In 2002/3, which was when we last had to drought feed and when all the children were still away at boarding school, I was the 2IC (sounds better than gofer and general dog’s body) on the farm, including the daily feed run. Back then we used a modified A-84 header bin as our feed cart and it was my job to stand on the opposite side of the trough and open and close the chute, whilst trying to make sure I didn’t asphyxiate myself on grain dust or get barrelled by a hungry beast. Who needs bungy jumping for an adrenalin rush! We used our old tipper (no brakes) to deliver the hay bales and an empty 1000ltr chemical shuttle to deliver molafos (a molasses based liquid feed) into roller lick drums. All separate trips to different paddocks on different days whilst also checking to make sure stock hadn’t got bogged in a boredrain (water channel) and needed rescuing, or worse.
At the time we had, what we thought, was more than enough feed on hand in case we encountered a dry spell. After all we hadn’t had to hand feed stock since the ’65 drought, but you never know…. so through various means, including the offer of irrigated wheat stubble from Jeff’s best mate and some bartering, we were able to increase our stores of hay, as well as those of our neighbours who participated in the operation of harvesting, bailing and carting, hence the barter reference.
Since then we have capped and piped the boredrains and instigated (at our own expense) some drought preparedness measures which, like most farmers, puts us way ahead of current government solutions and invested in a feed mixer, roller mill (for cracking/crushing grain if necessary) and increased the amount of storage and feed we retain. The mixer not only combines all the necessary ingredients to produce a loose muesli bar type concoction that the stock just love, its chute magically lowers/opens from the tractor cab!
As both our boys are now home and seeking to oust me from my 2IC spot, as well as the time I spend away from home in my role as State President, I have been a bit sheltered from the daily rituals and realities of the farm, especially drought feeding. At present though they are both away for several days, earning some off-farm income, so Jeff asked if I could “run the gauntlet” for him on the daily feed run.
I was, at first, a little perplexed because we have the whizz bang ‘triple m’ (magic mixing machine) and wondered why I would need to leave the comfy air-conditioned space I had become accustomed to now that we have “staff”… Unbeknownst to me, because of my now ‘cushy’ lifestyle, the cattle love their muesli so much they want to make sure they have a space at the trough (or belt), even if that means being run over by the tractor and the “m & m” machine!! So “running the gauntlet” involves driving our All Terrain Vehicle, fully loaded with barking dogs, in front of the tractor, to push the stock out of the way. Not difficult, bit dusty and noisy, but definitely safer (provided I keep a safe distance in front of the tractor) and easier than the last time my services where required for such a task. We also now feed everything in one place; sacrificing one paddock rather than all.
Please don’t think I am trivialising drought, being flippant or a “princess”, sometimes the only way to survive is to look for a positive. I also acknowledge that we are luckier than many with our reliable access to water and because we have not had to feed for anywhere near the amount of time that some have. But I also remember what it’s like to arrive in the paddock with a hot westerly blowing and the temperature already heading for 40°C, carrying feed for hungry cows who have decided that, to survive themselves, they have to abandon their young calves. There is nothing on this earth more demoralizing, for a farmer, than watching his stock suffer and try as he might, still be helpless to do anything.
Most disasters these days, no matter where in the world they occur, generate almost 24/7 media coverage with every outlet competing for the most sensational story and every person with a mobile device constantly uploading photos or video footage to social media.
Slow, insidious drought, affecting those of us with little voting power but which could ultimately affect millions, doesn’t seem to rate more than a 3 minute grab as a sob story. Angelina Jolie’s visit to Luna Park seems to be more important than what’s happening in outback Australia. Wonder if she could be persuaded to make a movie about drought…..
True to form though (and to try and end on a positive note) Aussies are good at helping each other, especially when there is no bureaucracy involved. Have a look at https://www.facebook.com/voiceofthebush to increase your awareness or share a story and http://www.thirstycow.org/ if you think you can help, or if you need it.