about ‘Drought Preparedness’. Fantastic concept, and I’m sure a lot of farmers do it well.
We do generally. The 550+ bales of silage made after the floods last year should have got us through a hard winter and the normal hard spring that would follow a dry winter. With the shed filled with small bales of pasture hay for the dry stock and calves, we assumed we were ready. Money…. that’s another story!
I’m very aware that all the dairy farmers in this area are doing it tough right now. And that every farmer has their own reasons why.
This is our story….
We moved from a farm on a flood plain closer to the coast. We’d had three years of nine major floods to deal with, and another flood would have sent us broke. The water would sit on the paddocks with nowhere to go and was exacerbated by the big tides that often accompany these events flowing up the drains. Our poor cows needed flippers to get to the feed and a snorkel to eat it. The water would sit for ages and kill the grass. Even the hill paddock was wet, with the cows sinking to their hocks at times. We replanted the pasture in most paddocks after almost every flood. We lost cows because we couldn’t find a dry paddock to put them in. We were new to the area and people were reluctant to help us out, even our landlords.
We moved to our current location just over two years ago. The farm was run down and good milking pasture was, well, not there! Mother Nature sent a small flood through just to show us she wasn’t done yet. But you expect that where we live and the new farm was far dryer, the water comes up quick and goes just as quick.
We then had about six months of well below average rainfall. There was enough sub soil moisture thankfully to keep the grass growing slowly and the creek running.
By the end of this dry spell, the fodder supplies we had brought over were just about done. We’d made a couple of hundred low quality ‘filler’ bales of hay (hay to keep the cows bellies full) and silage out of the mass of old blah that was on the ground as mulching would have left a mat of dead grass that wouldn’t have let the seed we sowed grow… But these were almost gone too by the time the two huge floods came through in two weeks about this time last year. The second was the biggest the area had seen for a long time. It was touted as a once in 100 years flood.
We complained about the water and mud and all the cow problems that go with it. But it got the grass growing and we were able to replenish our fodder supplies.
That was the last good rain we saw.
I was talking to an older local farmer yesterday. He has records that date back to the ’30′s and he gave me a run down on the weather in the local area. He said his farm is in a 52 inch rainfall area (I could be wrong but I think that’s about 1300mls). Since March last year, he’s had 9 inches (225mls). We are in lower rainfall country than he. Ours is about 47 inches (1175mls). But we’ve had about 5 inches in the same period. My friend has a rain deficit of 1075mls, ours is 1050mls.
The point I’m struggling to get too is this…
How much money and fodder are you meant to have put away to cope with the extreme weather events that happen?
Its all well and good for a grain grower to say you need to forward buy and store for these times, or a beef and sheep producer to ask when are you going to start selling stock. This is dairy, a has completely different business model to any other agricultural business.
We can’t store our milk until the price improves. We are at the mercy of the companies we supply. And that mercy has been absent for the last few years.
We have had a hard cull the last 12 months. Our ‘excess’ is now our heifers. The next generation of milk producers. The girls we have nurtured since the genetics were chosen to impregnate their mothers. We sent some of them to Russia last year, a buyer is coming to have a look at the new weaners next week. They won’t take the crossbreds, only the pure bred Holsteins. The ones we have put all the planning into.
Our fixed costs – power, rent, pasture improvements etc – remain basically the same no mater how many cows we milk. The milk still needs cooling, the pasture topping and fertilizing. We still need to buy feed, and we still need money for basic necessities. We cant just sell the excess as all our stock are breeding stock. Our milk production is down by a third as it is. That’s a conservative estimate too. Reality might be too much to handle.
When you have a wet time, the cows need more dry feed – hay, silage – to keep them warm. So you use more. When its dry, they need it for survival.
And for people to compare agriculture in general to companies such as Toyota, Ford, Holden or even SPC is ludicrous. Most of the farms in Australia are still the ‘Ma and Pa’ farmers much maligned by certain politicians, not multinational companies with profits in the billions. We deserve the financial help the Liberal/Nationals’ wont give the big companies.
We are not yet “Drought Declared” or whatever they are calling it this time round. Most decisions on this seem to made from a desk in a Capital city. The Bureau of Meteorology website says unequivocally we are not even in a real rainfall deficit. The rainfall map for the last 12 months says we’ve had between 1200 and 18oo mls – average rainfall. There is no official gauge in Wingham, so I can only go on anecdotal evidence. Even with this rain, unless it rains for weeks and that’s not in forecast, we will be soon.
That should open a few doors for the farmers around here. We are all struggling.
The key is to plan!
We have sourced cheap organic fertilizer that won’t evaporate if it rains. We are rationing out the little silage we managed to make at one bale a day. The cows are just holding condition on that. The calves are getting as much pasture hay as they require to keep them looking their best for the buyer. Dry feed blocks are helping there. We are not going to source hay at the moment. We can’t afford it. We will work with what we have for the time being.
Hubby and I have decided our end date is the end of April at this stage. We are struggling to pay the bills and there is only so much debt you can carry. We will reassess before then of course. The Rural Financial Councillor is working with us to keep our heads above water and for him I will be forever grateful. He’s not only helped us financially but in a mentoring role as well.
The mental health of farmers in the area is of huge concern right now. And why wouldn’t be? The general consensus is this has been the hardest two years milking cows anybody has had. As long as we keep talking to each other we should all survive. Mateship is the key.
I hope this didn’t sound whiney. It isn’t meant to. I just feel that agriculture is being hit from all sides and that even farmers from other enterprises don’t necessarily understand.
I hope we all get the rain we need and soon. It wont fix everything, but it will be a start.