Posts Tagged With: farming

Book Two cover.wattpad

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Chapter 18: Born in a Storm: A Horse’s Tale

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The day was dark, the sky filled with heavy storm clouds. Far away and high above the land, lightning flashes traced the progress of the heart of the storm – thankfully not too close yet.

Our large Bay mare Tiny was pawing the ground and snorting through her nose and lips, as horses do when they are agitated or excited. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the threat of the impending squall that worried her. Tiny wasn’t fussed at all about the distant thunder – or the wind that blew in sudden gusts of ever-increasing intensity.

No. Tiny was restless because she was about to become a Mother for the first time, and our experience with our many ‘brand new’ mother cows had taught us that Tiny now shared the same confusion they always showed.

“She had no understanding of what was happening, did she?” I feel my eyes glaze over as a solemn procession of mind pictures click by. Sometimes she tried a half-hearted kick at her stomach and laid her head back to have a lick and voice a rumbling whinny. As if asking her own great belly – “Why are you hurting me so much? What is wrong?”

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Chapter 17: A Two-Ring Circus

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“Terrible news. I’ve lost my wedding ring!” Kanute’s miserable face told me the bitter truth.

Next to our dairy a feed silo perched high on a stand to provide gravity fall for the dairy feed to flow into bags from an outlet at its base. Kanute had been at the top of the metal ladder attached to the side of the silo, cleaning out the powdery build-up of dust inside the rim. This had become sticky with the moisture from fogs and heavy dew, and his fingers had become encrusted in a thickening layer.

Without a cloth to wipe hands on, the trusty jeans had to suffice with a good flick of his fingers from time to time to dislodge the finer stuff – until one unfortunate time his wedding ring went too! It flew high in the air, glinting brightly and bravely in the sun, over the space next to the silo where a tractor and trailer could usually pass through.

“It disappeared somewhere in our bloody tall hay shed.” Kanute shakes his head in disbelief, as he did back then.

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Chapter 16: Mother Teresa? No… Mother Sheba

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Some animals are born to steal a large piece of your heart and soul and never, never give it back to you. Funnily enough it’s not actually theft at all. You find you give your love willingly and wholly without reservation. Such a love pirate was our Sheba, the German Shepherd. A black and tan beauty, her love for us and all the world around her was equaled only by her amazing mothering skills.

I had wanted a large dog for many years, clearly remembering the joy of growing up with a large Airedale dog jointly ‘owned’ by my sailor brother and myself. Sadly, since our marriage, none of our various homes had been suitable. There had been a rented flat, followed by a rented duplex (semi-detached house) and when we finally had our own house, both of us were working full-time and unable to provide proper care for a puppy. The move to our friend’s wheat and sheep farm was not the place to bring a German Shepherd – far too much prejudice still existed in the minds of the farming die-hards, especially those who had sheep. And so, before our move we bought our beautiful small framed Labrador (crossed with something much smaller and richly golden – maybe a touch of Red Setter in the mix?)

I’ve written of Candy’s mysterious disappearance and her daughter Gypsy grieving even more than us. A puppy became the solution we chose to help us all heal, along with providing me the opportunity to have a large dog once again now we had a 165 acre farm. At last space presented no problem, nor prejudice either… we were deep in Dairy country. Nothing but a German Shepherd would do this time.

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Chapter 15: Ladies and Gentlemen – the Auctioneer

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“SALE-O…SALE-O…STARTING NOW! SALE-O…SALE-O…”

The voice rings out loudly, slowly penetrating and silencing the hum of the many voices of the growing crowd. Other voices echo the call until the message reaches the last of the prospective buyers at the far end of the many rows of farm tools and equipment.

The three men in their matching ‘uniform’ of shirts, blue jeans, leather work boots and those essentially wide-brimmed Akubra hats, had already caused the crowd to part as they carved a path through to the long tray-top of a truck laden with ‘sundries’. Now they stood high above the bidders and potential buyers. Time for the Clearing Sale to begin.

“GOOD MORNING Ladies and Gentlemen – and welcome to John Brown’s Clearing Sale. He has recently sold his property to retire to the Gold Coast and live a life of luxury – and naturally enough, he won’t be needing his tractor and plough and all that fencing and veterinary material up there!” A laugh ripples through the crowd, and a heap of good-natured badgering is heard. The Auctioneer grins cheerfully and continues to wish all buyers success and the hope they will get their desired purchases at the right price.

