From the Saddle

Hayley Piggott is another one of those young things who live and breathe the farm. So young and so many important things to say

Confident you will enjoy the Hayley Piggott story……

Hello, my name is Hayley Piggott and I was raised on a cattle property in the Central Highlands of Queensland. I am the 3rd generation to be on the property after my grandfather drew it in a land ballot in 1964. Growing up I always enjoyed being on the property and helping my father with whatever he was doing which varied from cattle work on horseback to general property maintenance. It was not until my GAP year, following five years of boarding school, that I really developed a passion and love for what we do as beef producers. You can see for yourself what happens at our place here: www.aldingadroughtmasters.com  – just look for the ‘From the Saddle’ tab.

Who am I

A Typical Day on the Property.

A typical day varies depending on what part of the year it is. It’s not often that any one week of the year is the same as another, so I will give you a brief overview of our typical working year.

We are up with the sun (5am during summer and 6.30am in winter) to start our day’s work. Summer is branding season, so we rise at 5am to saddle our horses and go mustering.

Who am I (2)

Typically, down on the flat country, we bring in one paddock (sometimes two) of cows and calves a day. Drafting is done in the late afternoon so the cattle are not worked in the heat of the day. The next morning we brand and mother up the calves before breakfast. We take the cows and calves back to their paddock on the way to get the next mob.

Up the back, in the mountainous country, we camp in a shed for a week, three times a year, on stretchers in our swags! A generator runs the fridge and lights in the morning and at night. Our meals (breakfast and dinner) are cooked over a fire. Breakfast consists of steak, eggs, baked beans, toast and nice warm mugs of black billy tea. Nevertheless, there are jobs to do…no sitting around enjoying the morning sun. Lunch and smoko (morning tea) must be packed (wrapped in newspaper to go in saddlebags), the dishes washed and the night horse caught to run the workhorses in. For dinner we have steak and rib-bones cooked over a smoky fire with the vegies (tinned peas, potatoes and pumpkin) boiled in Billies over the fire. After dinner the dishes must be washed (with hot billy water and detergent) before you can sit and relax by the fire.

Cooking Dinner

Water is heated, for bathing, in big paint 44 gallon drums sitting here next to the fire.

The warm water is then poured into the pull bucket in the shower- a 3-walled corrugated iron construction. It’s a “shower with a view”.

Camp

At night when we go to bed, there are lots of bush noises and smells. No city traffic roaring down the freeway or exhaust fumes out here. The sound of crackling fire, dingoes howling, curlews crying, cicadas and crickets vibrating, cattle bellowing, mozzies buzzing and an owl hooting merge into a nice harmony to put you to sleep. Wafts of campfire smoke and the smell of dew dampening grass and dried gum leaves create a perfume you wouldn’t find anywhere else. It is almost time to get up when the kookaburras laugh and other birds join. It’s nice to lie listening to the bush bird song while waiting for the sun to peak up over the mountains. During the day, when we are mustering, if we are lucky we get to see a brumby or two, perhaps a dingo and plenty of kangaroos!

Cows

Fat bullocks must be mustered too, and because they are full of feed and energy, they like to play. They like to gallop, buck and challenge each other, meaning we have to ride fast to bring the lead of the mob under control so they don’t lead the others astray. There is always that one bullock that wants to clear out, so, we have to wheel him in too! Luckily, we have dogs that watch for the bullocks that want to clear out and nip them back in if necessary! At the yards the best bullocks are drafted off to be trucked to market and sold – that’s how farmers make their money. They don’t get wages because they are self-employed and it is how you get the meat on your plate!

In dry weather, and always in winter, lick (mineral supplement) runs must be done weekly, from one end of the property to the other. This provides the cows with much needed minerals that they might not be getting from the grass. A 4WD Ute is loaded with a tonne of lick and taken to the various troughs. At the troughs, the bags must be split with a knife and poured into the troughs. The cows can hear our Ute and come running because they know we have lick for them.

In the past two years we had an abundance of rain, making the roads wet and boggy and the creeks flooded so we couldn’t do lick runs! The creeks raged full of water knocking trees down, washing over fences and even washing some cattle away, but we got most of them back!

After the floods, we get our “favourite” job of fencing (NOT!). To fix the fences we have to pull all of the debris (grass, logs and weeds) off the wire, before putting the posts back in the ground and re-attaching the wire to the posts! Sometimes, it is just the creek crossings, other times we have to fix the fences on the creek flats. It is hard work pulling the fences up, but it is such a great feeling, even with endless scratches and sore muscles, to see what you have achieved for the day.

Fence

In February, we plant oats for winter-feed. To do this we have to drive a tractor following a GPS to keep the rows nice and straight!

Bogged Tractor

Bogged tractor and plough – Sometimes the ground is wetter than initially thought.

