On Walking The Long Paddock
It’s been a long, hot, summer and cattle are grazing verges up and down the roads and highways around us. In the big drought years, the Houstons sent cattle far and wide, deciding to hang onto stock at all costs and gambling that those costs would be recovered after the rains. The decision paid off and the herd has grown, but at this time of year a delicate juggling act is required to maintain both pastures and animal condition. James and our visiting back packers Christine, Abby and Annie have been up early most mornings, minding the cattle as they graze. The girls find the job mind numbingly boring – they get to sit for up to four hours at a stretch. James uses the time to catch up on emails, but he often can’t resist the temptation to leave the cattle briefly to “do things that need doing”. That’s when I start to field concerned phone calls and visits from passers-by at the homestead. Legally, we are all obliged to put up warning signs and supervise any cattle on roads … but not everybody sticks to the rules all the time. This is where farmer’s wives come in.
For me, the turning point came when I got a call from a neighbour who had chased cattle out of her garden for the second time that week. Most of us have grid entrances to deal with the issue of passing stock, but grid entrances are not legal requirements. We are all struggling to maintain our gardens through this dry spell and other people’s cattle are not the kind of things we want to be nurturing. So, as a farmer’s wife, I set about raising the idea of a “policy”. No HPC cattle on roads unattended. This is my second “policy” in three years – the first relates to motorcycle accidents and the importance of immobilising victims as soon as possible. Shortly after we were married, James flew off his bike, planted his face into some hard dirt and was found directing cars around cattle on the road, on foot, with his face a bloody mess. He was bundled into a ute and delivered to the kitchen, trucked off to town in an ambulance and eventually diagnosed with torn neck ligaments, a broken nose and a nasty case of post concussion syndrome. On reflection, I am becoming aware that my first policy could conflict terribly with my second policy.
So much for policy. It’s also to blame for getting me out onto the roads to mind stock when the others were called away. I was shocked at the scale of things when I took this photo – the sense of wide brown land, the number of shiny black cattle, the big skies. It reminds me of how house bound my gaze has been, tending to see things close up, in small pockets. I found minding the cattle nerve wracking. At one end, they were pushing towards a highway intersection. The middle of the mob was exploring the tennis court reserve and the earth moving machines parked there. At the other end, cattle were approaching the open garden gate of the neighbour who had complained. I also felt that the animals were picking out the patches of grass that suited them best, and was loathe to force them into a tighter configuration. One of the things I learnt from working as a milker was that all herds have their own sense of order – lead cows, cows that can’t stand each other, cows that like to be last. Mixing up the natural order and “personal space” boundaries leads to what my in-laws call “A *#$@!!! CIRCUS”. It just wasn’t the morning for that sort of thing. Looking down that road full of cattle I wondered about improving our lane way systems – bit of a trend at the moment amongst the more progressive farmers in the region. Massive job. Why don’t we fence off the reserves at the edge of the roads? Way too expensive. For the present, we need to work on ways to improve the way we share our common access roads. Even when the mobs are fully supervised, we still cop ire and over-revs from a lot of motorists.
Perhaps, mused James, if we all walked, cattle and humans, there would be less of an issue.