Retiring Old dogs

I come back to my blog after a long absence, I did not stop writing because I didn’t have anything to say, I left because I didn’t know how to express the last couple of months in writing. The last of the summer months were hard on the farm and upon me, losing my beautiful old Pete has been upsetting, his presence has provided 16 yrs + of comfort and assurance without him it was difficult. My mother in law did a painting of him and laminated an old shot which is now on the fridge and every time I open it I give it a pat.


Moving into the drought and into winter certainly has us all feeling a little bit of relief and I openly (much to the farmers dislike) declare I won’t go through another drought. In fact I told a couple of friends in the supermarket on Saturday, I will move back to my house in the city. He didn’t comment till over 4 hours later and stated I shouldn’t be telling people as they will think I’m going to leave him … news is I will be for the summer. It’s a tough battle mentally watching the farmer and the farm going through drought, nothing looks fresh or green, we are lucky we have had more rain than some people we know.

With Pete gone, it has allowed us to take a breather from things, re-evaluate business and draw up another plan moving forward. I have always talked about moving to retire off the farm. It is something that we both need to agree on, I can see country communities are not great places for the elderly, especially if their families have moved away, the time to stop traveling or driving leaves many isolated and that is not how I want to be nor is here the place I wish to retire in.

I find it amazing when we talk about a plan with others, I get this comment “what will the farmer do if you retire or sell?” it offends me, when I gave up a career I loved, moved away from my daughter, friends etc  these same people never said to me “what will you do living on a farm, 50+kms away from anything, not knowing anybody” not one so as we come to moving our plan forward  I understand how difficult it may be for him, but he too can adjust like I had too.

With Pete gone we have also had time to re-evaluate our working dogs and have noticed Mandy our eldest one needs to retire, she limps on her front foot and looks sore in her back legs, many years ago she jumped in the sheep yards and dislocated her hips – we nursed her back to health and now that she is moving into being 14 or 15 it is time for her to become a house dog. I am sure it’s arthritis setting in and when she looks pained we give her medication to assist. She is transitioning to be an inside dog quite well, she comes in at night jumps on the couch and slept there quite happily for a while till she found her way into our bedroom and on the floor at night scratching for a blanket. This noise woke me up as I was worried she would be too cold and uncomfortable on the carpet, then in Bordertown I found this dog bed and purchased it. As of today Mandy is now the retired dog and today the farmer said she would have to stop traveling with him, it’s stressful  to have her sliding around the front of the Ute if he has to chase cattle, so she is now the inside dog.

Mandy in her bed

Mandy in her bed

Do we identify ourselves when it is time to retire, will we be able to look and see that retirement needs to be an option whilst we are fit, well and young enough to enjoy it? or will we be like Mandy – have that moment where you jump out of the Ute, get put inside and told that’s it, she doesn’t know she’s retired as she still wants to be with him, travel in the Ute and play the vital roll of a working dog.

Welcome to the office floor Mandy, I know I’ll enjoy your company and you can enjoy your retirement.

When things create change in one’s life

Things on the farm have settled as the rains came, we have had 60 odd mils of glorious rain on our paddocks, and where there was sand and dirt we now have tinges of green, something we have not seen for a while now. The farmer is more settled and happier and the animals appear calmer, with rain comes cooler weather and animals prefer that. We have planted belts of native trees to grow and provide shade for them. We have water troughs that get checked daily and we are feeding out hay to supplement the lack of greenery in the paddocks.

With cooler temperatures comes cooler tempers, things that bother one in extreme heat don’t seem to do so in cooler weather. I have even hung washing on the line in rain as it cleanses everything even gives it a quick rain rinse. An old farming wives tail is to hang the heirloom family handed down by mother in law quilt on the line when it looks like rain so that it can continue. There is no heirloom quilt here – despite mother in law keeping everything, but I am happy to put sheets, towels, quilts & clothes on-line when it rains.

With the rain comes a sense of relief that one can see things change for the better, it may not seem like this to city dwellers as there isn’t the same need for rain except to fill rain water tanks and to water the gardens. lawns and parks. People in the city are not as greatly affected by heat and rain as country people. Most can get relief from heat and rain, here animals need checking more in extremes than ‘normal weather.’

