Small cows and big learning curves

It’s funny how on the farm (like life in general), one event can lead to all sorts of trouble you never saw coming…

For awhile now we’ve been on the hunt for a couple of small breed cows to keep the grass down and basically wander around the paddocks looking cute (see post here).  By some miracle, the other day we managed to find a farm tucked down a country lane rearing very small and very endearing Lowline cattle.

Driving onto the Lowline farm last weekend, we felt our jaws drop as we took in the pristine nature of their whole set up – the taut fences, shiny outbuildings, paddocks with not a blade of grass out of place, and pretty rolling hills dotted with glossy cows as far as the eye could see.  Wow, we thought.  Now these were people who knew what they were doing.

Pulling up the car, we were met with a friendly handshake by the husband and wife cattle breeding duo, and led into a covered holding yard.  Within the yard they’d corralled two short but muscular steers, the sheen of their black coats obvious even in shadow.

Well, they looked healthy.  That was a good start.

Unfortunately, within about thirty seconds the two steers began jostling each other and butting heads aggressively.  My other-half and I shared a look – perhaps not these cows. We looked towards another half dozen calves just outside.

“What about those two over there?” we asked, pointing to two fluffy looking steers, smaller than the others.

“They’re available but not purebred,” we were told.

They may not have been purebred, but they were small (for now), cute, and well behaved – the kids and the husband were sold.

It took me a little longer to be sure about the steers.  It probably didn’t help that the farmers were keen on selling us a cow and calf pair, and walked us across their picturesque paddocks to meet the herd in person.  When those sweet, diminutive cows and calves looked up at us through their thick eyelashes, I almost relented.  But the thought of cows with mastitis and bulls trying to knock down our new fences convinced me to settle on the cross bred steers.

Having chosen our cows, talk turned to logistics; how were we going to get the cows to our place?  In an ideal world, they would be loaded onto a truck via cattle ramp at their farm and then unloaded via cattle ramp at our place.  Unfortunately, our farm doesn’t have a ramp and the price tag of having one built means it’s not a realistic option for people like us who very rarely need to move cattle on and off the property.

We thought we could circumvent the problem by using a trailer with its own ramp (like a horse float) – we knew people who did this in Victoria without drama.  Unfortunately, the breeders told us, the loading ramp at their Lowline farm was designed for large trucks and was too high to be used with a trailer.  The only option was to back the truck up to a slope or embankment on our farm and hope the height difference wouldn’t be too big for the cattle to walk out.  If the height difference was too great the cattle might jump and break a leg.  Far out.

So the cattle breeders decided the best thing to do was jump in their truck and come to our place to check it out for themselves.  After several goes, they got the truck lined up in the right place and were satisfied that they would be able to get the cattle off without too much drama when the time came.

I started breathing a sigh of relief until I noticed one of the farmers looking very closely at our pasture.  What now? I wondered.  We’d been told by quite a few people that our grass cover was pretty good.  There were a few weeds but overall it seemed not too bad.

The farmers reached into their truck, grabbed some hessian bags and started pulling and bagging a few weeds.  That did not look good.

What followed was a crash course in weed identification.  Apparently, as far as weeds go, there are the bad guys, the pretty bad guys, and then the really bad guys who will very quickly destroy your entire paddock.  Unfortunately, we had a small patch of the really bad guys – Sedge.  And a smattering of the pretty bad guys – Yellow Pod.

Meet Yellow Pod
Meet Yellow Pod
And here's the ultra bad guy - Sedge.
And here’s the ultra bad guy – Sedge.

So we were given some homework – dig and pull (or poison) the really bad weed patch before the cows arrive, eat the weeds and spread the seeds all over the paddocks in their manure.

May I just say, when you’re painstakingly levering out clumps of nasty weed grass from amongst perfectly harmless (and virtually indistinguishable) mixed pasture grass during your toddler’s very short naptime, your resolve to follow organic principles can be sorely tried.

Spot the sedge? Nope? Look closer...
Spot the sedge? Nope? Me either.  But if you look reeeeeeaaaallly closely, it’s there.

But no more weeding for now.  Our deadline is up.  Tomorrow morning the cattle truck is stopping at our place…let’s hope nobody breaks a leg.

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