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