One of the most challenging learning curves I’ve dealt with this year has been some tough lessons around the art of contract agistment….
After surviving ten years of drought, followed by two years of flooding the last thing I expected last summer was to be plunging into a dry that was worse than all that had gone before.
It was sadly clear by early January that in spite of opening up all the forest pastures, there was not going to be enough feed for our cattle to do well this year. Selling cattle into a falling market was not an option, though I did sell some of the Wagyu breeders.
I was keen to implement some pasture renovation techniques I’d studied in a number of courses I’ve completed over the past year; and I was urged to consider agisting my herd on a property closer to the coast with good pasture growth, and the bonus was it would give me the breathing space to resow and mulch the grazing paddocks. Twelve months was agreed.
Moving the cattle out there was traumatic (for me) and exhausting. It felt wrong to not see my cows dotted on the hills outside my windows.
What I didn’t really expect was to have the whole deal fall in a heap less than three months in, with no explanation aside from an irrational ‘we’ve changed our minds’.
New arrangements in that location had to be organised quickly, because the cattle couldn’t be transported anywhere without infrastructure to load them and luckily we struck an amicable agreement with the neighboring property to agist the herd till I could find a means to get them home. To add to the challenge- we still needed to hand feed forage to keep up with the nutrition levels the cattle required.
It was a very tough decision to go down the off farm agistment path initially, and I don’t think I would feel very open to doing it again, unless it were possible on an adjoining property where I retained full control of the herds welfare.
After a lot (a LOT) of delicate negotiation, and stress to find a contractor who could load up cattle with their own yards (i.e. build yards, provide loading facilities and a truck to transport). The cost was huge- financial and emotional.
But we managed.
It was such a relief to get the herd back home again, even though the goals I hoped to achieve by having them off farm were not realised.
One of the issues in shifting the cows home last weekend was that calving had already started so there was a bit of extra juggling to get little calves, frantic mumma cows and bigger animals split off and travel everyone home safely, without mishap.
One of the cows, a first time calver named Mirrabelle had her heifer calf just 48 hours before the big move, and managed to get locked into the truck with bigger cows minus her calf, so the concern was to have them reunited as quickly as possible to ensure the calf was not dehydrated or otherwise ‘mis-mothered’. We did notice Mirrabelle was a bit disconnected from the calf as we were working the cattle through the yards, but I just put it down to the clanging steel and strange blokes.
Back at home, by Sunday morning it was clear there was something more amiss and we found the heifer alone and calling…
An intervention was needed, and I was feeling pretty smug that all was sorted once I’d confined Mirrabelle in a small yard, tethered her head so she could eat but not horn the calf, and voila- drinking calf.
In spite of lots of encouragement, Mirrabelle was clearly declining and not interested in the heifer. Poor little baby.
So last chance, having had 24 hours of at least some milk, we turned Mirrabelle and the calf out with the rest of the herd and crossed our collective fingers.
This morning, the calf was again abandoned, so there was no choice out to pick her up and feed her ourselves.
We have called her Lorraine, after the region in France where the delightful mirabelle plum is grown and concocted into marvelous liqueurs and divine Mirabelle de Lorraine, recognised and promoted by the EU as a high-quality regional product. Our french lass Melina chose the name and it seems appropriate.
So far little Lorraine is doing ok…