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I am 7th Generation in the Australian Cattle Industry. I grew up on a cattle station in North Queensland. My husband and I run a Livestock Agency (hence the reference to mobile phones)as well as a small hobby farm with our two young children.

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Thursday, 24 April 2014

An Anzac Ribbon

This post is a family affair.  My Aunty,  Beth Duncan, wrote the following about her Grandfather (my great Grandfather), Hugh Kenneth Goodwin "Ken" for her local community newsletter.  This story has been told to us growing up but seeing it in writing makes it different.  We have all seen that magic scrap of ribbon and we all are astounded by the bravery shown by my great grandfather and no doubt the men and women he served beside.

The photos are from my niece Kirsty, who with her sister, Kellie, and other school friends visited some of the French Battlefields and Gallipoli last year.  I was just going to attach a generic ANZAC photo from Google but thought Kirsty's photos give a more personal touch.  They are in no particular order, nor do they correspond to the story,  just interspersed between text.  Some of the captions have links embedded in them, for further information.  Just flicking through them this afternoon has given me goosebumps and made me a bit teary.  The formidable country surrounding ANZAC Cove makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  The bravery shown by those who faced that is unmatched.

The formidable country surrounding ANZAC Cove
I only hope that some of that grit, determination and courage shown by my Great Grandfather has filtered down to us in these future generations, may we be like him when fighting our own battles, whatever they may be.

This is his story:

World War One 1915
Hugh Kenneth Goodwin, “Ken” a young stockman working at Bowen Downs Station, near Aramac, joined the AIF to fight in the First World War.
 As he was boarding the coach (probably Cobb & Co, the route was through Bowen Downs) for Melbourne, the Bowen Downs Chinese cook, Tommy Su, (who was very patriotic) handed Ken a red, white and blue striped ribbon (a collar, taken from around the neck of one of his many cats) as a symbol of good luck.
Allied Forces trenches

  Ken served in the Battle of the Somme in France. The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest battles in WW1 and “became a byword for futile and indiscriminate slaughter”. After the battle had ended the casualties were – Germans 600,000, British 420,000 and 200,000 French. Ken was the gunner of a 16 pound field gun. At one time he sat on the cannon for 52 hours straight. The constant repercussion had his ears bleeding and his mates carried him off the cannon (he couldn’t walk) and to a field hospital. His mates nicknamed him “Sparks” because they said that in the night, when they were in battle, they could see his eyes flashing. At one time the Australians were retreating on foot from the Germans across a ploughed field. Ken ran with the breech block out of the gun on his shoulders (about 112 lbs) and when one of his mates asked him why brought the breech he replied “So the Hun ba*%@*d’s can’t turn the gun on us”.


Shrapnel Valley

Beach Cemetery 
In 1918, at the age of 23 years and 9 months Ken was honourably discharged after being gassed with mustard gas by the Germans. He was totally blind for two weeks and he was sent home to Australia on a hospital ship. He had served 865 days abroad and he still had the ribbon.
"The Man and his Donkey" 
In 1919, Ken’s father, Samuel Goodwin was sent to Banchory Station in Clermont as Manager. Ken, who by that time had regained most of his health went with his parents to Banchory as a stockman. His first comment on seeing Banchory was “3 or 4 months will see me out in this Godforsaken place”. The homestead was on a ridge and surrounded by bare clay pans and the house had gun slits in the walls for fighting the aboriginals. The 3 months became 29 years. In 1923 Samuel left Banchory and Ken became the Manager.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme battlefields bears the names of 72,194 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces.
The Cemetery behind Thiepval Memorial, the crosses are French and the stones are British and Australian

World War Two    1940
William Claude Gittens, “Bill”  a young stockman at Banchory had joined up and was leaving to fight in the Second World War. Bill, who came to Banchory as an “orphan kid” listed Ken and Bon Goodwin as his next of kin. As he was leaving Banchory, Ken Goodwin (the manager) cut the ribbon in half and presented Bill with one of the halves for good luck. Bill served in the Middle East and was a Rat of Tobruk. The Australians gave themselves the name “Rats of Tobruk” after Radio Berlin described the Australians as “caught like rats in a trap”
A mass grave of what is to be believed over 23 000 German Soldiers

German Cemetery

The Australians held the Libyan port of Tobruk against the Afrika Corps during the siege of Tobruk. The seige started April 1941 and was finally relieved at the end of November. 14,000 Australian Troops served in the Middle East and they claimed the name “Rats of Tobruk” as a badge of pride. 

