Given the hordes of farm animals you see when driving around the countryside, you’d be forgiven for thinking buying a few animals to set up a farm would be easy; get out the Yellow Pages or have a chat to a local farmer and Bob’s your uncle – a farm full of animals! Right? Nope.
In general, we’ve found the only animals you can get easily and cheaply in the country are the animals other people can’t wait to be rid of. Farmers are business people – they keep the quality animals to improve the productivity and value of their own herds/flocks and sell or cull the rest. So most the animals you find for sale are either duds (health or other genetic trait problems) or trouble-makers (i.e. bad tempered).
During our first tree-change five years ago, we encountered a few memorable animals for sale. One was a goat who liked to welcome visitors by standing on their cars. The other was a steer who had a penchant for trying to kill anyone who entered his paddock. Needless to say we politely declined both offers (before backing away slowly and running in the opposite direction).
Part of the problem we have is that we’re not chasing common commercial breeds like the ones on the farms around us. We’re after small breed cattle that are easier for beginners to handle. Even a small breed cow is about three hundred kilos (which is intimidating enough when you’re trying to handle them safely).
We’ve had some experience with small breed cattle before – Dexters (naturally miniature cattle). During our farm trial-run in Victoria we had a beautiful pair Dexter steers, Derek and Cricket (see pic above), who munched away happily on the grass and were a joy to own. After such a good experience with those pair, we were hoping for similar this time round.
If we had contacts in the area we could use them to try and find a good quality animal. But sadly we don’t – not yet. We barely know a soul here.
In the last few weeks I’ve tried all sorts of strategies to hunt down some cattle. I’ve looked up the Yellow Pages (don’t waste your time, there’s nothing there), consulted Gumtree, online farm guides, and local groups with Facebook pages. We’ve driven around farms in the district noting down the names of ones that look like they stock the breeds of animals we’re after. I’ve looked in the classifieds of all the local papers, on all the local billboards, and asked at the local produce stores. I’ve also cold-called just about every small breed cattle stud owner in our part of Australia. Admittedly, we probably should just go to a ‘cattle sale’ (like an auction for cattle) but they’re pretty intimidating places for newbies like us.
Finally, I’ve taken to asking everyone I meet if they know anyone who has small breed cattle. One man replied that he’d done some work for a bloke who would know someone with small cattle but didn’t have the guy’s phone number. He did, however, give me a description of the man’s wife, told me where she worked, and suggested I pop in and ask her for her husband’s phone number. I felt a bit weird approaching a woman I didn’t know at her workplace and hitting her up for her husband’s number, so I didn’t pursue that lead any further – but it was nice of him to try and help!
So, after all this research, as far as we can tell, our best bet is a breeder who breeds excess animals deliberately as a money-making strategy (rather than one who’s just eliminating the problem animals).
After a few more phonecalls we have a date! This Sunday we’re going to a cattle stud that breeds Lowline cattle to suss out a few steers. Fingers crossed none of them stand on our car or charge.
Here’s to moos!