Using a mattock [a soil loosening instrument], I reckon, is a young person’s game. Well, it’s more suited to a younger bloke than me. I knew that before the water started pouring into the shed. I knew that last summer when my ambition to bury 100 metres of irrigation pipe ended up with about 20 metres under the ground and the rest kept cool by a simple covering of hay. And I knew it when it starting chucking rain again last week, and I had 20 metres of ag-pipe to lay, to run water away from the shed. Twenty metres, and a good 30cm deep trench to dig, to be sure the water would flow downhill.
30 May 2012 - 9:35 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Luckily, a younger bloke was there. Phil, my trusty sidekick, is faster than me with a mattock, and stronger than me with a spade. So a long, narrow, water-draining trench now stretches the length of our hay shed, protecting my tools, saving the hay, and leaving blisters where some fairly meek callouses once stood. What looked like a simple job for a couple of hours consumed the better part of our day, and the quoll’s share of my energy.

Winter, it seems, is coming fast to the farms. The south-facing paddocks at Puggle Farm are now mossy once again. At the big farm, they’re grassy but sodden. A bit over 200mm of rain over the last couple of weeks has sealed it. We won’t be dry again, not totally dry on that side of the property, until October. I don’t like driving on the paddocks too much, and at this time of year all, I leave is two trenches, deeper than one the ag-pipe lays in.

Luckily, the cattle have moved to the northern, drier side, and are busy chomping their way through some long, slightly overdue-to-be-devoured pasture. There are only 11 of them, and we could do with about 30 to really get the grass down. That’s a project for winter, when prices tend to drop and I get a little more time to research things. But livestock, particularly old or rare-breed livestock, can be a bit tricky to get on an island of such a size and small population. I’d be interested in Dairy Shorthorn. Or a young Guernsey heifer or house cow. Some more Wiltshire Horn sheep, perhaps, or an Ayrshire [cow] to milk.

Sadie tends to put the brakes on a bit. I have too many projects going already. I need to fix the chicken coop door. Mend the gate to the orchard. Finally split and stack the last of the firewood. Shower her with the attention she deserves. Parent more. Set up water in the top paddock. Fix the fences in same. And fit a new gate. Buy a new ute, so Hedley can ride with me on trips to the tip shop, the rural store, to town. To the big playground while still being productive.

I also need to sit down and work out how all these projects are going to pay for themselves, and how I’ll ever manage them in the long term. I was asked how I was going to cope with farming as I aged, by an elderly farming couple. Most farmers are older than my 46 years, though they have experience and practical skills on their side. Physical limitation is an issue for lots of people on the land; machines can only do so much.

Phil told me there’s a machine that could’ve dug the trench at the hay shed, just as we were knocking off for the day. I feel pretty good about having dug it by hand, I have to say, but I also feel just a little bit more tender and a lot older than my years.