I’ve unintentionally created a positive feedback loop.
There’s many reasons for starting this business, a big one of them is that I love spending my time with animals, cows in particular. My experience has been that farming’s hard: long hours, extreme climate exposure, and often not for a huge amount of appreciation or money. But within that it can be the most magnificent, humbling experience. We experience death, but in hand life is exploding around us. I’m driven by the moments your breath becomes grounded; walking through the paddock at sunrise and noticing the days getting shorter, watching a storm roll in, watching animals interact and more than anything being part of those interactions.
However this is one of the ways in which I fear modern agriculture has missed the point. We’ve done everything we can to control and separate ourselves from nature. Spending time simply enjoying your animals company and the land you’re on is not a privilege many farmers can afford. The focus moves to trading commodities rather than nourishing ourselves and our communities through working the land.
I’m aiming to keep a small herd; maximum of 10 milkers. This combined with having a portable milking parlour means I need my herd to be very tame. My herd is not regularly coming into yards where I can treat them, move them or easily train them for milking. I need them to come when called, follow me when moving and be lead on a rope when managed as individual animals. None of this is possible if you have not built a relationship of trust with your animals. So here’s the positive feedback loop. Future Tessa with her future herd saves time and benefits greatly from simply hanging out with her herd now. Which in turn forces me to slow down, take the time to do this and enjoy the key reason for choosing this career over another; my cows!
Animals have been proven time and time again to work as therapy for people recovering from trauma. They respond to our energy. A milker whose angry will have a very different dairy to one whose calm; there will quite possibly be a lot more poo to clean up, lower milk and more kicks. Stressed animals don’t like giving you their milk, simple.
I met an incredible lady; Winnie, who told me that temperament was one of the most important factors when buying a cow for a small herd, one bad egg can ruin all your good work. Directly following this conversation I bought my first cow Berta and without her patience, life would have been a whole lot more difficult. The first time we turned on the milking machine, she came over, stood and waited.
I’m attempting to halter train all of the calves, some with success, others will take more work. Most of the cows I can now comfortably put a halter on in the paddock and lead them to where I need, which may be straight onto a trailer for a visit to the bull. Like all animals though, once you loose you’re confidence, it’s very hard to get it back. Once on a halter Olive is a dream to lead, but getting that halter on, near impossible! She has beaten me one too many times and knows my confidence has wavered. Her training for milking will have to begin long before she calves.
Sometimes it’s hard to step back and let lord of the flies play out amongst the herd; the hierarchy, the bullying, the sibling squabbles. But then when you finally see the new cow being accepted and groomed by Queen Berta it can’t help but warm your heart from a distance.
After writing this post I spent a few days partaking in the familiar practice of crying over ones electric fencing. Summer in central Victoria leaves our ground bone dry. What was granite porridge in winter returns to concrete every summer. Putting portable electric fence post in results in many bent posts and with no moisture left in the ground the 2 live wires I’d been using no longer earth effectively. The heifers realised this before me of course. A live wire with good voltage no longer gives the slightest shock when earthed through the animal to the ground. So with no permanent fencing enclosure on the property we set out in the heat to build an electric fortress with live and earth wires. If we wanted to go home at night we had to re-train the heifers who were walking directly through the fence, wondering why we put rope in their way and heading directly for the orchard! We’ve been 3 days without a breakout now. Through all of this I’ve been so grateful for the halter training, while building the fence the only option was to have them tied to a tree in the shade with food and water and they were fine with this.
I am understanding the need for at least one permanent enclosure, boundary fences and earth wires within all my fencing systems. Fencing systems can very quickly dominate your day and leave you feeling like you’re just treading water (although lack of water is the problem). Trying to establish secure fencing systems by next summer is a must.