Farming is very consuming and I am very conscious of the fact that I write about this more than anything else. We work together as a team and sometimes it’s difficult, I am not as capable as some men but I am better than most. I can drive all of the machinery on our property, I can lamb mark, cattle mark, muster, vaccinate, do the book work and also be lucky enough to have time for family and friends. It also can annoy me as it may not be what I want to do that day, in-fact I let the working dogs off this morning, many, Patsy & Mollie and they choose to come running to the back door than answer the farmers whistle, my sister said “don’t worry it’s Friday they are taking a mental health day.” So I gave them a bone and they were happy to be lying on the lawn chewing on them instead of tied to the back of the Ute in the sun.

I admire people who can live more remotely than us, have longer periods of drought and less rainfall than us. The mental strength of farmers and families is admirable, for me there is a small 3 hour drive to see family so I can justify going when I do leave, for those with longer drives it can be too much, not only financially (fuel costs, accommodation costs and time away from animals that need you) but can be visit limiting, making sure your time spent in the city is spent doing al the things you need to and catching up with very few.

My words today, enjoy the time you have, never take anything for granted and include all of those you want in you life the best way you know how, be that phone call, email, face book or twitter. There are so many more options to keep in contact these days than writing letters and waiting for a return. Make sure those you love, know you love them, make sure those you care about , are cared for and mostly be grateful for little things, simple things  such as rain, sunshine for we never know when this will change.

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Dogs on the Ute but not today, they are sleeping on the lawn.


What goes on in the Cattle Yards Stays in the Cattle yards

For those of us that have had the joy of cattle yards, sheep yards, pig yards any sort of yard where animals get weighed, tagged, drafted, cleaned out and marked you will know what I mean. There’s always a farmer, and in the words of a girl friend yesterday who had to change things around as ‘slave labour’ was required. Those in the know, know this is family, children and friends that can come and work under extreme conditions regardless of winter, summer, spring or autumn, working with a farmer can be hair-raising.

Picture this 100+ 4 legged animals  that need to be put through the yards one by one, they run back, they run at you, they don’t walk in an orderly line like school children do, this then coupled with barking dogs, if they are required, sets the farmer off into the stratosphere of high blood pressure which boils over into a verbal yelling and screaming attack. (at everyone and everything)

No one is spared which is why it is reserved for either paid employees or family members, in our case me and my beautiful cousins husband (at lamb marking time) but mainly down to me. The trick here is not to take it personally, to ignore, follow instructions regardless of whether or not they make sense . There are a couple of self-defense lines “you told me to do it this way” “sorry I couldn’t hear you screaming over the noise of the cattle/sheep/lambs/pigs etc . which most of the time you can’t and lastly “I thought you were yelling at the dog”. I say “if you can’t teach me then I won’t know for next time.” Any or all of the above doesn’t stop the yelling or the swearing but it can slow the rate down at which it is hurled.

We were out the other night doing some cattle work and there was poly pipe involved to give the stubborn ones a tap on the bum if they aren’t behaving, they can see it coming and most of them run so the poly pipe lands on nothing, can get thrown in all directions and can end up on the ground being stomped on (as it didn’t do what it was required to do).

During this one such procedure I am at the gate, separating the cows from the weaners and I turn to see him doubled over clutching his chest. I look at him and this flashes through my mind, “oh god, he’s going to have a heart attack & die, then I can sell the cattle and sell the farm” I yell “are you alright?” I can’t go to him as I have to close the gate to stop the cows I let out coming back in or the weaners getting out, he can’t hear me as they are bellowing. By now I organizing how I going to drag him out from the risk of being trampled on by 200 cattle, do CPR, call an ambulance and generally save his life. (You do know I am a nurse and we ALWAYS go from a scratch to requiring major surgery long before we see the wound). I go to walk towards him and he stands up, clutching his chest picks up the piece of poly pipe and continues to open gates, close gates, yell and we are back to doing cattle work, all the while he is clutching his chest.

I figure he must be ok, he yelled at me to get back to the gate. This all being done and when over, we are both covered in dirt / dust and climbing into the Ute I ask “are you ok? I thought you were having a heart attack.” he looks at me “no but I have torn a muscle in my chest”. Quite matter of fact like, we drive home and all is back to normal.

In my defense of saying I had my husband buried, cattle & farm sold that thought (as he reads my blog) was probably only about 5 seconds in time. I would never wish that upon him nor myself (other than selling cattle) 🙂 He is a good kind man and I would like to travel with him some more before anything awful happens to us. He always states at least you have good life insurance on me, and he’s right we do. Here he is fixing the cattle yard gates – quiet with no cattle in sight.