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Chapter 14: Just a Bit of Bull

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There are many famous trios in the annals of history. Some of the most familiar are—

The Holy Trinity
The Sun, Moon and Stars
Three Musketeers
Three Little Pigs
Animal, Vegetable or Mineral
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Three Blind Mice
The Three Tenors
and a triangle is the strongest shape

As I write, the song inspiring the title of these memoirs often floats through my mind with variously appropriate words. The most popular version this timearound is –

Old McLarsen had some farms, EE-I-EE-I-O,
And on this farm he had three bulls, EE-I-EE-I-O,
With a King Kanute here,
A Napoleon there,
Here a King, there a Nap
(and an Abbee, too),
Old McLarsen had some farms, EE-I-EE-I-O.

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Chapter 13: Shock, Horror

“Oh boy. Here they come. This should be good… maybe?” My heart beat faster and my mouth went dry. Ridiculous… don’t be stupid, I told myself. And myself answered, Yes, but… they’re cows, and cows hate change – even if it’s for their own good.

Despite their curiosity earlier in the week when we began working along the top of the paddocks, they had slowly accepted this as ‘regular’ almost, to see us there fiddling with the fence each day. But today would be different. Today the gate was open to the new ‘race’ (a long corridor) leading to the dairy. Today however, they had one additional difference to contend with. One they’d never experienced… an electric fence on each side of them. A gauntlet to be run.

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Chapter 12: Rhymes with City

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“Auntie Chris! Auntie Chris! HELP…I’m stuck!”

NOT only stuck. The small white-socked foot of moments ago had pulled out of the protection of her rubber boot as she tried in vain to free herself from the relentless suction. As I started towards her to rescue her, she overbalanced and her hands and arms went in too, with her face avoiding disaster by inches. The ends of her long blonde hair were not so lucky – creating an effect that could well have been the inspiration for expensive hairdressing ‘tips treatment’.

Through gritted teeth I said, “I’m picking you up, but don’t dare touch me with your hands or feet. Just hang there! And this time – LISTEN JO – or I’ll drop you right back in it again. I promise!” And I hooked my arm under her middle, lifted her clear of her other boot and carried her to the closest grassy area to wait while I went back to rescue her disgustingly deluged footwear. Sounds unfeeling, cruel even, as I write it today. Guess you had to have been there when I carefully spelled out the rules to our two small guests – five and seven years old.

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Chapter 11: Whether or Not it is Clear to You

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“Pwee-ee-ze Cwisteen… ”
Three eager faces broke into broad grins as I said, “OK kids. But you must go through the paddocks – NOT on the road, OK?”
Three heads nodded vigorously. “Yes, yes, yes… we will. Promise!” Just let us go… NOW! They might not have said those words out loud, but their delighted eyes and tightly grinning mouths said volumes. The smallest hopped from foot to foot as the next biggest rushed off to get jackets and beanies for their great adventure. The biggest one, as always, was like a little mother to the boys, fussing over them, reminding them of their manners.
“HANG ON! One more thing.” Wrinkled noses, jiggling bodies and several theatrical sighs answered me. Without a stern shake of their Dad’s head, and Mum grabbing one firmly by the shoulder, they would have already been on their way.
“Don’t forget to leave the gates as you find them.” Once again, three heads nodded vigorously, as if pulled by the same invisible string.

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Chapter 10: The Gypsy in our Souls

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“Jeez… come quickly! I’ve just hit your dog! I think I might’ve killed her!”

One minute we were calmly milking our cows – as calmly as two novice dairy farmers could, performing their second-ever milking – until this stranger raced into the dairy, his face red and flustered; his voice loud and harsh with distress. Those words clutched our hearts with a cold, hard fist. For a split second my world stopped turning, as fear pounded painfully in my ears, drowning out even the pulsing rhythm of the noisy milking machine. A moment of numbing shock, followed instantly by a flurry of furious action as Kanute quickly whipped the milking cups off cows currently in the dairy. It’s debatable what raced faster, my heart or my feet – out to the roadside where our precious dog lay frighteningly still on the grassy edge.

