Sunday, February 27, 2011

I am a Fucking Idiot.

Apologies to my more genteel readers for the title, but unfortunately it is very true.

A few weekends ago I spent a fair whack of time and effort running fence line. I blogged about how I was betting on the fact that fence, while very good was not yet complete and that this would be good enough, as the cows would be satisfied with the lush grass in the new paddock and still come up the hill to be milked.

Let me repeat, I am an idiot and that assumption meant I had two days of hell where I thought my cows might be gone for good.

Wednesday night I had footy and didn't separate Laf out at night. I do this occasionally when I get home late and I'm too tired to take some food up. I usually compensate by going up and beating the calf to the morning milk. When I went up in the morning Laf wasn't at the gate. Again, that's not that unusual as there is good grass down the bottom. I went down the path a bit, calling for them. I could hear some mooing down the bottom but no cows came up. Cursing their recalcitrance I gave up and went to work.

Thursday afternoon I called again but couldn't go too far as I had a guy coming to look at hooking up the top tank to the house so when we lose power we still have a water supply. After he left I went further down as the light faded but still nothing but distant moos. I was starting to get a little worried.

Friday morning I was up early and as soon as there was enough light I was off down the hill, calling and walking every path in the paddock. Not a sound nor sight. I even checked up above our house in a paddock on the hill the neighbour keeps mowed low and that the cows love. Nothing. I was really worried now. I love the cows, they are a massive part of Lantanaland now and a big part of it's plans for the future.

The only positive is that all three were gone, which meant that they'd probably gone wandering together. Considering we have hundreds of acres of thick lantana and bush next to us, it was a small comfort. Friday arfternoon I scooted from work as early as was decently possible bought a new blade for the brush cutter and came up with a plan.

Thanks to the technology of near map I know there is a set of yards and water in behind our place. I planned on going in along the western boundary through to the paddocks beyond and start calling. I stood on the deck planning my route when a flash of monochrome on the green hill across the valley caught my eye. I quickly grabbed the binoculars and sure enough, in the far distance, there was Dolores. I could see a patch of brown that was surely Buster higher up and then Laf wandered into view.

Whew. They were all still alive and together. Now I just had to go and get them. There were cow tracks of sorts on the eastern side of the valley but no real path. Time to fire up the brush cutter and imagine the zombie hordes were invading. It was heavy going down the hill, but as we got down lower the cow paths were heavier and older and once we crossed our back boundary line (which, until then, I had never seen!) we were in beautiful lush knee high grass paddocks. No wonder they weren't coming when I called.

The Wife and The Dog came and joined me as I walked up the far hill as I put the halter on Laf. Where Laf goes, the others follow. I gave the rope a tug. Laf looked at me pityingly. "Have you seen the grass up here?" she seemed to be saying as she budged not an inch.

Luckily The Wife (phd) is much smarter than me and had brought a loaf of bread with her. Laf quickly forgot the grass and followed us home in a stop start way, the other two trailing behind. Only took about three hours.

Saturday saw the brush cutter fueled up and going flat out. Simon, perhaps guilty he had tricked me into coaching two teams this year came down to help. By lunch all the posts were in and we were drenched with sweat. By late afternoon just about all the fence lines were done and a nifty gate to the dam installed. Except the two posts were too far apart and the post driver was up at the house. Damn.

No matter, a few hours on Sunday and the paddock was finished. My boss has a saying, a sale is not a sale till we have the money in the bank. Well a fence is not a fence until the bloody thing is finished.

Something I am not likely to forget in a hurry.

- Lantanaland from my iPad


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Maximum amount of milk for the minimum of moo.

In my mind I have a list of infrastructure that needs doing at Lantanaland. It's one of those pieces of paper from a loony tunes cartoon that when unrolled, the bottom runs across the floor and out the door. Fencing, gates, cow sheds, garden beds, fix the deck and the floor downstairs, attempt to make the kitchen bigger than a galley from the first fleet, fruit trees, a cheese production room in the laundry, a cellar, a workshed/lair, the list goes on. In my wallet however is a very tiny piece of paper titled, available funds which usually makes me sigh and put it away again.

Take the cows. Some dear mates helped me carve out a paddock last June and a small one in September. Ideally, with enough funds, I would have cut another paddock further down for when those ones had been eaten halfway out. Instead I stretch and wait and use the free fruit and bread I get to supplement their diet. They are healthy, but not fat and it probably means I get less milk.

Recently my lead cow was a bit sick, probably with what the vet called "three day" a mosquito borne virus. When I was walking down the hill to her to give her a bit of food and water in the shade she was hiding in, I realized that while there was some grass still there, it was not enough. I'd extracted about as much as I could. So the trusty brush cutter was dusted off and I strode off down the hill to cut fence lines, slashing and gouging like I was in some Z grade American horror movie.

I did get a pleasant surprise when I finally, after two days work, I tunneled my way down to the dam. It was very full and had much more water and plant life in it than it had when I'd last seen it, two years ago. The following weekend I opened my wallet and purchased about enough gear for 500m of electric fencing, just over $150. This was not enough to completely enclose the paddock, but it turned the cows inwards, stopping them from getting out and onto the tracks that lead back up past the house.

Now if we had money, I would be putting a star picket every five meters, instead of stringing it out as far as I could, using the plastic posts to hold up the wires in between. Hell if I had money I just would have got a bobcat in and terraced the whole hill and regrassed it.

The point is that if we were flush with money we wouldn't have bought Lantanaland. As well as the lack of infrastructure the house is run down, the soil is crap and there is no established fruit trees. That though, is half the fun. It means that I can redo the kitchen in a skeleton of stainless steel and old timber. It means that as the cows roll back the eight foot high grass and smash tunnels into the lantana I get a better feel for the shape of the land, so that when I do get the heavy machinery in I'll be able to direct it, know where I need terracing and paths.

The reward at least this time was immediate. Milk production has more than doubled and I've made large amounts of creamy feta, a soft blue mould, white mould cheese and this morning as I type this I am waiting on curd to set for a soft washed rind. All of which will hopefully lead to me paying back my initial herd sharers so that the cows can start earning some management fees. Maybe then I can be a bit more proactive with my cow infrastructure, more milk, less moo!

- Lantanaland from my iPad