Pitter, patter of falling rain

Amid the blasts of winter weather, it’s calving time for the team, writes Gaye Coates.

In Home Block5 Minutes
Gimme shelter: New arrivals on the Coates farm.

Amid the blasts of winter weather, it’s calving time for the team, writes Gaye Coates.

LISTENING TO THE RHYTHMIC PITTER patter of rain on the roof is quite soulfully soothing from the vantage point of a warm bed and cosy blanket cocoon.

Ironically, it doesn’t quite have that same comforting effect when the drops gather cacophonous momentum, hitting with knife-like sharpness on taut, smarting cheeks before trickling frigidly down the front of an already sodden raincoat, the rest of the body trying to get the farm jobs done.

That was yesterday, a hearty 50mm drop in our annual bucket.

Today, the rain has been blown away quite literally, by 60kmh gusts of polar-laced easterly wind careering straight over the Southern Alps.

Overnight this bluster aggressively tugged at our roof and swayed the windows, the penetrating squeals sending me to the wardrobe to sleep, the blockade of clothes muffling the potential bedlam happening outside.

In daylight with the wind still shrieking and our bodies buffeted, this recount of closet cloistering brought the relief of laughter to the team. The milk tanker driver however, did not see the satirical humour in the obstacle course of randomly landed pallets and feed bins that challenged his entry to the milk silo.

I was just greatly relieved that these haphazard objects were blown and flown in place before anyone was about. Tomorrow it is forecast to be still and frosty. It is likely that the concrete milk tanker stand will be transformed to an ice rink for any unsuspecting team member striding off to tackle the next job on their list. Best I race off and find the hazard marker cone.

It is August and it is calving; a typically tempestuous mix. It is always a busy few weeks peppered with what I like to think is managed madness rather than disorganised mayhem. That said, it is the time of year when I would not want surprise visitors to arrive at the door.

The piles of unfolded washing (strategically hidden) and dishes “drip drying” (isn’t there research supporting tea towels to be unhygienic?!) certainly do not support that sense of order that is being constructed onfarm. Prioritise is the theme of these weeks.

In the 15 years since converting to dairy farming, I’ve never quite found a sense of kinship with the very beginning of calving. I find the initial period to be gnarly and uncomfortably stilted as the mind reboots itself to the seasonal procedures and the body readjusts to the pace of the physical jobs. Even the best-documented standard operating procedure seems several dimensions short of the reality of re-executing the actual task in the exact moment when it is needed.

Predictably and despite a winter service plan, the beginning inevitably has the occasional unexpected breakdown as equipment and machinery restart for the season, usually on the busiest day of calving and involving the most essential piece of machinery needed that day. Gnarly is nowhere near descriptive enough when that happens.

This year there really hasn’t been the time to loiter in that initial period of apprehension. The intensity of the beginning of calving has taken us somewhat by surprise and there has been no gentle start.

The plus side of this is I am quietly confident that we may have achieved a level of respectability in our progress towards achieving that coveted condensed calving pattern. And while there have been a couple of notable breakdowns, I have been reminded of the immense value of having a “village” behind us; part of which are those essential service people who absolutely understand the need to urgently get us back up and running.

At the centre of our farm community and the bit that keeps me going in those first weeks is a fabulous team of staff who despite high winds, driving rain and some frenzied days, turn up to work and over and above the physical tasks, they give support, comradery and humour to make those gnarly first weeks more than a bit less difficult. Thanks Team.