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My Aussie Farm Stay

My Aussie Farm Stay

Jessica with a lamb during shearing

Lambs

One-day-old twin lambs

Credit: Jessica Crisp

Pippy Longstocking

Pippy Longstocking, the rescued lamb

Credit: Jessica Crisp

Cattle branding

Getting the cattle in ready for branding

Credit: Jessica Crisp

Cattle branding

Dehorning the cattle

Credit: Kirsti Taylor

Sheep shearing

Sheep waiting to be shorn

Credit: Jessica Crisp

Sheep shearing

Shearing the sheep - a good example!

Credit: Jessica Crisp

Sheep shearing

Me giving shearing a go - it's not as easy as it looks!

Credit: Kirsti Taylor

Spinning wool

I learnt to spin wool. It wasn't easy but I eventually got a ball of wool

Credit: Jessica Crisp

Ducklings

Just five of the duckings. There were over 40 at one point!

Credit: Jessica Crisp

Handmade soap

I also learnt to make my own soap. I can't wait to use it once it has dried out

Credit: Jessica Crisp

The property

Just a small part of the property, it was stunning.

Credit: Jessica Crisp

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By Green Lifestyle's staff writer, Jess Crisp

The smell of burning, the sound of horns crunching and the feel of a calf’s hot breath on my legs. Marking and castrating cattle was not what I had expected when I signed up for a three-month farm stay near the border between NSW and Queensland.

While I experienced every emotion from shock to surprise, I learned an awful lot and my eyes were opened. I even questioned some of my own opinions.

Armed with a syringe the size of a huge texter, it was my job to ensure each calf received a vitamin shot. Around me, the men worked quickly to punch a hole in each ear, pierce a tag though one ear, cut off horns with what I can only describe as a giant cigar cutter with handles, and castrate bullocks. It all seemed pretty brutal at the time, and the calves seemed uncomfortable and distressed while in the cradle. However, with at least three of us working to get everything done as swiftly as possible it was over pretty quickly. The owners were conscious to keep the cattle as calm as possible, with one even ‘whispering’ to them and playing with their ears as a means of reassurance. But this was the one job on the farm that never gets easier.

Sheep shearing is the topic on everyone’s tongues at the moment after PETA’s most recent film. Yet, my experience was the complete opposite. While it could well have been a stressful experience for the animals, the shearers worked efficiently and carefully and treated the animals with respect. Out of 1,200 sheep, only three needed a couple of stitches, and lambs were kept with mothers the whole time.

Seeing how terribly fly-strike affected one sheep made me realize how important the shearing, and also the earlier crutching process is. It was the most heartwarming thing to see how thoughtfully that tough farmer cared for the fly-struck ewe until it was well enough to back into the paddock.

I was also lucky enough to learn to spin using some spare wool. It was fun to try a new skill, but a word of warning for the keen: it’s not the easiest of pastimes!

Also rewarding, was seeing how the owners coped with orphan lambs. Just before leaving the farm, we found a day-old lamb near the house whose mother was not producing enough milk. We took the lamb in, fed it a special formula four times a day and walked it round the garden to meet the peacocks until we could find a surrogate mother. I named her Pippy Longstocking for her black socks and fighting spirit. I was also told about one instance where the owner was looking after 20 lambs at once; that’s pure dedication.

Ultimately, living on a livestock farm, we ate a lot of meat. Prior to arriving, I was considering giving up meat for ethical reasons, but after seeing how well the animals were treated over the three months, my views changed slightly. Seeing the chickens, ducks and turkeys have free-reign over the garden and producing up to 18 eggs a day was a refreshing sight. Whenever I ate pork, duck, lamb or beef, I knew exactly where it had come from, I knew what the animals had eaten, the space they had and the care they received. It was certainly not the factory-farmed meat that is otherwise prevalent across Australia – this was locally-produced, ethical nourishment. While I could not bring myself to be there for the slaughter, I was OK with preparing and eating the meat. That was because I knew the meat was good meat and I felt satisfied the animals had lived a good life. The owners really did care and that’s just one thing that I will always remember about that small farm.