this (showing) life
BETWEEN the orange bars of the ready-assemble fencing a young Brangus bull is eyeballing me. His mother Ellie lets out a bellow. It’s the first weekend of the agricultural show season in central Queensland. The sun is shining and behind me girls in jodhpurs fly through the air on their steeds.
My son is leading a Brangus calf named Arizona. With his Akubra, blue jeans and chequered shirt, he looks as if he has stepped out of an RM Williams advertisement.
There’s something other-worldly and gentle about this practice of showing: cattle led around a hay-bale circuit as white-coated assessors praise qualities such as depth of flank, femininity and muscle definition.
We are not a farming family. Sure, we have less than a hectare just out of a regional Australian town and a few chickens, but we consider it a retreat, not a farm.
It’s our 15-year-old son — in love with the agriculture program at the local high school — who has led us here. He has become obsessed with farming. In an age in which many teens are criticised for being self-obsessed and technology focused, mine is busy writing emails to sheep breeders and agriculturalists seeking quotes for pregnant ewes. Many of our dinner table conversations now revolve around farming. I listen attentively and with a kind of horrified fascination to talk of castration, spaying methods and the best way to drench.
I often wonder where this young man has come from, this man who switches to slowtalking farm talk with such ease. He is up at sparrow’s, happily heading to school to feed its menagerie of animals. One afternoon he stays at school well into the evening. We finally get his text: ‘‘ It’s a boy!’’
At the show, well-dressed country men and women talk softly with dust-laden rural accents. Everyone says hello and smiles. These are generous people. My son wanders in among them and I watch his grin crack wide as he talks cattle.
At home, we are starting small and now own three sheep. I like having the Dorpers around. They chew the pea-vine and keep the garden trim; I also like the way they seem to consider things. We’ve witnessed the birth of a lamb and are contemplating whether we need to dock its tail. I’ve experienced a sort of gift here, an education. I listen to the names of sheep and cattle breeds like they are poems unfolding — Charolais, Santa Gertrudis, Damara, Simmental — and I’ve been caught by my husband observing cattle from the car. Perhaps most of all I’ve discovered a delight in taking my time, in being slow, in settling down to really look at an animal.
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