In March, we draft and start preparing our stud bulls for our sale in September. They have to be kept in good condition during winter so they are ready for the sale in spring. This is my favourite part of the year – there is nothing quite so special as making friends with bulls that nearly weigh as much as a small car!! Some of them end up like real pets and follow me around like my dog does for a pat!

Me with Bull and hay

In May, calves are weaned from their mothers because the cows need a break before their next calf is born. We take the bulls out at weaning time too. This is called controlled mating because the bulls are only with the cows for a short period each year. So, during calving time, the calves are all born around the same time, meaning, when they are weaned they are all about the same age. We separate the calves from their mothers and take them back to the yards at the house so we can look after and educate them. Yes, they need educating too. They need to learn to fend for themselves. They also have to learn to walk together in a mob and learn that when the gate is opened they are expected to walk through it without rushing and stop when we want them to. Through this process, they learn to trust us and it makes working with them easier. I have heard of people singing to their weaners to calm them down in the yards.

In October, the bulls are put back with the cows, so that after the cows calve, the cycle can start again. While all of that is fun and exciting, there are other jobs to do as well. A fence or two might need fixing because a bull has decided to visit some cows in a different paddock. Our bores (our main water supply) might have problems and must be fixed very quickly because the cattle will run out of water and we will have no water at the house as living in the bush we don’t have access to town water.

Social Life in the Bush

Living in a “remote” area can have you thinking of the lifestyle as a lonesome experience. But, with social media like Facebook and Twitter it is easy to have a social life every day. Living in the bush is what you make of it. You have to take hold of any opportunities that offer networking opportunities and the chance to build friendships. We often have get togethers with neighbours. On top of this in our area there are numerous community groups; like footy, tennis and cricket clubs, clay pigeon and sporting shooters, dirt bikes and motocross as well as events like camp drafts, rodeos and bush races and dances and of course the annual agricultural show. As a child, I was a part of the swimming club and pony club, which allowed me to mix with people of a similar age in my district.

In the past couple of years, I have attended the Young Beef Producers Forum(YBPF) with other beef producers and young people involved in the industry from the ages of 18 -35. This was a great opportunity to broaden my mind on various topics whilst networking at the same time!

Networking at YBPF

Checking out some leuceana on a property tour during YBPF

Every year, YBPF is held two days before the Roma Races where many young people go to catch up with people that they haven’t seen in a while. Travelling to the Brisbane Ekka and Beef Week in Rockhampton are real social highlights. I can assure you life is not lonely in the bush, it is what you make of it, and there is plenty of fun to be had! We can also have fun without having to spend money with wide-open spaces and bushland to explore, and depending where you live an abundance of creeks to swim in!

On the topic of Sustainability

As caretakers of the land we are committed to leaving it in better shape than when we found it – and we know we can improve efficiency and reduce the resources we use on our property. For example we monitor our stocking rates so that paddocks are not “chewed out”, leaving them bare and exposed to erosion and woody weed growth. To control weeds in our pastures a cool burn is done in different areas every year. This encourages pasture growth, and prevents wild fires when it’s really hot in the summer.

Burning

The things that concern me

I am worried about the future of our best farming land in this country. It is under pressure from unsustainable mining and coal seam gas production. I am worried about our precious underground water supply being poisoned by fracking and what will happen when our minerals run out.

I am also worried about the growth in foreign ownership of Australian farms. Think about this figure: the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that 11% of Australia’s agricultural land (in real terms twice the size of the state of Victoria) is partially or fully owned by foreign interests (Nason, 2011) (www.beefcentral.com/p/news/article/600).

I believe the very future of our modern society is dependent on communities valuing what farmers do, and providing them with the resources to get on and do it in a way that not only meets the values and expectations of the communities which they serve but also provides a reliable income so our farmers can give back to the land and the livestock they love

My Future Aspirations

One day I hope to start my own Droughtmaster Stud and beef production enterprise, not only to carry on my family’s work, but because I believe the beef industry is a great industry to be involved in. I think the future of our industry is very exciting.

It can be all too easy to question why we do what we do in times of flood, drought, and situations like the Live Export Ban. These times make what we do challenging but more often than not lead to innovations and a renewed passion for what we do!

I have found the successes and opportunities far outweigh the negatives and help make the industry what it is.

My current goal is to finish my Agribusiness degree at the University of Queensland, Gatton.

One Last Thing…

Remember when you go shopping to look at the labelling to check where your food comes from. Will your purchase be helping an Australian farmer or sending money overseas?

In addition, when you are thinking about what you are going to when you leave school don’t forget about agriculture. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from! You just have to get amongst it and have a go; There are endless opportunities in agriculture for young people like you and me to get involved! Wouldn’t you like a backyard like mine?

NaturalBeauty

Follow Hayley on twitter @HayleyPiggott1

3 thoughts on “From the Saddle

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