A "little" cemetery with over 1000 graves at Messines

The Australians were known for their sense of humour and this showed in the nickname Bill’s commanding officer labelled him with... “Sh*&#house Gittens” because of his initials “WC”. Bill carried the ribbon for some time in the war, but while sleeping on a troop train in Palestine his wallet was stolen and with it, the ribbon.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial in Ypres, Belgium dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown.

While serving in Africa Bill “souvenired” a rifle cleaner from the belt of a dead German Officer and managed to post it back to Ken at Banchory.

Tyne Cot Cemetery, over 12 000 ANZACs laid to rest here. It's the biggest war grave cemetery on the Western Front for Australians

Vimy, a Canadian War Memorial

2014... 99 years later, Ken’s half of the ribbon is still intact, although the colours have faded. The rifle cleaner is with the ribbon and still has the grains of the African desert sands in it. Ken never washed his ribbon. He thought he might wash the luck away.
Kellie and Kirsty where they laid a poppy at the Gravesite of their Great-Great Grandfather (on the other side of their family).  Corporal A.J. Kempster, 5th Dragoon Gaurds.  Gunned down on the 5th of August in the Battle of Bullecourt.

~Lest We Forget~

Sunday, 16 February 2014

More Than a Drought

The other day in my local Community Discussion Facebook Group, a lady posted a status from a beef farmer in Southern Qld stating:

26c per kg for a couple of light angus cows & 1 for 43c a kg. I put in Dalby sale today. For those who don't know about selling cows , that equates to $148 for the better one & $66 each for the others. I had paid $500 each for those cows 18mths ago. 
Apparently the lowest selling animal at the yards today was 6c a kg for a steer. He wouldn't have even covered his cartage. And that is why people are shooting their cattle ... Can't feed them ... Can't sell them & if you do sell them .. You might even get a bill not a cheque 

We are not in a drought declared zone as yet, therefore do not qualify for any government assistance, however I am rallying for all those that are in drought declared areas & hope they receive help ... our above status is just a reflection of what is currently happening. Support your Aussie Farmers .. they put food on your plate & clothes on your back !

(If you want to share this status from Trina and Drew Neal to your Facebook wall, you can do so here:

(Please not this is not an endorsement for Buy A Bale, it was a part of the status)

The lady who posted this in our discussion group also commented on the fact that consumers weren't seeing a price drop on the shelves.  So I piped up and answered the following because like charity, education starts at home.   It is a basic run down of why we got into this predicament and is by no means an in depth view.  But for people who want to know more, hopefully this is a good starting point.

 Please note I have amended it slightly to provide links to statistics and further information where applicable.

“So, in a "normal" year for us up here an average price we receive from the meatworks (if we send them directly there) is between $2.80-$3.50/kg "carcass weight" which means the head, hide, organs, lower legs etc removed. Then you can get penalised for too much fat, too little fat, bruising, scarring left by wild dogs.
$2/kg live weight (what they weigh while still alive) is quite a good price.

In the early 80's to mid 90's North Queensland had six meatworks shut down. 
Like all manufacturing in Australia (steel, cars, clothes, tinned fruit) meatworks struggle with high wages and taxes and government charges in Australia. So the meatworks company wanted to consolidate their operations. A beef farmer has to pay the freight to the meatworks and then the meatworks needs to pay the freight to the port so it makes sense to them business wise to shut remote operations and make the farmer pay extra freight.
So by 97 NQ only had two meatworks, one in Townsville and one in Innisfail. (Innisfail shut in September 2006, six months after Larry and after three years of limited live export) They could not cope with the amount of cattle in NQ. Also across Northern Australia, a lot of places have deficient soil, so growing a bullock to Australian slaughter weight can take years. Cattle's ages are measured by "teeth" (how many teeth they have). That's another thing the meatworks can penalise us for, too many teeth. The older a bullock is the tougher his meat, the stronger the taste etc.
While Australia has been live exporting nearly the whole time we've been settled, it didn't really boom and become a prominent market until 96/97 when there was nothing else, well nothing that was viable.

