Although I have been AWOL for many happenings and activities at home during my time as State President, including most of our harvest this year, that was not the case for the annual calf marking day and associated mustering sessions. Methinks Jeff may have preferred I didn’t assist with either as the side-by-side we normally use for mustering overheated (which is probably an understatement) whilst in my control, which resulted in a change to our old Patrol wagon and as careful as I was trying to be I still managed to hit a stump! Jeff and Marc assure me they can’t find anything bent or broken, but the steering wheel now sits almost 180 degrees from its normal position! And then there’s the number of times I was in the wrong place with my trusty camera, trying to get the perfect action shot! Jeff quipped to the boys that the women’s weekly wouldn’t be invited back to the yards again.
For all sorts of reasons marking is necessary for livestock and in all the years I have been here we have not seen any adverse effects, apart from the temporary separation of cow and calf i.e. both are more upset at being apart than the processes themselves. Many of the calves can be found napping whilst waiting for their siblings to pass through the race and calf cradle.
Apart from de-sexing and identification the exercise also provides us with an opportunity to do a brief individual health check, for things like bush ticks and pink-eye and provide appropriate treatment. Pink-eye or infectious bovine kerato-conjunctivitis (IBK) is a bacterial infection of the eye that causes inflammation and in severe cases temporary or permanent blindness. It is caused by the bacterium Moraxella bovis with at least seven strains having been identified.¹ Factors that make the condition worse are dust, flies, bright sunlight and any physical irritation e.g. grass seeds or thistles; all available in abundant supply in the great outdoors and all difficult to control over large areas.
British and European breeds are more susceptible however genetics play a part with hooded eyes, longer lashes and darker pigmentation around the eye all helping to alleviate the problem. We love our Herefords and have, for many years now, when buying bulls, included these traits in our selection criteria.
Apart from the serious side there are always things to make you smile like the grins between Josh and Marc as they shared the catching duties, especially some of the larger calves who think they can jump through the cradle. Marc was particularly chuffed with the 100% success rate i.e. no escapees to have to draft out again. Jeff’s relief at not only being able to hand over this most physical of tasks but also his sons’ capabilities – they’ve obviously been paying attention all these years! Roz in her fashion statement of shorts and high top boots – sorry Roz! Very young calves who don’t mind a pat and a chat while waiting their turn in the race.
With 134 calves and their mother’s in various parts of the yards there is always a lot of dust (which carries its own gremlins for humans) and so we all end up with a fine coating all over, including about a teaspoon in each ear and nostril!!
Like many activities on our property calf marking has always been a family affair, right from when the children were old enough to help (or so they thought) move the calves up the race. Roz has slotted into the team easily, but we missed Emma’s contribution this time round, it meant I couldn’t make the scones for morning tea!
As dusty, hot and noisy as the yards are when doing any sort of work with the cattle, it’s another opportunity to work together, which can sometimes be a double-edged sword (those who have spent time there with spouses in particular will know what I mean) but one that I do not want to pass up, especially when it presents itself at the moment. Would you?
¹ NSW DPI prime facts