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Chapter 9: Beware of Bonny Bouncing Babies

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“It’s a boy… a great big beautiful boy.”

“… and he’s alive?” I can’t believe it. Only shallow little puffs, but the miracle continues, after the long and difficult birth. My heart is pounding so hard I can barely breathe either. As if from someplace far away, I’m aware my mouth is as dry as my palms are sweaty. But now I feel a rush of relief as strong as if I’d given birth myself. He IS a beautiful boy.

With the drama over at last and another miracle of life witnessed, Kanute’s practical nature re-emerged. “What do you reckon he’d weigh? He’s a big ‘un, alright.”

Sven pondered for a moment, squinting his eyes as he carefully appraised the new baby. He held his chin and wagged it a few times. “Ahh, dunno… hard to say, but wouldn’t be surprised if he weighed over 60kg. Maybe even 65?”

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Chapter 8. The Three of Us

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When she met us at the back door, she was red-faced and deeply distressed. I could see she’d been crying. What could be wrong?

“It’s the bath,” she gasped, and started sobbing. “I’m losing my mind… I really am. Look!” and she pointed a shaking finger towards our bathroom. Great clouds of steam poured out the door as I opened it wide. It took a moment for the ‘fog’ of steam to lift and our confusion to clear. What confronted us was our bath, almost overflowing with extremely hot water. It was a deep and long old-fashioned iron bath on legs. No-one knew its capacity—but it was a lot… and it was all rainwater!

Poor Mum. I’ll run them a nice hot bath, she’d thought. It’ll save them time when they come in from milking. And time is all-important today. Wonderful thought, but…

An even earlier than usual start to our day had seen me getting the milkers in even before first light. Without our trusty torch I would have missed many a girl lurking behind the tall swamp grasses. This was the day of our long-awaited appointment with the Loans Manager of our Bank’s city branch to try to coerce him into granting us a large mortgage.  Dear Mum thought to save us time by having the bath all ready. In her typically organised fashion, she was already packed and ready for her trip home so there would not be the tiniest hold-up. So what could possibly have gone wrong?

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Chapter 7. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Christmas

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“There was never really a choice, was there?”

“Not once the power went off… and stayed off.” I pull a long face and roll my eyes. How clear is the vision of that day?

This was the year we were invited to join our family at my brother’s home for Christmas lunch. The planning had begun well in advance of this most special day of the year.

“Well in advance was right,” I mutter. It’s no mean feat to change your routine milking to try to accommodate something as special as Christmas… either home or away.

“Our usual early-morning start was delayed by what? A couple of hours?”

“Mm-m-m,” Kanute answers. He folds his arms—still in denial about the way our most careful dreams and schemes fell apart at the seams. “We were so damned sure we had it ALL worked out.”

Plan A was to begin with a normally timed milking on Christmas Eve before the cows faced a lengthy stretch between milkings on Christmas day, when a later morning start, maybe as late as 8.30 am was planned, followed by the usual chores in double-quick order. (Some, like the feeding out of the hay for their daytime distraction was done the night before. Then, wonder of wonders, spruce up time and off to our festive lunch. Our only regret was that we needed to be home before dark to successfully bring the cows home for the latest ever milking.

The first part of Plan A began to unravel with a power break—at our all-electric dairy! No-o-o! Not today… please, please NO! This is impossible. It can’t be happening. We looked at each other in deepest despair. When would the power come back on?

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Chapter 6. To all the ‘Girls’ we’ve Loved Before

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“Remember 54?” Kanute asks. His lips tighten in sadness.

“The operation on the dairy yard?” My eyes blink furiously as tears unexpectedly well up and threaten to overflow. Could we ever forget the cow whose stomach became twisted and totally blocked for some obscure reason? Our Vet attempted the near-impossible as the only solution to maybe save her – an operation on the concrete yard outside the dairy. We were his assistants in unusually mild conditions. Maybe not exactly the sterile operating room any of us would have ideally desired, but sometimes you simply must take what you can get. The Vet anaesthetised her, opened her up, untwisted her stomach with his hands plunged deep inside her belly, then proceeded to sew her up.

