I am finally connected to the world again! I have now been in Australia for almost 7 weeks and at the Dairy in Millmerran for 3. The time has flown yet it also feels like a long time ago that I saw everyone at home. It’s great to be finally settled somewhere, it certainly doesnt feel like we have been for 3 weeks. The farm we are on is called Lemontree Feedlot. There are 1560 dairy cattle here and about 300 beef cattle. There are four houses on the property, one of which the owner lives in and another our manager Lisa lives in. She is lovely, only 25 and always very busy but great to work for. Our house (which everyone calls the ‘donga’) is also on the property. It looks rather like a static caravan but bigger and although not luxirious it is not bad at all. We live with 2 German guys, Henrik and Florian who have a bedroom each and Stacy and I share the third room. Its certainly better than some of the places I lived in in Leeds.
For our first couple of days here Stacy and I worked in the calf sheds. We still help out there now and then if some of the four women who work there are off. The calves are taken from their mothers at birth and put into hutches on their own. They are bottle fed at first and then are taught to drink from troughs which are basically small buckets with teets attached. They stay in the hutches for a week and then move outside to individual pens. After a couple of weeks they then go back indoors into bigger pens where there are usually about 10 calves. They are gradually weened off milk onto solid food and when big enough the females go into pens with the dairy cattle. Males are sold. Working with the calves basically involves feeding them all, most are fed twice a day with the exception of those less than a week old. The sheds are then cleaned out. It sounds easy but can be very frustrating as the new-borns never want to suck off the bottles or troughs so it takes a lot of patience. Working with the calves usually fills a 12-hour day. They are cute though!
Our usual work is in the dairy. It’s easy but not particularly pleasant. The Dairy operates for 24 hours a day, there are three 8-hour shifts. Each cow has to be milked 3 times throughout the 24 hours, once in each shift. I work from 6am to 2pm. I will attempt to explain how it works... basically the cows are divided into herds based on the amount of milk they give. We work in the ‘pit’. Its a walk-way with raised platforms either side. We have to get the cows into a row along these platforms so they are stood with their heads facing away from us. There are gates (called ‘bails’) which keep the cows in place. When the row is full we walk along the pit and spray the cows teets with iodine. This acts as a disinfectant. Another person will then walk along and dry the teets to remove as much iodine as possible because if anything gets in with the milk it affects it’s quality and thus the price the milk company will pay per litre. Finally we have to put cups on the teets which use suction to stay attached and take the milk. The cups automatically detach themselves when the cow is out of milk.On average I would think each cow produces about 10 litres of milk each shift with some giving as little as 3 litres and others giving upto 22!! Before the cows can leave we spray their teets with iodine again to stop them from contracting any infections and then we raise a barrier that keeps the cows in the bails and they walk out. Each shift has a ‘stockie’ who gets the cows from their pen into the dairy and puts them back once they are milked. At the end of our shift we have to clean down the dairy and the cups are put on an automatic wash to keep everything clean and hygenic. It’s also important for us that things are kept clean because the cows are constantly excreting everywhere! There is a trough that is supposed to catch most of the wee/poo however a fair amount of it goes onto the floor of the platform, onto the cups and on us! We leave the dairy every day with poo on our faces and in our hair, it is gross! Every time I happen to end up getting flicked by a cow’s wet tail or poo drops on my wrist as I’m putting the cups on I am momentarily disgusted but we are getting used to it and everyone just laughs about it. It probably sounds crazy to you because I dont think I would ever have even thought twice about taking a job like this at home but the pay is excellent, I earnt about $1300 in my first two weeks and thats after tax which I can claim back when I leave. The people here are really nice too. There are always people about, it’s like living in a little community. There are plenty of staff doing odd jobs, as well as those working at the dairy and with the beef cattle.
We live near a small town which we can get to by taxi for $20 which isnt too bad between us but we have also easily been able to get lifts and once we were even able to borrow someones car!
The other staff here are also keen to socialise which is great as the work gets rather monotonous after a while. I do sometimes find myself missing using my brain and initiative - everything in the dairy is so repetitive! In our first week it was Henrik’s birthday so we had a few drinks at the donga after work. Last weekend a small group of us went into Toowoomba for Chris’s birthday. He is an English back-packer who has worked at the Dairy for 2 months. He wanted to go clubbing which is why we went into Toowoomba, the nearest big town. Unfortunately people had to drive because it’s about an hour away but I had a good time. It brought back memories of Leeds! On Friday we are having drinks and a BBQ at the donga for Stacy’s birthday which I am looking forward to as its convenient and I have Saturday off!
In other news there were thunderstorms here yesterday. Its the heaviest rain we have seen yet and Stacy and I had planned to go into town. It was our first official day off together. Stacy works on the afternoon shift, 2pm-10pm so I am usually in bed by the time she gets home and she is usually asleep when I get up. Unforunately she was ill for a few days last week and had to take time off work so we did actually see more of each other. It’s her birthday today so we went into town and bought a laptop for her (which is why I am now able to use the internet!) and made chocolate cupcakes. I also joined the library. There is not a lot to do when we are not working so I am reading a lot. Although we have a reasonable selection of TV channels and spend most of our free time eating and sleeping!
Stacy and I have also made a vague travelling plan and are hoping to leave here on the 1st March. I should be able to access the internet regularly from now on so will reply to your emails/facebook messages in due course. I will also put some pictures on facebook soon and then my description of our work in the Dairy might make more sense!
Its great to be back in touch with everyone! I expect lots of emails to hear what you’ve been upto in my 3 week absence!