So then all of a sudden the meatworks didn't have the monopoly over the market. They had competition and had to lift their game and they didn't like it.
They had a lot of disgruntled workers and the unions made life very difficult for the meatworks and for the farmers. But they needed a scape goat for this so they decided to blame live export.   In 2010 the Meatworkers union released their union magazine
  detailing how the unions, meatworks owners animal groups and some government officials were colluding to shut the live trade down. The catch cry was that over "40 000 jobs were lost because of live export. But those jobs were going from the mid seventies (ABS has these stats, but they are manufacturing as a whole, not just solely meatworks) when the beef industry went through a "slump" very similar to what we see today. Although many of the "old timers" say it's worse this time round.
Live export was a very easy target because there can be some very cruel aspects to it and NO ONE condones it. Farmers were horrified to see what was happening. Although things have come a long way over the last few decades and a majority of overseas workers do the right thing, there are still some that don't. Australia is the only country out of over 100 that live export stock to actually spend money in overseas facilities to improve welfare.
So we let the ball down there, our industry bodies told us it was okay and it wasn't. So things are improving a lot now because farmers are pushing our representative bodies more instead of assuming they were already doing the right thing. Incidentally a meatworks owner sits on the board of our major industry body (but not a live export rep)
So fast forward to 2011 when the horrific cruelty was shown. Because we cut off Indonesia overnight they got the poops and didn't want to import our cattle anymore.
Just out of Townsville alone there was a boat of 4000 head of cattle or more going every 6-8 weeks. No to mention the major ports of Darwin, Whyndam and Broome. Then that option was gone. So there was estimated to be over an extra 2 million head in Northern Australia at the end of 2012.
Then comes the drought. Our country is already under pressure because we literally cannot offload stock, even if we did take crappy prices.
To get cattle into the meatworks in Townsville last year, you had to wait 3-4 months for your turn. Then a couple of weeks ago the CEO of the company that owns the Townsville meatworks was on the radio spruiking how 2013 was their best year ever with record breaking profits. And that they didn't put on any extra shifts to help get cattle through quicker, they still worked only five days instead of running full time (despite saying that 240 people were made redundant in 2010, no extra shifts means no extra staff). They wanted to "ensure a supply of cattle throughout 2014". Which is all well and good... unless those cattle are starving and will be dead or underweight.
I'm not trying to bag the meatworks because they are also an important aspect to our industry but they can't have the monopoly on the market.
So now the industry is on our knees. We really don't want handouts or bandaid assistance packages from the government (although in some cases it will be the only thing that saves people and animals). We need to get our industry fixed so that don't let us down like this again. Our farm gate prices haven't risen in decades but the cost of everything else has (including what you pay for it in the end)

We need to be paid more to keep up with everything so we can look after ourselves in times like this and not rely on the generosity of the public and government. We've been let down by our industry bodies and governments (although there's a senate inquiry now coming up regarding thebodies), we let our animals down by letting it happen and as well the communities that depend on us."

So that's a really simple rundown of how we got to where we are today.
Sunrise also did a great segment on it today : http://au.tv.yahoo.com/sunrise/video/#page1

We need more than just rain, we need to take control of our industry.  People working in Agriculture only make up 3% of our total population, so our voice alone is not enough.  We need to make connections with the rest of the population so they can support us.  Most people do want to support farmers, they just want to know where to start.  And tooting our own little horn.. a great place to start is by talking to each other and you can do this at Ask An Aussie Farmer.

We won't fix things overnight.  But we're not giving up.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Operation Grass Ceiling

I've been trying to get these thoughts down on paper (or screen) for weeks, I’ve had several attempts at writing them but they always sound jumbled and incoherent.  Who knows maybe all my stuff sounds like that??  And I’d just like to mention that I’m not a feminist, I’m sure these things happen to men too, but for now I’m just focusing on the women okay?

But as I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed I see yet another inspiring, amazing woman who is such a valuable member of our rural community has fallen in a heap.  I have known and thought so highly of this woman for years and now she is a shell of her former self.  But I have never admired her more, have never been more awed by her courage.  The sad thing is she’s not the only amazing, inspiring woman to stumble like this, so many strong women have done so lately whether they are a part of the farming community or work tirelessly in one of our small towns.

Catherine Marriott from Influential Women posted this picture the other day: (you can read other people’s thoughts here:  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=658730990870807&set=pb.562730337137540.-2207520000.1390598590.&type=3&theater

Picture Courtesy of Catherine Marriott

To me they are connected.   Good leaders care about those around them but caring leaves you open and vulnerable.  We need to look after our leaders when they are vulnerable otherwise they will become hardened and lose the ability to care.

A friend, Loukas, also commented:  “Leadership and vulnerability are connected. Leadership means being at the forefront and leading by example, vulnerability because as a leader, you're the first one in the crosshairs or first into the unmarked minefield.”

