Over the past few months I've filled out a lot of volunteer applications. Most of these applications are in small towns or rural areas and so I usually take the extra time to mention that Matthew and I had rural experience and an agriculture background. I sometimes threw in the fact that I practically grew up on a farm, just so people understood where we were coming from.
It wasn't until we got to Chris and Neville's that I realized there was a difference between my version of “I grew up on a farm” and other people's expectations of “I grew up on a farm.”
Let me explain.
Other people's expectations when I say I grew up on a farm: I know how to drive a tractor. I regularly check cattle and know how to tag them, brand them and turn a bull into a steer. I am also an open book on the amount of acres my father has, what he grows, how many head of cattle he has, what breeds he raises and why.
What I mean when I say I grew up on a farm: I actually grew up in town but I spent most weekends on the farm, where along with my cousins, we would jump across hay bales, swim in a horse tank and spend countless hours digging through the junk pile. I am an expert on all of my grandmother's recipes and I can find wild kittens easily. I also know that if boys pee on an electric fence it will shock them.
On Friday Chris and Neville began quickly running through the operations of each tractor (yes, there were multiple small tractors that I was expected to drive) and then followed up by casually asking me if I could go tag baby calves later. Naturally, I smiled and nodded, hoping silently that they wouldn't realize how clueless I was to everything they were talking about.
That afternoon I finally got the jillaroo experience I had been hoping for. Matthew, Chris, Neville and I mustered cattle. Apparently “muster” is the aussie term for “herding” cattle. We basically just moved forty head from one paddock (pasture) to another, but somehow this took all four of us and two hours worth of work. We also used two quad bikes, a buggy cart and two dogs.
Basically the four of us started out at the far corners of the paddock and then slowly, as a team, we moved the cattle closer and closer together, until they made one single file line. I tried my hardest to both act like I knew what I was doing and anticipate what my next move should be. I wanted to be helpful and proactive before anyone had a chance to yell at me or point out what I was doing wrong.
First, Chris and I drove around the paddock looking for untagged calves. We found a few newborns and I watched as Chris held the calves and tagged their ears.
At one point it was my job to make sure the cattle turned a corner and headed towards the new paddock. Chris was leading the herd and Matthew and Neville were following up at the back. I was in the middle, watching the curve. The first several cattle marched through the curve without a problem. I was enjoying myself. It felt good to be a part of the team. For some reason the song, “The farmer and the rancher should be friends” went through my mind and I couldn't stop it. I internally giggled and that's about the time when I lost control of the cattle. The heifer in the lead decided to turn in the opposite direction and the ones behind her panicked.
Just as I was about to step forward, Chris told me to step back. I wasn't sure what she was saying so I jumped back, causing her to reverse her directions. Eventually I understood that she wanted me to move forward and then to forget the cows that I had wandered off track. This confused me.
I felt the need to go after the wandering cattle, yet I was told not to worry about them, so I didn't. Instead we maintained the rest of the herd. I walked in between Neville and Matthew on the quads and made sure everything went smoothly. I wasn't sure if I should be embarrassed by my mistake or if it was so common of a thing that it wasn't a big deal, either way everyone seemed to be moving right along without much afterthought so I did the same.
After two hours of work, we had successfully mustered the cattle and all was well. I guess maybe I should stop telling people I grew up on a farm, just to be on the safe side.