Merry Christ­mas Mr

A hot day, a grumpy farmer, some poorly cows and bad driv­ing brings a Christ­mas bonus. WORDS TR­ISHA FISK

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Tales Of A Country Vet -

It was dry, and had been for a few weeks. The hills around us were brown and scorched, the grass on any flat land was over­grazed, and most farm­ers in the area were look­ing sky­ward each morn­ing, hop­ing for some sign of rain.

Some herds had dropped to milk­ing once a day. A couple of top farm­ers were con­sid­er­ing dry­ing off early, just to give the grass a chance. Most cows were los­ing con­di­tion.

But none more so than Brent Maybe’s. He was a hard man. The Vet of­ten won­dered why some peo­ple go farming when they don’t seem to like an­i­mals or stock and don’t make up for it with good fenc­ing or tidy work­shops. Brent was just a hard man, lean-boned and grim-jawed.

His kids had grown up and high­tailed it out of there as soon as they could. His wife May was a lit­tle dumpy thing who tried to be cheer­ful and wel­com­ing on the Vet’s vis­its, but the dark pres­ence of her hus­band al­ways made calls there an un­pleas­ant strain.

And now there was a drought. The Vet had been called to look at a hand­ful of Maybe’s year­ling heifers, skinny, rough­coated and just not do­ing well.

Nor­mally the Vet prides him­self on be­ing tol­er­ant of dif­fer­ent view­points and diplo­matic in his ef­forts to get farm­ers to see a bet­ter way of do­ing things, but th­ese stock were al­most SPCA cases. Their raggedy hides and boney rumps and pot bel­lies made him cross. Yes, it was a drought and yes, ev­ery­one was strug­gling, but no­body, least of all the an­i­mals, was win­ning when stock were be­ing grazed this tight.

“Loosen up Brent. A good drench will help them sure, but ba­si­cally they just need to be fed bet­ter.” “Bug­gers should work a bit harder.” “But they have to have some­thing to work with.” “Plenty of stalk out there.” “Stalk is not go­ing to put con­di­tion on young an­i­mals. Go eas­ier on them. Give them a bit more. If needs be, drop your cows to once-a-day milk­ing. They will do bet­ter then, and you can al­lo­cate a bit

Vet

more for the young stock.”

“Not go­ing to make any money if I stop milk­ing the beg­gars. Might not be able to pay my vet bills.”

It wasn’t quite a threat. But this man was not go­ing to be told how to run his farm, not by some univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion.

How­ever, the Vet had a threat of his own.

“Some­one will pot you to the SPCA. Just be warned. Any­one pass­ing along this road can see them.”

“Bloody vol­un­teer do-good­ers. Don’t know shit about farming.”

“Just don’t let th­ese young ones get any skin­nier, or I’ll be obliged to call them in my­self. Then once the Min­istry of Pri­mary In­dus­tries gets in­volved... well, that is a whole can of worms you don’t want to get into. Next thing you will find your cat­tle be­ing shot for you… but I could help you come up with a strat­egy, a way to farm out of this sit­u­a­tion, keep the MPI off your back. Think about it for a few days.”

The Vet left. It wasn’t a friendly call and it put him in a bad frame of mind for the drive home.

He had a couple more calls to do on the way, but it was De­cem­ber so he took his

time to yarn with more per­son­able clients.

Ev­ery­one was feel­ing the dry, but lov­ing the sum­mer. It was a two-edged sword: you could take the kids swim­ming and camp­ing, but the fall­ing milk in the vat would mean a lower in­come and tighter bud­get for the rest of the year.

So maybe his mind wasn’t on the task at hand com­ing back from Mcg­o­nachy’s place, or maybe he was just re­lax­ing his con­cen­tra­tion at the end of a long hot day. Af­ter all, he was on a road out the back of be­yond and sel­dom saw more than a car a day. But it was a mis­er­able, wind­ing lit­tle ex­cuse for a road with two wheel tracks and a line of grass down the cen­tre, a drop off to the left and a steep bank to the right.

Then sud­denly there it was. A dirty grey ute and bull bars smack bang in front of him, there was no room for any­one to shift over, and there wasn’t any time.

Smack. Bang. Oh bug­ger, thought the Vet.

Then he saw the driver emerge from the op­pos­ing ve­hi­cle. Oh bug­ger, he thought again. Oh bug­ger, bug­ger, bug­ger. Be­cause the other driver was Brent Maybe.

Brent sur­veyed the dam­age line where the ve­hi­cles met, then walked to­wards the Vet’s car. This could get un­pleas­ant, the Vet thought and scram­bled out so he was on his feet rather than sit­ting down.

Brent marched pur­posely to­wards him. His arm shot out sud­denly. The Vet re­coiled. But it wasn’t a punch.

Brent’s hand stretched for­ward. Open palmed, thumb up. “Merry Christ­mas!” he said. The Vet heaved a sigh. He tried to read the ex­pres­sion on the face of the man in front of him past the thin hard lips. And yes, there it was, a glim­mer of a twin­kle. So he shook hands with the man he had given a bol­lock­ing to less than two hours be­fore, and whose truck he had just smashed into. “Yeah, Merry Christ­mas.” “Ah well. Shit hap­pens to us all eh, Mr Vet.” “Yes, shit hap­pens.” “But you know, it’s not all bad,” Brent de­clared mag­nan­i­mously. “The bull bars saved me from any real dam­age. Not sure that you got off so lightly.

“And what have I been up to? Well, I just scored a truck­load of hay from up the road here. Old guy has just sold up, his cows were trucked off a month ago and there’s half a barn full of last year’s hay just sit­ting in the shed. It still smells sweet. He only wanted a bit to cover his bal­ing costs. New guy wants it out of the shed to make room for this sea­sons. Do you reckon those heifers will pick up on that? I might even be able to keep the herd milk­ing a bit longer. And then I might even be able to pay my vet bill.”

“And I might be able to pay my in­sur­ance ex­cess!” the Vet laughed.

Merry Christ­mas. n

TO GET RID OF THE CO­TONEAST­ERS

Plan to con­trol whole ar­eas to min­imise re­seed­ing by birds. 1. Dig out small plants (all year round). Leave on site to rot down. 2. Cut down and paint stump (all year round, best in sum­mer-au­tumn): met­sulferon-methyl 600g/kg (5g /L) or Vig­i­lant gel. Treat ends of cut branches if they are left on site. 3. Frilling (big stems only, in sum­mer-au­tumn): ‘feather’ bark, met­sulferon-methyl 600g/kg (5g/l). 4. Spray (sum­mer-au­tumn): met­sulferon-methyl 600g/kg (5g/l + pen­e­trant). Stumps re­sprout, of­ten even af­ter swab­bing. Re­plant bared ar­eas with dense ground­cover or shrubs to pre­vent seedling re­growth.

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