I let you see the parts of me that weren’t that pretty. (Pink, 2012)
I could take great photos and talk to you about the parts of farming that are sexy and beautiful. Because so much of what we do is sexy, beautiful, and very real – raising content and healthy animals, beautiful streams and forests, sunrises and sunsets, and kids growing up connected to the land and how their food is produced.
But I can’t do that, because that would be a bit…. bullshit. We can’t just focus on what’s so great about farming without acknowledging what’s not.
So what’s not amazing at the moment on farm?
We are currently in a drought. It’s the tale end of drought – we had some nice showers yesterday, and the forecast is for more to come. This will be some much needed moisture to get the pasture growing again, before the soil becomes too cold, and growth will once again slow, then stop.
But right now it sucks. It sucks because
a) The grass stopped growing months ago. And what had grown quickly sizzled up in the heat. Buying in feed – whether hay or silage or grain from other farms is always an option, but quickly becomes unprofitable. Selling as much as possible is also an option – but it’s you phoning the stock agent along with everyone else.
b) Water. Streams, damns and aquifers that farmers pump water out of to fill up their water troughs have dried up. Not all farms, some farms have excellent water supply. But water is perhaps that hardest part about being in a drought. For us, our infrastructure (the water system of pipes that takes water around our farm) is old and needing a significant investment (just like lots of our local government Councils!), and in the heat of the summer, it’s pulling apart at joins, it’s cracking and breaking. When you hear of a farmer talking about ‘chasing water’ – this is what they are fixing. Once you are losing water from a broken pipe, it becomes a domino effect to try and get the system up and running again.
I think this is a great example of why moving agricultural farms to horticultural farms is not simple, nor effective (on top of soil and contour issues). An avocado tree requires more 6 x more water a day than a sheep does.
c) Its stressful. Our strategy here has been to consistently make decisions about what we can do to reduce the impact on our animals, our business, and ourselves. What we didn’t realise until just recently was that we hadn’t done enough to reduce the impact on our family. Like many family businesses, the conversations around work don’t always start at 8am and end at 5pm, and we have become much more aware that we need to draw a line and stop talking about work, particularly the stressful parts, and focus on our kids and each other.
Funnily enough, our bank balance is healthy during a drought – we’ve sold more lambs and cattle than we would normally in a non-drought year, and we haven’t bought any more animals in return. Where the financial impacts of a drought hit hard is in the coming months – having less stock numbers on, trying to restock our farms when the market is climbing, and prices are high. That’s why farmers get frustrated when the government announces relief packages to drought affected regions, and people think its some kind of handout. Its not – for the most part, it gets some funding to non-profits such as the Rural Support Trust, so that they can get support and counselling to farmers that are struggling – help them make decisions and sometimes, to stop them topping themselves. So I always wish the ‘why should farmers get a handout’ guys would shut. the. hell. up.
The biggest opportunity during an adverse event such as a drought is to reflect on the experience, and think about what we can do to make us more resilient going forward. Dan and I are pleased with some of the early decisions we made, and feel that we are pretty pragmatic and resilient to the stresses of adverse events like this, but we recognise that we need some major investment in our water infrastructure – more dams to collect the excess water in wet winters, a new system to distribute water around our farm.
Its started raining again while I’ve been writing this. So I guess I’ll have some sexy, beautiful farming photos to post again shortly 🙂
So, it would be one thing to just post all the pretty pictures of farming. Spiderwebs on a sunny frosty winter morning. A purple sunset over the hay paddock. A set of happy healthy quadruplit romney lambs (incidentally, there’s not much cuter). I promise to take lots of these pictures this year – there is much gorgeousness in farming.
But what would be the point in only talking about the good bits? I can’t help but think that if food producers want to bring consumers closer to their food, then its time we share more about our farming lives – the good, the bad, and sadly sometimes, the ugly.
We’ve got rye-grass staggers in a mob of weaner bull calves at the moment. These are young bulls, about 6 months old. The drought has resulted an endophyte fungus at the base of our pasture which basically poisons young stock. It’s causing our cattle to stagger – they have lost co-ordination, and easily fall over. Its horrible, and you don’t want to go near them in case they feel under pressure – you definitely don’t want to try and move them into another paddock. And we’ve had two die 😦 . It sucks alot.
So what do we do? We have bought in some grain meal for them for a couple of weeks, and are feeding hay as roughage. Its not our ideal, we like to run a grass (pasture) only system. However animal health is more important, and a concentrated feed, alongside not trying to move them, is the best thing we can do for them right now, and doesn’t make me think our farm is any less pasture based than what we were last week. Maybe a bit like a family that tries to avoid junk food as much as possible, but then has a week where they end up with takeways twice – it’s ok.
Our kids are home from school due to the COVID-19 rahui. And our 14 year old in particular is relishing in the opportunty to make himself an indespensible part of our team. So far, we have a quad bike trailer rebuilt, and old motorbike being put back together, and a heap of loose fencing tightened and repaired. A win for everybody so far, but I’ve no idea how I’m going to get him to the kitchen table for 9am online schooling in two weeks time.
We have been saturated with Covid-19 this week. And how could that be anything less? My thoughts are with everybody who is experiencing hardship and anxiety.
My thoughts are with those who have lost their jobs. With the solo parents navigating sourcing food and keeping their children safe. For the essential workers still keeping on in the face of some very scary scenarios. For the children whos one safe place was school. And that safe place has been taken away from them.
(My thoughts are not with twats that have so far been unable to stay home for even a few days, or the people annoyed they can’t buy online and continue their addiction to consuming crap they don’t need – what a great time to get that sorted!).
There’s so much I can’t fix right now, beyond looking after my family, and helping out people in our communities that will struggle in the coming weeks and months.
As our farmwork continues through the end of this drought (hopefully!) and our preparations for winter, I think we’ll give GrassFed in the City a bit of a reboot. There’s not a lot of other news going at the moment – so maybe its an opportunity to catch up with non-farmers, and talk about what we do on farm, and why we do it.
Stay calm. Stay kind. Stay safe.