And I think that one sums it up to what’s been happening to some of our leading women, they’ve been a target either from enemy fire of anti farming groups.  Or even worse, the target of “friendly” fire, others in the farming community who seem hell bent on harassing someone who doesn’t agree with them or perhaps are trying their hardest to make a difference.  Can’t have any tall poppies in Australia can we?    

2013 was a really hard year for some, the loss of loved ones, Mother Nature throwing her weight around, conditions for farmers worsening and there seemed to be so much tension in the air. I learnt a lot last year, especially about myself and a lot of it wasn’t pretty.  But that’s okay, because that means I can work on changing how I react to certain situations.   The big thing I learnt is that we need to look after each other rather than picking people off like a sniper one by one.  We may not always agree or like one another, but agriculture in Australia is at a crisis point and we’re all in this together.  If we can’t support each other, then how the hell can we expect anyone else to?

We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling right?  The place where some people aspire to break through and make it to other side where the “successful” (what defines success anyway?).  Queensland Rural, Regional andRemote Women’s Network (QRRRWN) President,  Georgie Somerset, talks about the “Grass Ceiling”, the farming version of the glass ceiling, particularly for women in this Landline Segment.
Some women make it through that grass ceiling, the strongest ones turn around and help the next person through, but some cover their hole over lest anyone try and join them.
Some women try and fail, the best ones give a leg up to someone else trying.  Others try to keep dragging those trying down.
Some are vying with each other to get there and shoulder each other out of the way.  We need to stop, talk and nut things out together.
There are some women who have no aspirations to get through that Grass Ceiling and that is fine.  These women are usually the best support a girl could have.  They are the ones who give you a boost, the ones who will pick you up and dust you off when you’ve fallen.  And for them we should be truly grateful.

So for 2014 I pledge to be less bitchy and more supportive.  I may falter occasionally, I am only human.  I love agriculture, I love rural Australia.  My beloved northern beef Industry is in crisis.  We won’t fix it overnight, we won’t fix it shooting each other down.  We won’t fix it by doing one thing, we need so many different people doing different things.
So when I start having non supportive thoughts I’m going to put my big girl panties on and utter to myself
“Operation Grass Ceiling”.
Who’s with me?

I wrote this a few days and left it sitting there to see if I still wanted to post it.
There are some people who are not so nice to me and I used to let them drag me down and make me sad.  These days, instead of letting them do that, I imagine trampolining off their heads trying to reach those heights while muttering #OperationGrassCeiling.  And it works!  And yes I am loopy but am not afraid to admit that!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Inspiring the Little People in my life

My Children Have the Best Role Models
A couple of weeks ago, I was having a discussion with Pip Courtney from ABC Landline about why my kids loved Landline (when we have a chance to watch it).

She asked their ages (they are 7 and 9) and why did I think they liked Landline.  Being a Twitter conversation I only had 140 characters to answer Pip, I simply said “They like to see all types of farming”.  But it goes so much further than that… Why do they love farming?

Ella-Beth and Clancy getting up close to their steers

So I thought about it and promptly forgot about it again, until this morning with another Twitter conversation about what poor role models certain NRL players are, but the League continues to reward them regardless of their off field behaviour.  I mentioned that I was glad that my kids have some pretty excellent role models.

So I thought I’d give a shout out to these people who my kids look up to (besides those fantastic role models in our family).  Before I start I should mention that Clancy wants to be a Cotton/Beef Farmer, a football player and chopper pilot (possibly crop dusting, but maybe mustering) and Ella-Beth wants to be an Agriculture Teacher, so that she can teach children all about farming.

Clancy’s love of cotton (unusual when we’re in the middle of beef country) started when he saw the  video “How Does Cotton Grow In Australia”  by Bess Gairns, from Cotton Wife.  He was fascinated and this little spark has been nurtured by Bess and her partner Andrew, who take the time to send the kids cotton, and Andrew has answered questions from Clancy on Twitter, mainly about the size of irrigation pipes!
Bess and Andrew

Bess and Andrew and their little bundle of joy Eddison (or Noodle as he is known to my kids) not only inspire my kids (and Shane and I as well) on farm, but in their “other life” as well.  Just after receiving the cotton in the mail (and cementing a huge bond via Facebook), Bess went into spontaneous labour with Eddison at around three months early and the kids followed his fight for life and still celebrate any little milestone he makes.  They were most excited when they first got to meet him (and Bess and briefly Andrew) last year.  Knowing that Eddison was born just before cotton picking, Ella-Beth was asking how far away Bess and Andrew lived, and if there was any way we could help them.   But Bess and Andrew aren’t the only ones who inspire my children. 

