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

Did You Know?


I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but we have camels. Thirteen of them. We had fourteen but one was either struck by lightning or bitten by a snake, either way the end result was the same.

One of our neighbours firmly believes our 13 camels are the reason it won’t rain and has hinted that he would be happy to take one off our hands, however I’m not sure about the reason for his offer; I think he saw the cooking segment on TV earlier this year which encouraged us all to exchange the baked leg of lamb for one of camel and just invite a few more dinner guests! End result; same.

I must say, looking at them in the yards the other day, the idea does not appeal to me and I would certainly need a much bigger oven than the one I’ve got….I do need a new stove though….

Back to the live camels. We had them in the yards to put a National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) tag in their ears. An interesting exercise, although the boys would probably use quite different terminology! And I shouldn’t say we – I kept a safe distance, issued baseless warnings, offered useless instructions and played amateur photographer.

I’ll go back a few steps and explain a bit about our Camelus dromedarius or Dromedary; Arabian camel and what we have learned since they arrived here in March 2012.

Firstly you need to be licensed to own camels because they are a Non-Indigenous Animal and records must be kept and annual returns provided. The application process is quite involved, for good reason, but not as onerous as first anticipated.

Having got all the paperwork out of the way I will tell you they are all de-sexed males; meaning they are very well behaved, at least as far as male camels go! They don’t like being separated and will fret if parted from each other, they require a different style of mustering to cattle or sheep and will more often follow the vehicle rather than be guided from behind. They do not like going through new gate-ways, no matter how wide and much patience is required whilst attempting this activity!

Why do we have them? They apparently love anything with a prickle, including mimosa, box thorns, Bathurst burrs, etc. and utilise around 98% of what they eat. Seeds are supposedly sterilized when they pass through the camel’s gut, so it was originally part of an experiment in slowing down the spread of these weeds, but the camel to mimosa ratio favours failure at this point in time.

Camels browse rather than graze, except for new grass shoots (none of those at present), they like salt-bush but not enough to overgraze and did develop a liking for the mix we were feeding the cattle earlier in the year. I’ve also been warned to keep them away from my fruit trees!

So, back to my tale about Camelus dromedarius (dromedarii?), yards and tags. My initial concerns regarding how the camels would behave in the yards were quickly allayed as was my consternation about how they would get under the braces on the gateways; they simply ducked their head and the few inches of hump that was taller than the brace just “squished” down and bounced back up again. AMAZING! They didn’t seem worried at all about that part…..once they eventually went into the race!!! Remember what I said about gateways….

Even the process of tagging didn’t seem to faze them as much as I anticipated, although there was the odd attempt at biting whoever was doing the tagging, but once freed from the cattle crush and allowed to escape to the adjoining yard and the company of the other animals, they quickly calmed and were even somewhat inquisitive (or concerned) about what was happening to their counterpart in “that trap”.

I have to say I was impressed by my boys’ patience which (mostly) lasted for the duration and by their willingness to get in the same yard with such large animals who, equally as impressive, did not display any of the traits I had heard and feared they might. Their lack of aggression towards Jeff and the boys, considering this was only their second time in our yards and not being used to human contact at such close quarters, has given me some new found respect for the much maligned “ship of the desert”.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I’ll be sailing on one any time soon!


The Big Ewe Turn

Merino Sheep, Beamesfield Farm, Dunedoo, NSW

Merino Sheep, Beamesfield Farm, Dunedoo, NSW

Each year the CWA supports a boutique or struggling product/industry and this year we have chosen wool.

Australia is the biggest producer of wool in the world, producing 50% of the world’s merino wool.

NSW is the largest wool-producing state, with over 36% of the national flock, which equates to over 35 million sheep! Considering there are around 7 million people in NSW, that’s about 5 sheep for every man, woman and child! Quick quiz – how many dinners with Tom Cruise would that be?

Wool production is a major industry for Australia and NSW, however producers have been facing significant challenges over the last decade, which have resulted in a decline in the demand for wool, including:

  • Changes to wool marketing arrangements
  • Rising production costs
  • The high value of the Australian dollar
  • Economic upheaval in many countries traditionally considered to be large purchasers of Australian wool
  • Fashion trending away from wool products
  • Strong competition from other fibres like cotton and polyester both of which are less expensive to produce and  process than wool
  • The growing threat of wild dogs (There’s a topic for another day…)


A single merino fibre is finer and softer than a human hair and has other amazing properties that make it universally appropriate in clothing, house furnishings, upholstery and bedding.

Australian wool producers have made a concerted effort to reduce the “prickle factor” in wool – the itchy, scratchy feeling when wearing a wool garment.

Wool is:

  • Safe – wool has a naturally high UV protection, higher than most synthetics and cotton
  • Fire Retardant – as a fabric made entirely of wool doesn’t readily catch fire. Even if it does, it burns slowly and self-extinguishes when the source of the flame is removed
  • Biodegradable – when a natural Merino wool fibre is disposed of it takes only a few years to decompose increasing soil fertility
  • Breathable – Wool has a large capacity to absorb moisture vapour and sweat next to the skin making it extremely breathable keeping you warm in winter, yet cool in summer
  • Durable – A wool fibre can be bent 20,000 times without breaking and still have the power to recover and return to its natural shape so top quality wool products stay looking good for longer. The natural elasticity of wool fibre allows garments to stretch when being worn and then return to their original state, meaning less chance of garments sagging or losing their shape (unlike me!!)
  • Easy Care – Wool’s fibres have a natural protective layer which prevents stains from being absorbed, they also pick up less dust as they are static resistant
  • Anti-allergenic – making it ideal in bedding and carpets for asthma sufferers as it resists dust mites. Studies show that wool bedding can also aid sleep by up to 25% and is particularly beneficial in helping babies sleep better
  • A natural insulator – helping to drive down energy bills.


Or let us show you how to make them!!

wool ball blue