“SO many layers,” I shake my head, still incredulous of what I witnessed. “Firstly inside, and then more and more layers of muscle and flesh until he reached the outside.” It was a massive job, with her breathing deeply and all that flesh moving under his hands. As he made the last stitch, she took one last breath, gave a huge sigh… and that strong and regular breathing stopped. We stood there in disbelief, but it was true. She was gone.

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Chapter 5. City Visitors – a Word of Advice

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Congratulations! You’ve done it. Moved out of the rat-race, out of the smog. Peace and clean air embrace you. Bird calls are sweet music to your exhausted ears. Your dream of farm-life has come true. But wait… is that a convoy of cars coming along the road and turning into your driveway? Oh no. Weren’t you warned? City visitors are the name of the species, and to this breed belong such exotic delights as weekends, public holidays, and a strange phenomenon known variously as RDO’s or flex-off days.

A short list of never-ending requirements includes extra rubber boots; clothes of all descriptions; old face-washers and towels (for clean-ups after falling into, or being christened by the unmentionable). You will need scrapers at the back door for cleaning all types of nasties from the cavernous craters in the soles of sneakers… and a heap of firewood for the obligatory roaring fire.

Don’t forget the food. Tons and tons of food. All fresh, organic, home-grown and home-cooked simple fare. Appetites become ravenous in the fresh clean air of the country. In fact, appetites arrive ravenous simply making the trip to the farm—and hot scones with jam and cream, or cake fresh from the oven are an essential welcome. “Oh yes please,” will be the answer to anything and everything you offer.

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Chapter 4. The Mean Machine

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It was the last day of our silage-making season. I sat on our tractor, holding the engine heater switch, waiting for the motor to warm up, and looking at one lonely longer nail. They certainly weren’t the hands of a secretary anymore. It’s a strange transition indeed to operate huge machinery (like a tractor), when you have been accustomed to (and most comfortable with) a typewriter and telephone. Fresh air instead of air-conditioning, and extremely short, often broken and grubby fingernails instead of the well-manicured and nail-polished beauties of those long-gone pampered days.

And the interminable lessons—how to milk cows, breed up a solid dairy herd, recognise when you need the vet, and when you can cope yourself with the countless remedies you have on hand. Feeding and fencing, building and breeding… the list goes on. And once a year, making silage. “What is that?” I hear you ask. Wikipedia says – Silage is fermented, high-moisture stored fodder which can be fed to ruminants (cud-chewing animals such as cattle and sheep) or used as a bio-fuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters’. Elsewhere is the suggestion that – ‘Silage may be stored in pits, bunkers, stacks or as large round or large rectangular bales’. Our choice was the wedge-shaped stack, and this is how ‘the Missus’ felt to be the silage harvester.

 

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Chapter 3. Trash… or Treasure?

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“I reckon he did a bunk.” Kanute smiles, but tightly, and only with his mouth. His eyes and voice are flat. ‘Doing a bunk’ means to have left suddenly, usually in somewhat suspicious circumstances.

I nod. “It surely looked that way.”

The reason we reached the conclusion of a hasty retreat was the pitiful lack of anything useful or even usable left behind. This farm ‘boasted’ a barely adequate house and dairy; a couple of sheds in a dubious state; a hammer mill for pulverising the grain (obviously left because it was old and huge—and it was bolted securely to a concrete slab). Other than these, we inherited an ancient forage harvester and bin for cutting silage, and one small, lonely spanner that had been dropped in the dirt and obviously forgotten… once upon a time, long ago by the look of it.

The ‘caretaker’ sheep farmer milking the cows until we began share-farming had been urgently and unwillingly enlisted from another large beef and sheep property he managed for the same owner of this dairy we were destined to buy. His life experience until recent years had been in the far north of our State on sheep stations. He saw milking cows as a necessary evil, counting the days until he could return to the land and work he loved.

“How bloody tough was it?” Kanute’s mouth tightens. A long moment stretches out as I nod slowly, deep in my own memories of those frustrating days. So much repair and replacement we needed to get going on, but no machines or tools or equipment to do it with. Lost in those thoughts, I don’t even sense the minutes that pass until at last he continues. “Wonder how many clearing sales we went to in those years?”