Eddison's inspiring journey

Last year the kids and I drove to St George (some 1200km away) to attend the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network  (QRRRWN) conference.  Along the way, we stopped overnight with Sherrill, who I’d never met, but had formed a strong friendship on Facebook with.  Sherrill runs (oh, with her husband) a feedlot and she has CROPS!!  This was exciting, because even I couldn't recall being so close to crops!

Two of Sherrill's gorgeous boys, Charlie and Eddie with Ella-Beth, Clancy and I in the oats

We traveled on to St George, and we were to partake in a bus tour of some local farms.  The bus was full so I said I would follow along in the car, and QRRRWN President, Georgie Somerset said she’d come with us.  Georgie made a lasting impression on the kids as well, even if Clancy can’t remember her name and just refers to her as “The Boss Lady”.  I think it helped that Georgie had a whisper in the ear of the bloke at The Vanderfield Dealer and cotton farmer, Glen Rogan about the kids love of cotton and Clancy’s obsession with John Deere because the kids were presented with little bits of merchandise and allowed to climb all over the million dollar balers!

We made the trek to Roma again this year in March, to stay at Sherrill’s and attend Influetional Women with Catherine Marriott (or Mazz as she’s fondly known as).   More about Mazz later!

Ella-Beth and Clancy finally got to meet Steph Grills!  I’d met up with Steph a few times as Young Farming Champions, so the kids were glad to meet her finally!  They love seeing photos of Steph come up on Facebook, her easy laugh endeared her to them
Steph and her sheep

We also got to meet Lisa Wood!  Lisa lives in Indonesia and works with exporters, feedlots and abattoirs to help them meet high animal welfare standards.  Lisa brought her laptop with hundreds of photos and she lay on the floor, surrounded by four kids aged between 3 and 8 and had them absolutely enthralled by pictures from her world. The big hit was the Hello Kitty Car!
Lisa captured the attention of Ella-Beth, Clancy, Archie and Charlie (Two of Sherrill's boys) for ages!

And Mazz…. Well, holey dooly, didn't Mazz’s vivaciousness leave a lasting impression on Ella-Beth and Clancy.  Like all who come into contact with her, the kids spent most of their time with Mazz shaking their heads in bemusement or letting out big old belly laughs.  I had Landline’s recent segment  on the latest QRRRWN conference playing the other day and Mazz’s voice boomed out, bringing the kids running to the TV yelling “IT’S MAZZ, IT’S MAZZ!!”.

Mazz's love for life touches us all

And just after Mazz in the segment came the beautiful smile of one of Ag’s loveliest Angels, Alison Fairleigh who travelled a couple of hours to visit us earlier in the year.  While Mazz’s laugh is infectious, Ali has a smile that lights up the whole room.  The kids, sensing a soft but strong heart, were instantly drawn to Ali (like we all are).  I hope that one day when they are old enough, they will understand the truly amazing work that Ali does for Rural Australia.

Alison has a smile that lights up the room

Towards the end of last year, at the ripe old age of six, Clancy was struggling  with all he wanted to be.  Could he really be a beef AND a cotton farmer? Then came along the Young Farming Champion Richie Quigley with his video.  After watching it twice, Clancy turned to me just beaming with excitement “Mum, I CAN be everything I want to be, because Richie is everything I want to be”.  Richie continues to inspire young fellas, and I must admit he’s a pretty good role model!  Speaking of YFC’s, the kids were also very taken with Stephanie Tarlinton’s sweet nature when she passed through town last year.  Her YFC video “Farm Girls Love Shoes Too” is another big hit in our house!

It’s not just these people, it’s the Lynne Strong’s from Art4Agriculture of this world who has given me the opportunity to meet most of these people through Young Farming Champion, otherwise my kids would never be exposed to them.  It’s people like Bessie from Bessie at Burragan and Melissa from Quebon Coloured Sheep who take the time to mail the kids wool.  It’s theFarmer Bron’s of this world who when we visit, spends just as much time talking to the kids as to me! 

And all the others, the men who stop to shake Clancy’s hand at the Saleyards. It’s the Manager of our local Landmark office, Taisha who is a female under thirty giving it a great go despite tough times in the North,  in what was very recently known as a man’s world. You show Ella-Beth that girls can do anything (and Clancy's pretty rapt in your love for lego too).   

The list goes on and on, it takes the whole farming community to raise our next generation of farmers and support industries.. 

So, thanks to all of you who inspire my kids. You might get some knockers, but when it seems that the world is against you, just remember that there are two little people who look up to you.  And to them, they can be their “everything”  because they see you doing it.

