I don’t know how many people understand the duty of care graziers feel when looking after their stock. It has astounded me, the lengths Chris will go to, to save one cow, the commitment he has to save a life if he can.
The day after the bush fire a few weeks ago, we were finishing up for the day and around 5pm Chris found a cow stuck in the mud in the dam in the house paddock, number 59. She was a good cow, in good condition, no doubt attributable to her resourcefulness in foraging for feed. She had crept into the dam (we imagine) to munch on the floating reeds but got into trouble. The shrinking dam had become a death trap.
We’ve tried saving cows stuck before with no success, pulling them out with a chain, but they never get up. It’s heart breaking. Chris decided to try to dig her out instead … to free the mud around her enough to hopefully enable her to pull herself to shore.
So he started up the faithful blue tractor and got to work. It was agonising watching. With each scoop of the mud I was willing her to get up but at the same time, horrified to watch the tractor wheels sink so deep into the mud. I was wired to the max with every move Chris made. In the end I had to turn away to try to still my anxiety and take a few deep breaths.
Dark fell and Chris worked hard scooping mud and tipping it outside the dam … until the inevitable happened, the blue tractor got bogged.
Amazingly, we managed to get the old faithful green Deutz tractor humming even though it hadn’t been driven for over a year. But of course a rescue vehicle requires a driver, and that meant me. Eek! As usual, my lack of confidence using this machinery sent my body quivering. And as usual, Chris’s short temper under pressure and expectations that I should just know how to do it, didn’t help. But we did it. We got the blue one out.
So Chris set to it again … for hours … in fact until midnight. He pushed and shoved and dug and dipped, got bogged and freed again, over and over. He was manic in his mission and I couldn’t help thinking if I was to go to war, I would want him standing next to me … such resilience and commitment.
I stood by and watched, cheering No. 59, calling to her to get up every time she made some effort. She managed to get up on her hind legs but couldn’t get up on the front legs, though it seemed so close at times.
Chris had been trying to move the soft mud away to create a firmer ramp for her to walk out to the edge. He was working on the side of the dam which had a steep drop. Repeatedly he would get stuck but used the bucket as leverage to manoeuvre his way out. Such dexterity using the machinery was impressive. But at one point, with the bucket full of mud, the left back wheel lifted several feet in the air. Enough! It had become far too dangerous. Fortunately he managed to empty the bucket (almost on No. 59’s head) and get the wheel back in the mud.
Again the green tractor came to the rescue and yes … I was still terrified being the driver. I just don’t seem to do it often enough to develop that calm confidence. Once the job is done, I have to sit in the seat and wait for the adrenaline to ease back. But we got it out again, for the last time.
Poor No. 59. What an ordeal she had been through having the tractor bearing down on her all that time. She had been completely silent, patiently waiting and working with us as best she could. But when we packed up to go, she looked at us and let out a long low mournful moo. She knew we had given up, somehow, she knew. It still upsets me to think about it. But we could do no more. Our only hope was that we had pulled enough mud away that, left alone, she might make it out.
It was not to be. She died during the night.
Sad and difficult times and an experience that will have been shared by many graziers across Queensland in these difficult times.