Monday, May 19, 2008
Poo, Poddys and the Odd Cloaca!
As usual Mattie Rattie and Roarin Rowan came to my rescue today whilst we had all sorts of IT problems . . although I did score a nice 24 inch screen so big everyone can see me Skyping and blogging when I should be at work (DOH!).I don't want to sit in front of a computer any more today so here's one I prepared earlier!
I once spent a couple of holidays during the long summer break on a Dairy Farm in St Albans. I was a teenager at the time and the farm was a working farm but a tax haven for my friend's father's friend. He was an Advertising Executive. An ugly rotund man. So fat I always wondered how he not only married such a beautiful North Shore type of wife but kept her after three children. They drove a fire engine red Volvo Station Wagon which I always thought was a rather cool statement . . posh car, ugly model and colour sort of middle finger to the silver BMW SUV drivers. We would pack in the car, horse float on the back and travel about 2 hours from home, unpack, revile at the smell of cow poo, unpack and let our hair down.
It was one of those experiences that a child never forgets. The poo smell seemed to dissipate within an hour or so but of course I was just getting used to it but we had amazing experiences on this farm. The 'owners' house was a beautifully but small renovated weatherboard. Cute as a button with a big country kitchen but small bedrooms, each with a fireplace and a plethora of bunk beds to accommodate children and friends. The Manager's house was a brick dwelling about 500 metres away and closer to the sheds that housed hay, tractors and a variety of machines whose use escaped me. Our little 'home' was close to the dairy.
I loved getting up at 5:00am. It was cool and misty and the Currawong's distinctive call filled the air - along with the bok bok of chickens scratching and scraping their way around the back steps. The cows would be waiting. Heavy with milk the older ones voluntarily came up to the yard, the others needed a little prompting with two mangy looking Blue Heelers who were chained when not working and never fed more than leftovers or what they could catch during their brief hours of freedom. I felt sorry for them. I still have an empathy for real working dogs, of course if they were a bit tired, we'd use the ute:
We'd wake up early in the morning, wash udders, pour feed, fix milkers and release cows. We'd hose down the yards then skim the cream off the huge aluminium vat into which the milk was dispensed before being picked up by the tankers - we had to be quick as an agitator mixed the cream in at 9.00 exactly so if we wanted cream for the morning it had to be collected at 7.00am. We scooped ladles of the stuff to pour straight from the chilly vat onto our cornflakes. Let me tell you, cornflakes, strawberries and cream taste awesome. As the day progressed we were all given chores. Whether it was picking sweet corn or bringing Clinton the gay bull up from the back paddock - he was gay. A very expensive bull, very handsome but absolutely no interest in the ladies. That remained Wally's job. A great big Fresian performer of gargantuan proportions.
My friend and I would saddle up in the afternoon and pretend to be stockmen on our city ponies (who were both terrified of cows). But traversing the property just before sunset was fabulous and the perfect time to ride through a mob of kangaroos and set them to flight before falling off because my horse didn't know what they were and jumped sideways while I kept going in a straight line!
Afternoon milking bought it's own pleasures. Poo fights. Again, the 'girls', heavily laden would volunteer and stand neatly in the holding yard as the first in queue waddled in for milking. We would hide among the cows and chuck cow pats at each other. A score was a full slop of shit on the head. Somehow, this was hilarious and nothing that the dairy hose couldn't deal with. I managed to escape the honour.
Occasionally, we'd drive poddy calves (those who have been taken away from their mothers) down to the common. These were the young females. Males were separated from their mums after about 4 days and hand reared before being sent to market as vealers. The cries of the cows would go on through the night as they mourned their younglings. It was almost enough to make me a vegetarian. The girls were somewhat luckier and had a life of sex and pregnancy to look forward to. As youngsters, these calves were driven down the road for about 12 kms. Allowed to graze by the river while the Manager and farm hand had a beer at the pub, then driven another couple of kilometres to the St Albans Common. A patch of land where grazing was free for all local farmers and where these little ladies would spend their winter before their true purpose became apparent. We of course, being under age, were allowed a lemonade lime and bitters for our efforts and left on the verandah with the dogs.
The horses we rode to take these poddies to the Common were stock horses. Ugly Australians. Cantankerous and likely to kick, bite and buck but once aboard it was sit and forget. They knew what to do so it was a case of sit, shut up and hang on. They dove down embankments to bring back stray juniors. Plonked along compliantly when all went well and could turn on a sixpence. They didn't mind a creek crossing and didn't blink an eye at cars or trucks. Brilliant old Gidget, Madge and Santa . . .
I had my first french kiss on a tractor . . .the older son of the family fancied me and my 15 year old booty but I didn't care too much for him. Still, a dare was a dare . . .then I threw poo at him.
I saw carpet snakes (non venomous) in the barn . . .with huge lumps in their bellies where they'd eaten rats or mice, too fat to move, they just gave us disdainful looks "Not those bloody kids again . . ." and we'd pick them up and move them out of the way before playing in the hay. I saw a doberman give birth to nine puppies and one die a day later - the balance had their tails docked 4 days later which I thought was cruel, they couldn't even see and someone chopped off their tails. I saw a bull's penis . . now that's a sight for sore eyes . . and artificial insemination. I saw the birth of many calves and finally understood what a placenta was - I never could understand how the mother ate it! Plus the euthanasia of an old cow. I saw the castration of young males with nothing more than a tin of Germolene and a pair of what looked like pliers. I had wrigglers (mosquito larvae) in my cordial because there was only tank water available and I saw my first red-bellied black whilst cleaning out irrigation channels with a hoe and a row boat!
I lifted lino in the house of a neighbour (they all seemed to be named Jurd) and discovered 1920's newspapers underneath and spent the afternoon reading about the funny fashions and eating home made Gramma Pie. I swam in the river and dodged a brown snake who was trying to dodge me. I saw a horse being hot shod for the first time. Ours are all cold shod out here. The old furnace farrier is no more or few and far between.
Most importantly, I saw life, death and everything in between it was an education. One that so few children sitting in front of their XBoxes and Playstations have the opportunity to experience. Some don't know that milk comes from anything other than a 2 litre plastic bottle. Few have eaten corn off the cob, harvested minutes ago, picked their own strawberries or collected their own eggs (they might think twice if they knew their googy eggs came from a chicken's cloaca!) or skimmed cream from a dairy vat. Few have definitely not had poo fights at evening milking so I feel quite priviliged at having had the experience. An education for all children should be a few weeks in the country!