And I’ve just realised something… these people don’t only inspire and provide fantastic role models for my kids… they are my heroes too

You can follow us on our Facebook Page: Kids, Cattle and Mobile Phones

Friday, 16 August 2013

Hi! My Name's Kylie and I'm a Gen Y

This blog is dedicated to all those fabulous Gen Y who I work with as Young Farming Champions and around the traps.

So, apparently I stepped on a few toes with my last blog “Who Gives A Flying Fandango”.  I’m not surprised however.   I welcome feedback, I am not perfect, I am forging my way through this wilderness too.  It would be easier if those wanting to say things about me would say it directly and not in round about ways.  But enough of that before you all roll your eyes at me and say (all together now) “Who gives a flying fandango?”    I’m certain I will step on some more toes, or even kick someone in the shin, but may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb eh?

I have many failings, but according to much of the feedback I've received over the last couple of years my biggest downfall is that I had the misfortune to be born in 1981 and therefore am that nasty thing “Gen Y”.  My fellow Gen Y’s and I have had it said to us quite a bit recently that because we are too young we just don’t get it and we should just shush and let the older generation carry on because they've been doing it for years.  And because I’m that apparently rare thing known as a “polite Gen Y” I've bitten my tongue until now and have blurted out in true 80’s child style “if you’re so damned good at advocating for agriculture, why are we in this mess”.  Because I truly don’t think like that, it’s just my childish reaction!

Our urban Gen Y cousins also seem to get the finger pointed at them for not “caring about farmers” or "knowing how food is produced"  (again I don’t think this, just what sometimes seems to be the undercurrent from a few.)  I can assure you if you stood in front of a room of Gen Y and demanded that they be grateful for farmers because without us they would starve, they would tell you ever so politely (or not) to bugger off.  How do we know this?  Because we went to school together, we went to Uni together, we are friends and our kids are friends.  Gen Y’s are raising and teaching the next generation of leaders.   I believe that Gen Y’s are the best people have those conversations with other Gen Y’s.  In the Gen Y way.  Don’t get me wrong, we will always look up to you for your wisdom, experience and guidance.  But the world is changing and we must change with it.

Gen Y is the up and coming generation.  In the next decade they will rule the world so to speak.  So by all means talk to your generation how they best receive it, and us “young upstarts”  (I’ve seriously been called this) will talk to our generation in the way we know it works.  Because it’s important that we build those lasting, positive connections now.

Post Script:
Please note that I don't think all Baby Boomers are grumps just like I know you all don't think Gen Y are little toads.  Some of the coolest people I know are Baby Boomers.  As for you Gen X, with your middle child syndrome, I have a blog in mind especially for you and the challenges you face.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Who Gives a Flying Fandango?

I know, I know, I have been absent from my blogging for YONKS!  But my mate Sherrill inspired me with the blog she wrote  yesterday so I thought it was time I had a go again!

So, here goes:

We've all got at least one (well those of us on Facebook but there’s plenty in real life too).  You know those people who thrive on drama and love being the victim.  Everyone is out to get them, to judge them, to gossip about them.  And you read it (or listen) and roll your eyes and say to yourself “who gives a flying fandango?”  Well my language is usually a little more colourful (sorry Dad).  But you all know what I’m talking about don’t you?

The concerning thing is however, is that sometimes I think that the Australian farming community is turning into one of those people.  Now for all of you puffing up your chests in indignation “calm your farm” and hear me out.

I think it’s great that there are so many farmers out there in the general public working to get their message out there.  But maybe we need to stop and think about what message that is.
Only a very small amount of the general public is against us.  It might seem like a majority, they will tell you it’s a majority but I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Not too many give a flying fandango.

Australians hate whingers.  They hate people playing the victim; they turn away from people with a bad attitude.  They switch off to those who think the world owes them a living and that they have it tougher than anyone else.

The Australian general public (who by the way should be our target audience and not the very small minority of people who have their minds and hearts shut off to us) do however love people who can take the mickey out of themselves.  Those of us who are going through tough times but can still grin and have a laugh at our own expense.  And they love the underdog.  Those of us who will pull ourselves up by the bootlaces and have a go.  Those of us that despite all odds we still do our best.