Now different thoughts make me smile again. We haunted every clearing sale—near and far—to start building our stash of tools and fencing materials and the like. We could be relied upon to bid on (and most often win) the cheapest boxes of what was undoubtedly ‘junk’ in other people’s eyes. Not in ours. The numerous nuts and bolts, UFO’s (or Unidentifiable Fittings and Odds-and-ends), and all the bits and pieces other farmers took for granted were precious gems to we who had nothing.

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Chapter 2. The Milky Bar Kids – In the Beginning

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The blaring air-horn of the milk tanker resounded through the dairy, all but drowning out the chugging and hissing milking machine. Seconds later, a sickening thump and a series of piteous yelps sent us racing out to the road, hearts pumping and filled with dread. Surely not one of our dogs? Mother and daughter were safely tied up back at the house… weren’t they?

-o0o-

Earlier we had approached our first morning milking with our usual naive enthusiasm, and a large quota of bravado. Added to the mix this day was a determination that none should witness our woeful lack of knowledge and experience. We approached our ‘maiden milking’ with a ferocious mindset, trying to convince ourselves our shortcomings would be balanced by the degree of caring we brought to the job. After all, these poor creatures had been milked by a sheep farmer for weeks whilst the owner, Mrs. Lowe, searched for a share-farmer. So what’s wrong with a sheep farmer milking cows? Well-ll…

For starters, this reluctant milker rounded up the cows twice a day with the help of his trusty working dogs, and his equally trusty old utility. Hard to tell which ‘moved’ the cows faster—the incessant yapping at their heels, or the combined roar of the vehicle’s motor and beeping of its horn as it simultaneously belched out great clouds of stinking smoke. This rowdy, smelly combination ensured great success… for him. Presumably his goal was to get the herd into the dairy in the shortest time known to Man or beast.

... even more Spilled Milk!

… even more Spilled Milk!

dairy photos_0002

… a cowgirl?

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Chapter 1. Dairy Farmers? Really?

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“A whole year, marking time in the city.” Kanute frowns as he remembers. He curls his lip at the thought. “Guess I was luckier than you. At least a Building Supervisor spends some part of his day outdoors. On the building site, mostly. Heaps of driving too… suppliers, meetings—and SO much time at Councils, trying to get approval for all kinds of jobs.”

“Tell me about it,” I say, and can’t help wrinkling my nose in disgust. “Stockings and high heels, and make-up every day. Hairdressers and new hairdos and spiffy clothes. It was hard to take,, being in an office all day again, after the freedom of the farm.”

How reluctantly we had returned to city jobs. Our hearts stayed in the country—far from the acrid smells of traffic and hot bitumen and pollution straying around every crowded corner. The night sky we now looked at competed hopelessly with the arched glow of city lights. Whenever we couldn’t physically escape to the country, we found solace at the beach, looking out to sea. The atmosphere there bore the strongest resemblance to the clarity and space of all we had left behind—with an added bonus of clean, salty air.

Twelve long months of increasingly desperate searching… it was sadly but surely becoming clear to us that buying any kind of productive farm, let alone the farm of our dreams, was financially impossible.

“How depressing was that?” I sigh. “Weekend after weekend, we’d set off with hopes so high that this would be the one… ” I am interrupted by an unexpected grin spreading across Kanute’s face. A loud laugh rolls out as he says, “What about that farm in the Adelaide hills? The one tucked away at the end of that winding, leafy lane?”

I start laughing too. “The one we rejected, thank God. Our guardian angel sure had us firmly in her sights that day.” Some years later we revisited that pretty, shady corner of the woods. The property now had a name on the rusting and precariously leaning gate, in lieu of the ‘For Sale’ sign—’Poverty Point’. Hmm…

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***That’s all for revealing here, but if you would really love more – all the chapters of this book so far are FREE to read on the writing platforms – Tablo  and  Wattpad .

My first  Old McLarsen Had Some Farms – Brave Beginnings’  is at both of these places also for FREE reading – but if you prefer to own your copy, it’s for sale at –

Amazon

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I would love to hear your opinions – please consider leaving me a review at any of these places. And feel free to comment on how you feel Book Two is developing and any likes/dislikes/advice/suggestions? Always open to ideas… always learning.

Christine

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