The Calf’s in The Cradle

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.


A little doze while I wait

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.


The treatment

calf marking

The application


Getting the genetics right







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.

Concentration and effort

Concentration and effort






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!!

Dust at dusk

Dust at dusk

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?


She thinks she’s escaped

¹ NSW DPI prime facts

Just a Reminder


This week I want to briefly re-visit the drought situation that is still occurring in parts of NSW and Queensland…

As with all things in the media, stories are here today and gone tomorrow, but drought still rages unabated in some areas and the rain that fell in the north-west of the state at the end of March was patchy at best.

In our house gauge we received around 110mls but across the road (maybe 2/3klms) we had 130+mls with twice that further east in places and less than half, only 10klms west. Travelling home from a wedding in Dubbo, when we couldn’t traverse dirt roads because they were too wet, the dust was still flying between Coonamble and Walgett.

Whilst we have been provided with some respite from the constant, daily grind of feeding, others are still faced with sourcing feed at huge expense and delivering it to starving animals. Many have de-stocked, others have been able to find agistment which provides relief from the endless and monotonous routine, but not for the bank balance. The rain we received, whilst adequate to produce some feed, is about a third of what we will need to produce a crop and without more rain VERY soon the window will also close, for another year, on income from that source.

Some might say at least we are a third of the way in front of those croppers who have had no rain and they would be right, to a degree. As the weeds sprang to life in our cultivations and the boys launched into spraying (to conserve the valuable moisture) I commented on the irony of it all when only a week or so before we had been depressed at the constantly desolate and dry outlook. This euphoric state and renewed optimism was not to last though and we had to call a halt to the spray regime because the ground was so dry that the moisture virtually sank out of sight and chemicals were no longer required to dispatch those sweet green shoots.

Those who did not receive rain can be assured that constant feelings of guilt have pervaded my lifted spirits knowing that you have not had this all too brief change from dust bowl to feed bowl, as you look out your kitchen window.

I can only hope some of you benefited from a share of the donation CWA of NSW forwarded to the Rural Financial Counselling Services to be distributed to drought affected families across the state earlier this year. I wish it could have been more because my understanding is that successful applications, for some government assistance measures, have been few and far between.

Eternal optimism can usually be found lurking somewhere in the psyche of most “Aussie battlers” and the fact that rain fell fairly generally elsewhere will be offering some hope that our turn in the north-west might be in the next change. But just in case, if you know a farmer and haven’t spoken to them in a while, pick up the phone and ask “Are you ok, mate?”