Think about how YOU want the Aussie general public to think about you?  Do you want them to pour vitriol and scorn on the farming community?  If so, keep up the swagger about how without farmers the world will end (without a lot of professions the world would be a struggle for us first world people, even farmers).  Keep on telling people to shut up, they have no right to say what happens in how their food/fibre is produced.  Imagine if we approached our child’s teacher about a concern and they told us to shut up, they've been teaching for so x amount of years and we have no say.  We’d flip them the bird if not physically at least mentally.  Just because they've had x amount of years experience doesn't mean they shouldn't take feedback on board.  A good teacher would listen to your concerns and then explain WHY they do things.  Farmers should be the same.

Do you want people to pity you for the rest of your life?  Keep on saying poor me, poor us, nobody loves me.  That turns into scorn pretty quick.
Or do you want the general public to understand and support you?  So that if they do have a concern they can approach you knowing that you won’t laugh or ridicule them?  So that if someone says something crap about you, the general public has faith in you?  I know farming is not all giggles and rainbows, some pretty crap stuff happens.  It does to everyone.  So that’s okay to show people the bad side, but let people know that you’re tough and will carry on the best you can with a smile.  But don’t always make it about the bad side.  Because we want the Aussie General Public to see our Facebook pages, blogs and videos and go “WOW, I didn't know that about our farmers, how awesome is that!?”  and not an eyeroll with “who gives a flying fandango?”

To find out more about getting YOUR positive story out there, check out Ask An Aussie Farmer's new initiative Cultivating Connections.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Our Beef With Untruths

 So I'm sitting here on a cool winter morning, procrastinating on Facebook as usual, when a friend posted this video:


For those of you who don't know (and I didn't know until this morning either) that The Gentle Barn is a sanctuary farm on the outskirts of Los Angeles, California. They have over 160 animals on just six acres.  They "rescue" farm animals (claiming most of them are starved, tortured, abandoned or from "backyard butchers").  They then ask for donations to help with the feeding, medical expenses and upkeep of animals.  I must admit they seem to do fantastic work with disadvantaged and special needs children.  I take my hat off to them for doing such outstanding community service for the children AND animals.

But why does this have to come at the expense of accuracy?  Why do they feel the need to blatantly condemn other professions such as farming?  Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

This is what they say on the Website (http://www.gentlebarn.org/index.php) about this cow Karma:  Karma was rescued from a cruelty case where she had no food, water, or shelter, and enormous stress. We were able to save her two sons as well, and she is an excellent mom. Now their every need will be taken care of. 

So a group of rural men and women who live and breathe cattle watched this video expecting to have our hearts broken about this poor tiny baby calf, starving cow and magical reunion.  Instead we sat there in disbelief, indignant that a cause as great as The Gentle Barn could blatantly make up the story for their own purposes.  

We put together a few of these points:

