When it doesn’t rain.
I live on a cattle property in Western Qld Australia, with my Mum, Dad, and younger sister and brother.
We breed composite beef cattle for the domestic meat market, and right now, that market is fallen through the floor. Cattle prices are at an all time low, and costs are at an all time high. The live export market has effectively been shut down by anti farmer cruelty propaganda, and bad government. It is tearing our market apart with an oversupply of cattle bred to go overseas, and the same anti-farmer activists are working within our own country to tear down and destroy the domestic industry as well.
And besides that, it hasn’t rained at my home now, for a very long time.
I was asked what is the difference to us, to my father and why does it upset him so much to see his much beloved cattle die in the paddock, when we actually breed them to be slaughtered anyway. Why does drought affect us at all.
The answer is too huge to really tell in one short letter, but allow me to try.
When the rains stops, grass doesn’t grow, water holes begin to dry up and the cattle get very thin, when the rains stops suffering begins, no it doesn’t happen overnight, but little bit by little bit the cattle get thinner, and thinner, and weaker and weaker.
We feed them as best we can, but with no income due to the extremely low market it is very difficult.
Allow me to expand on that point, next week we are trucking cattle to market, normally we pray that we get ‘good’ prices for them, this week we are praying that someone bids on them, and that we do not have to make that horrible choice of do we truck them home again, or do we shoot them in the yards.
Lets drive this home further, the lack of feed right now, is to the point where many of our cattle will die during the 2 ½ hour drive to Dalby to sale, most would not survive a return journey, to euthanase them could well be what we must do.
Feeding the cattle takes up to 5 hours every day, sometimes more, and it is a 2 or 3 person job, my younger sister Emily (21) is in charge of this job. Every day she mixes up grain, mollasses, salt, and minerals into a big container and then drives around the property slowly hand feeding it out to the cattle along the way. She carries a large calibre rifle with her in the ute to put down any sick cattle she finds along her way. Either Craig my younger brother is with her for this task, or Ivan our part time farm assistant.
When Craig is not helping Emily carry out licks and feed to the cattle, he is on his motorbike, also with a large rifle slung over his shoulder. The job is to check every single watering hole on the property, and search and destroy any sick or dying cattle he finds along the way.
Dad is frantic with work, not only does none of the normal farm work happen at this time, but so many jobs come up that must be done and all as important as each other.
Aside from the stress of not knowing if there will be enough money in the bank each week to provide for his family, he has the horrid job each day of buckling on a 30-30 pistol designed and purchased especially for the humane destruction of the cattle that he loves so very much. At the moment Dad is torn between so many different jobs, I see him turn around in circles, both metaphorically and literally, confusion and despair are close by, which job must he do first, go dig the cow out of the bog and try to save her life, go fence a dam which has fallen to a dangerously low level, cart water to the 200 head of cattle that will die without it, spend a few minutes inside the house desperately trying source fodder for our starving cattle, try and dig another dam deeper so next time we are in drought it wont go dry..
I worry each and every day for his health both mental and physical, and I know that without his faith in God, for certain I would not have my father today. I have known far too many men who have taken their own lives during drought, over heartbreak from watching their cattle die, I have seen my dad sitting on the ground beating his head in his hands, not knowing where to go or what to do.
I watch him in the morning pick up that pistol, and pray God he never turns it on himself, I watch my baby sister carry her rifle out the door, and pray she never gets that desperate, or my little brother all of 19 years old walking out the door with his 308 rifle, to search for dying cattle just like he has been doing ever since he was 7 years old riding around on his pee-wee 80.
I see Mum every day fighting desperately to save the lives of our orphaned calves, she fights for those babies like a mother lion fights for her cubs and when we lose one she weeps like a part of her soul has been lost. She tries so hard to keep the home fires burning, and to have an oasis in the desert for Dad to come home to each day, but with no water it is getting harder and harder to do. We have no garden, no lawn, and our shower at night is a muddy brown colour because our dam for water for the house is so low it wont clear.
We are carting water from our house supplies to water cattle who will die of thirst without it, so much more important to us is the life of one cow, than a clean shower at night, or a green lawn to come home to.
My role in this drought is minor, I work off the farm so it affects me least of all the family, but even so, the stress and tension I see in my family is upsetting at best. My income is tiny compared to the average working girl, and I wish I made more not so I could buy that new iPad that everyone is talking about but so I could buy more food for my family, to ease the pressure on Dad and Mum. I am the only ‘horse person’ on the farm, and at the moment 100% of my income is being spent keeping them alive, I have one 6km from home, he broke his leg while I was riding him during a muster, and I am not able to get him home. I have one in the yards on medication and isolation trying to fight off an infection which the vet tells me is critical and life threatening, another is in our house paddock, with an injury on her hind leg that needs daily care. The other two horses just need constant feed to keep them alive.
It is my job to care for these animals, and to be a gofer for any other jobs around the farm. I will do town runs for Dad, to pick up machinery parts or mineral licks for the cattle, because I am the dispensable one, not needed for any particular job its easy for me to do those runs and get those things when we need them.
I always wish I could do more, take the strain off Dad, help Mum more, stop Emily from having to come home in tears covered in mud and exhausted from draggin another cow out of the dam, trying to get her to walk, them having to shoot her out of pity. But there is nothing more that I can do. There is nothing anyone can really do, at least, not til it rains.
Drought is a horrible destructive thing, it brings man and beast to their knees, and doesn’t let go until there is no moisture left anywhere, no water in the dams for stock to drink, and no tears left in your eyes to weep.
To say the cost of drought is only financial is to underestimate the desperation of the man behind the akubra.
I know many people do not understand drought, and how it affects us out here. But take this one thing if you can, in the city, you get up leave your house and go to work, and at the end of the day leave work and return to your home for the night. If work sucks you can leave, if you don’t like your home you can move.
For a farmer, for my family, we get up in the morning and our home is our job, its our life and our livelihood. If work sucks, you cannot escape it, if things go bad you cannot leave. We have no place to go, and even if we did, what could we do with all our beautiful cattle? If we leave now, if we abandon those gentle creatures who depend upon us, they would die, they would all suffer terribly and die.
We cannot afford to stay, but we cannot afford to go.
Everything we are, everything we have is tied up in this horrible, beautiful place we call our home, the land we live on.
The land we love.
It might not seem like much, but when you say your prayers at night, please pray for rain. Because when it rains… The land will smile again.