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Today is brought to you by the letter J

Farming by my definition is a complete juggling act and farmers are “masters of the ring” and the rest are spectators on the merry-go-round. Except sometimes it isn’t merry but still goes round and round way too much. The break in the season, no rain left in the season, sowing crops, calving, lambing, marking, harvesting, baling to name but a few farming tasks. I can see the carousel now, there would be the obligatory horses of course, we could have rain clouds, calf’s, lambs, dogs of various kinds, black & tan kepi’s, red kepi’s, border collies, cats, mice, birds and of course a scarecrow. It would be a ride of thrills going too fast and then slowing to a dead pace, no ride would be the same but it would be an adventure.

The juxtaposition in farming occurs daily, you can drive around your property and in the same paddock, sown on the same day, same calculated seeding technique and identify some growing beautifully and the next furrow that doesn’t. The contrast is obvious even to the untrained eye, it can be caused by many a different factor, sandier soil to name one. On the one property you can tell that rain can fall over certain areas and paddocks can remain dry for weeks, whereas the paddock next door will get rain, be planted to crop and grow.

There is a lot of joy in farming though, nothing more satisfying than assisting to deliver a calf and the mother & calf survive. During birthing season the farmer spends many an hour driving around with binoculars checking animals, keeping his distance until he has to intervene for the sake of the unborn calf or lamb to assist the mother. Seeing animals run freely on the farm is a sign of good farming and contented animals.

Farming is about commitment, dedication, knowledge and having the ability to cope when things get tough and enjoy it when things are good. I am not as dedicated to farming as my husband is and luckily he does not make me feel guilty for not wanting to be more involved than I am. I unashamedly admit, I won’t retire here, I will go back to a city where health care and hospitals have services and are accessible. Where going shopping for food alone is not a 2 hour trip, where working for women is not restricted or non existent. I am looking to getting paid employment again next year as I miss the independence.  Will I miss the farm? yes but not enough to stay, I won’t miss the constant 7 day a working week where getting off the farm is only for 24 hours.

I am heading down to the shearing shed to assist in getting it ready for the shearers this week so have a great day everyone. enjoy the cooler weather this Sunday.






Today is brought to you by the letter D (part 2)

This is one we all watch for and hate to have happen. There are plenty of them around and we need to be mindful we don’t add to the collective. In Farming we have dogs, dogs and more dogs, there are pets, then there are working dogs who know all of the swear words under the sun. They work for farmers and they are amazing when in action. We have dogs that we love and treat well.

Farming life brings many a thing starting with D but there are Days and I mean Days, where everything can go wrong and does and things can go right. I watch for the big one though, farming is challenging at the best of times and I love hearing people who have left the farm and moved to the city, where they have families close, jobs and children then make statements like “I would love to live back on the farm but” there is always a but… What I hear from women who leave the farm is, I am so glad we left, we have better schooling, don’t have to worry about not fitting into “the A group” , feeling isolated, having to drive 100’s kms a day and a regular income, wished we would have done it sooner”. Which is more realistic than anything.

Farming is also about watching for depression, the black dog that can creep in when the things go wrong or not the way one wants it to go. Most buyers of livestock except to get things a prices paid in 2009, butchers don’t want you to sell your produce in their area but won’t buy from you and cropper’s rely on commodity markets and the weather that also is non reliable. Farmers are the only producers in the world where they are expected to pay double for everything and companies resent them if they make a profit.

Had I known how hard it would be I don’t know that I would have chosen it, but I think it chose me. There are days where things can seem bleak and difficult and I watch for it, I think many a farming wife does. I assist where I can, lamb marking, calf marking, ear tagging, drafting, moving tractors and vehicles, book work, animal raising and in other aspects of the business so that it can take the pressure off. I also make arrangements to leave the property even if it is only 1 night so that there is a break in the month even though we both know we have to come back to the same same the next day.

I think caring for ones mental health is vital and also that of those who work on the land, it is rewarding as it is difficult. I ask are you okay most times he comes into the house not just so I can hear about his day but I can judge how he is going. Farmers have the highest suicide rate than any other occupation due to the stress, something I am very aware of. Something I hope doesn’t touch my life.