·       The website claims she had no food/water and was under incredible stress where she came from.  She’s looking like she’s in fantastic condition for a cow that hasn’t been fed or watered as well as feeding a large calf.  She looks to us like she’s had ample food.  Also Karma was rescued in November 2008 and Governor Schwarzenegger declared a drought state of emergency in February 2009.  She was only removed from the “cruelty case” the night before.  She’s obviously been well fed in a state that’s been drought declared. 
·       If cows are under considerable stress, they will not continue to produce milk.  Karma had plenty of milk.  If she didn’t she wouldn’t have had leaky udders and would have weaned her calf long before this video was taken.
·       It astounds me that people who take in these animals can’t read the easiest signs about them.  The narrator of the video claims that they had no idea the cow had a calf. To anyone that has half a clue about cattle it would have been obvious that she was lactating.  Even if her udder had recently been sucked out, it would have been obvious by the shape and texture of her teats.
·       Speaking of reading obvious signs, it turns out 8mths after her rescue; the owners of The Gentle Barn went to lock her up one evening to find a hoof protruding from her.  Yes, Karma was calving and they had no idea she was even pregnant, something which should have been very noticeable.  Karma would have had to get in calf before she was “rescued” (cattle have a nine month gestation period), something she wouldn’t have done if starved, dehydrated and stressed.  Karma would have found it quite hard to sustain milk for Mr Rojas (older calf) and carry Surprise (new calf) without extra care (which she wouldn’t have received as they did not know she was pregnant).
·       Our guess is judging by the size of the calf shown that it was being weaned by the previous owner.  Something that is done by all farmers for good animal welfare.  If the calf is not separated from its mother by a certain time the mother will wean the calf naturally by kicking it in the head every time it tries to suck.  I would have thought people at The Gentle Barn were going to have to separate the calf in the not too distant future to stop this happening.  By re-introducing the calf to the mother it’s just drawn out the process. Under the clip, a comment asks why the man didn’t carry the calf.  The Gentle Barn replies that the calf weighs around 300lbs (approx. 126kg) so is too heavy.  A calf that size and in that condition would be most capable to survive without its mother’s milk.  After further reading it turns out that Mr Rojas was never weaned by the Gentle Barn, putting him at risk of injury and putting undue physical strain on Karma.  Also in several blogs written by The Gentle Barn, they say Karma and her “tiny” baby Mr Rojas. The  Mr Rojas in the rescue video is beyond tiny.
·       Karma has just been moved to a strange environment and put in with strange cattle.  She will be bellowing as much for familiarity as for her calf
·       The video claims that Karma tries to break down the pasture fence.  She’s not in a pasture; she’s in a pen with hard dirt ground and artificial shelter.  From what we can see Karma and the other cow don’t even have a bale of hay to graze on as is a cow’s natural behaviour.  Looking at other animals, they are in the same sort of environment.  160+ animals on 6acres is quite intensive.  I’m wondering if they have any vet checks or at least someone well practiced in dealing with animal health on board?  Probably not if they didn’t realise Karma was in calf.  If that was a working farm and had animals at that density there would no doubt be an uproar.
·       The calf is obviously not halter broken.  You can’t just put a calf on a lead and expect it to follow.  You’re better off pushing it than pulling it.  Another thing that I’m astounded by these people not doing.  Pulling on that calf would have been unbelievably stressful for it.  I know their hearts are in the right place, but honestly? Calves are no different to foals or puppies when being taught to lead.
·       The calf is in great condition.  He has ample fat around his brisket or dewlap (the fold of skin under its neck.  If it was starving, it would not be so full looking).  It’s not falling over because he’s weak.  He’s throwing himself down just like a reluctant toddler, simply because he’s sick of being dragged around.  Being away from his mother for one day would not have caused such weakness. Also if cattle collapse from weakness, their front legs buckle and they go nose first.  Not flip themselves on their sides like in the video.
·       If he was that weak, he would have been easy enough to carry with two people, he would not have put up much of a fight.
·       Why not back the trailer into the yards, so they could let the calf walk out by itself and not go through the stress of being dragged around?
·       This wasn’t said on the video but I’m sure a lot of people look at the end bit and say “oh look, the poor little baby is crying because of what’s happened”.  Newsflash: cattle don’t cry with emotion.  They can’t wipe their eyes out with their hooves like we can with our fingers.  So their eye watering mechanism is really touchy.  Poor calf probably had heaps of dust it his eyes from throwing itself down in the dirt so his eyes were watering to clean out.
·       Another comment under the clip on YouTube asks about dairy to which The Gentle Barn answers “have you tried soy”.  No mention of the huge environmental and health problems with soy. But according to any Animal Rights groups, dairy calves are taken from their mothers from birth and slaughtered very young.  To us, Karma doesn’t even look like a dairy cow.

You’re probably wondering what a beef farmer from North Queensland is doing writing about a sanctuary in California.  It’s because this type of farming misinformation is so common these days that someone has to stand up and say “hey, that’s not right”.  Before the world thinks that whatever is written by animal rights groups is gospel.

As I said before, The Gentle Barn does some great work, but why portray something so inaccurately? Is it because they simply don’t know any better (one would hope not though, if they have so many animals in their care surely the above is obvious) or is something far more sinister….. Like never let the truth get in the way of story which will raise you money.

About an hour after I wrote this, some further information about the Gentle Barn came to my attention.  Seems my gut instincts may be right.  This is an extract from one of many comments (mostly negative) about the running of The Gentle Barn (you can view them all here) : Further, while many of the animals came from neglected and abused backgrounds, many others have not. However, they use all of the animals in their campaigns to gain sympathy and more donation dollars with "rescue" or "neglect" stories that are simply untrue; deceiving the public further.

I also found a photo of Karma and Mr Rojas after rescue:  

To my mind this is a different Karma to the one in the video, she seems in worse condition in this photo than what she is in the video.  She was rescued in November 2008 the video not uploaded until April the next year.  So did they take this photo when they first rescued her and take the video later, causing stress on mother and calf for their own purposes?  Or did they take the video straight away and this photo later showing Karma in worse condition for being at the Gentle Barn?

I find it very disappointing that organisations that have the capacity to do so much good find the need to “expand on the truth” to simply get the public’s heartstrings going and wallets open.

Our endeavour is one of awareness, while many organisations are certainly genuine and worthy of our support, services and our money, there are some, even in Australia, that initially portray themselves to have sound moral ethics but upon closer inspection choose to manipulate the truth to serve their own purpose and often hidden agenda