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Dairy Diary #4

January 22, 2013

I would love to admit that after a tough few weeks toiling amongst the muck and mud, I had, with a hearty show of pluck, managed to surmount my hardships; that I had built up a mutual respect with my colleagues which catered us all for a happy and fulfilling experience.

The truth is the hard times continued, and the only sense of solidarity came from the rest of the team’s contempt for me. My softened attitude and mild approach to handling their disparagement only seemed to encourage more. “It was so dark this morning I spent 20 minutes trying to herd a tree. Ha ha ha…what fun!…Anyone? No. Okay, sorry I was late.” This wasn’t long in wearing thin as 50 year old dairy farmers don’t have much patience for young upstarts and their not-funny excuses.

Trees look like cows in this light

Trees look like cows in this light

By about midway through the second month I had somehow accrued quite a startling amount of mishaps. Most notable of which would be nearly decapitating a cow with the rotary shed platform: the blame for which I found quite difficult to parry. Accidentally chopping off a cow’s head calls for a blunder too conspicuous to ascribe to a humorous little misjudgement, so it would seem.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be the only cow I would nearly kill as on one particularly dark morning I inadvertently left one behind, only to find her later dying of milk disease. Things were not going my way. It soon became rather apparent to everyone that their most recent acquisition might not be totally conversant with the ways of the country.

Getting used to this was harder than it might seem

Getting used to this was harder than it might seem

This led to me questioning whether I would last the length of my contract. I had never before felt that so much of my input was to the detriment of the team and the thought of drawing it out twisted my stomach in knots. The tensions rose and eventually culminated in an argument between Brian and myself over whether the state of affairs could be resolved. Several days passed while I see-sawed with the idea of a reluctant, early exit. Until, to my immense satisfaction, I found out that Brian and Barry both tallied quite well with their very own lists of farming faux-pas’. Brian had recently, and quite magnificently, managed to topple a three tonne tractor down into a valley; while, one morning, Barry had left not one cow behind in a paddock, but seven. How do you not see seven cows?

This news came to me as a great relief and one that gave my confidence a healthy hoist to haughtiness. I wasn’t about to fool myself into thinking I was anything but a strictly average farmhand, but I did allow myself to question whether I was quite as bad as they made me out to be.

By this stage, I hadn’t seen eye to eye with Barry on anything. We couldn’t seem to relate at all. He was the kind of character that were he in a good mood, it would be rare and short lived. When he wasn’t put upon by a heavy workload, or subject to even the slightest of misfortunes he would come across as quite an equable and intelligent fellow.

Conversely however, he was afflicted with a fuse shorter than a spoilt toddler’s. When something wasn’t done exactly as he expected, or he didn’t get his way, he lost control of his senses and descended into a fit of petulant rage: screaming at anyone, kicking the ground, throwing things, and quite often telling me or Danny to f*** off. So, in light of the recent news, during any future fuse shortages, I felt a retaliation could be justified.

After breakfast one morning, Danny and I were given the task of bringing in the day’s only cow and calf from the heifer’s paddock: a relatively relaxed job by most accounts. However, Brian’s instructions alluded to the difficult nature of this particular cow, Lucy, as he described her as having a tendency for erratic bursts of excitement. I felt I was qualified for the job.

At this time in the season the herd was dwindling so not ten minutes had passed before Danny and I had separated Lucy from the rest and walked her halfway to the gate. So, as I was happily planning my lunch, in bowls Barry, roaring across the paddock on his scrambler. Lucy stops stiff in her tracks and fixes a stare at him careering towards us.

Barry had rushed over to the paddock to help us, as it was thought impossible we could manage without him. But his enthusiastic entrance only sent Lucy spiralling into frenzied chaos. She started frantically sprinting back and forth, round and round, everywhere except through the gate. Barry hopped off his bike to join us, and for the next fifteen minutes three men in wellies and an excitable heifer ran in circles, chasing one another across a field, like some kind of confused Benny Hill sketch – much to the bemusement of the nine other cows now watching.

As Barry started barking orders and telling me to ‘wake up’, as if the reason Lucy was still in the paddock was because I wasn’t running and shouting enough, I enquired as to whether he was perhaps ‘having a laugh or what?’ (or, words to a more hostile affect).

Lucy had made it patently clear she did not want to leave the paddock, and all we’d achieved was to exhaust and irritate ourselves. As frustrated as I was, no-one was more furious than Barry: he’d slid into one of his episodes.

In the event, he paid little attention to Danny or I, and so continued in his quest to persuade Lucy out the gate, now with a stream of pettish verbal insults, such as ‘Just f*** off and get out!’ and ‘Where are you going now, you fat b****?’, and then ultimately resorting to just hurtling clumps of dirt at her head. Lucy, however, didn’t seem to understand quite what he was driving at so made no attempt at leaving the paddock. As it turned out in fact, Lucy decided she’d stay where she was and just eat a bit of grass, instead.

Minutes later, even with the foreman being as much help as a Broadmoor patient, we’d tentatively coaxed her to within meters from the gate, only for the capricious little heifer to make a sharp U-turn and come right at us. This time she was charging like a rhinoceros and I wanted no part in stopping her. Danny had also given up the goose, but Barry wasn’t to be outdone.

The full application of his anger seemed to have overtaken him entirely. Danny and I stood with feet planted, arms at our side and jaws agape as Barry drew a breath, hunched his shoulders and threw himself head first at all 600 kg. I was dumbstruck. But it came as no surprise to any of us – least of all, Lucy – that he was duly pole axed ground ward at the speed of a bullet leaving the barrel. He lay heaped in a Barry shaped hole and the ‘episode’ was over. His pride eventually heaved him up onto his feet and he stood for a few seconds silently trying to work out how many of his internal organs were failing before he staggered back to his bike. Danny and I shared a sidewards glance and carried on with the job.

Things were looking up

Things were looking up

Not a word was spoken for the next ten minutes as we eventually walked the cow out through the gate and along the track. From that point on it wasn’t all roses and butterflies but there did appear to be a favourable attitude shift that proved promising.

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From → New Zealand

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