If you know a farmer, plan a holiday on their property, they love company and many have the best meat in their freezers that they will share with you. They find it hard to holiday and leave animals unattended. Ask them if they need help, buy the best meat or produce direct they will sell the best quality cheaper than you can get in supermarkets and feel flattered by your request. If they don’t have meat they will know someone who does. They are great educators, mechanics and are more than happy to assist, company is sometimes the best medicine, it will give you and your children a different view on life.



Accidents & Country HealthCare

It had to happen didn’t it, a farming accident, a swearing farmer, running dogs and a rushed trip to the Emergency department of the Keith Hospital. This is the hospital the community and I have worked hard to keep open for the last few years. He walked into the house as I was preparing dinner and said I’ve cut myself, I had a quick look and said off to hospital we go.

He went to shower whilst I turned the oven off, called the hospital to find out which Dr was on and to warn them we were 20 minutes out. I grabbed toothbrush & paste and a change of clothes for him (in case he was going to be transferred to Adelaide) put the dogs safely in their kennels and grabbed my handbag and pulled the car around the front. I wrapped his hand with the mandatory multiuse t-towel whilst he grabbed a beer and drank it on the way out.

We arrived at the hospital, he finished the beer by this time (yes against my better judgement and I didn’t say anything to him) and was taken to the trauma room. The room is tired and desperately needs an upgrade but until the future of the hospital is secured long-term, there is no point. The funding from the Labor Government was given for 3 years with the view it would be self-sustaining after that, we all hold our breath as the progression to get and keep a Dr is still a hurdle not yet reached.

The nurses work hard as whilst we were there, they had another walk in as well as the Aged Care unit. The Dr. was new and a Locum, the question was asked by the nurse who should get the Dr’s report, I automatically said the Keith Medical Centre and I watched as she wrote under Dr’s name LOCUM, KMC. It summed up the fact there is no permanent Dr in Keith and hope the search is ongoing and will be successful. If anyone knows of a Dr that would like to relocate to a country townin South Australia, let us know.

The Dr was thorough and farmer received 8 or 9 stitches to the palm of his writing hand. It is bandaged up like a boxing glove and he has woken with it sore this morning but all fingers intact, moving, good colour and good sensitivity, so no option of needing a specialist to sew back tendons and ligaments. (For all my nursing friends out there) He fell getting out-of-the-way of a trailor holding a piece of metal and this ended up cutting his hand. He is lucky, now he will have an excuse not to do the dishes, can’t wait till he works out that he will need a plastic bag over the hand whilst he showers.

Managing the Heat

We are in the midst of a ‘heat-wave’ we have them every year in South Australia yesterday at the farm we registered 44.5 degree C 111.2 Fahrenheit which makes it incredibly hot. We have large amounts of animals that need us to constantly check on them, my Huz gets up and goes out to check on waters that all our animals need. This is not as easy as it sounds, if the trough breaks and cattle do break them, he has to be out in the heat to fix them, this can also drain the main tank that holds the water so after it’s fixed we then have to use power to pump water around the place. He does this check twice a day a least in this heat.

He also takes his working dogs, they are not working but get to ride on the back of the ute and afterwards he wets them all down. Me I have the chickens to look after, they are a bit dumb in that they will head into their coop (made from corrugated iron sheets) rather than sit under the trees and shrubs planted in their coop for shelter. We will even put a sprinkler on over them so that the ground is cool, if we find them distressed they are picked up and placed in a trough or bucket of water. We do the best we can in this weather, the 4 cats (expect Frankie – who always disappears in this type of heat) migrate inside, they have learnt the pleasure of lying under fans and or the air conditioner. Gatsby the new rescued cat has just been introduced to the pleasure of fan and air-conditioner and will now look up at the fans if they are not on, once on he stretches full length on the couch and sleeps. Pete my golden retriever is always at my feet or lying under fans or on the cool tiles. The house is closed up early and curtains drawn to keep the heat out so the thing I dislike the most is meal planning.

Cooking provides the same sort of issue, cooking inside heats up the house further and the main meal is at almost the hottest time of the day or close to it. The last couple of days I have used the BBQ and the wok on the BBQ. It may be hot standing outside but at least the heat remains outside. I have done basic things, like lamb and pork chops grilled, the wok was to cook the vegetables.

How are you all coping with the heat? Send me your tips on meals – that you make at home – we are no where near any take out places. BBQ tips and easy to prepare meals are the go. Stay Cool.