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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

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Roly: We used to import semen from overseas and that sort of thing.

Fay: We actually had an import licence.

Roly: Never brought a new beast onto the property. The only way we brought new blood into them was to bring semen from overseas, over in Canada and England.

Fay: America.

Roly: America, yes. We bred up a beautiful herd of cattle.

Fay: The thing is, once we got Johne’s in, we’ve got no idea where this Johne’s came from. They reckon we bought cattle in with it, but that wasn’t the case.

Roly: Do you know anything about Johne’s Right. It was a digestive condition that the cattle have.

Fay: It’s more or less a bug in the intestines, and it just causes diarrhoea. The cow doesn’t, feed just goes straight through her. She doesn’t digest it like she should, and of course they lose condition and they die. So that’s with the Johne’s. They reckon one of ours tested with Johne’s, but yet we never lost a cow with Johne’s, so I don’t know whether or not.

Roly: Well, how that came about, we sold six cows to a chap out the other side of Nimbin, and he took them out there as breeders. They were running in pretty hard paddock, the country that he put them onto. They calves, and of course having the calves pulled the cattle down in condition, and there was one there in particular, he thought, ‘Oh, I won’t muck about. I’ll just send it through the saleyards.’ Right. He did that, her and the calf. Somebody else bought it and she went onto another hard property, and she ended up that she got to the stage where I think she died.

He got in touch with the Government Vet. The Government Vet came out and did a PM (post mortem) took the sample back to Wollongbar, and anyway, their sample revealed that she had Johne’s. They’d tracked her back to our property, and when they did that we were put under quarantine. It meant that all our stud cattle – we had that one that I told you won the Supreme Lismore—

Fay: She was worth $10,000. They went to meat value overnight.

Roly: Yes, all the Guernseys, all our stud cattle.

Fay: We sold nothing as stud cattle any more.

Roly: No, we fully quarantined.

Fay: Once you got that into it, they made it pretty hard to get out of it. I reckon there are two ways we could have got it. One of the neighbours used to buy old dairy cows to bring on to his property, and he had several cows die that just got scours and died after he’d bought them, didn’t know what was wrong with them. I’d say one of them could have had Johne’s, one of our cows picked it up from there.

The other way we could have brought it in was ibis used to fly in with mud all over their legs from other dairies, and they’d get into the calves’ trough, leave mud in the calves’ trough, and the calf would pick it up. That’s another way, I reckon, but anyway, I told the Department that. They would not have a bar of that. They reckoned that couldn’t happen. I can’t see any reason why it couldn’t. I reckon that’s the most logical way we got it.

Roly: Yes, so that was a big downturn.

Fay: So we lost a lot of money there.

Roly: I had 50 head of young heifers lined up ready to go up into Queensland—

Fay: Fifty of them.

Roly: Yes, fifty, and I had to squash that sale.

Fay: We couldn’t sell them. They tried every angle they could, the ones that were buying them, to try and get them up there. The Government wouldn’t let them go.

Roly: They reckoned at that stage Queensland didn’t have Johne’s, but the thing is, they did have it, but instead of quarantining all the herds that had it, what they did, if a cow showed up that she had it, they’d just send her off for the meat works and the rest of them would be clear. That was the way they were working the whole procedure up there.

Down here, our Government Vets, we had this – what did they call that?

Fay: Brucellosis, TB and then Brucellosis.

Roly: Yes. Anyway, they reckoned they’d got on top of that because that left the Government Vets without any work, because to keep themselves in a job they got stuck into this Johne’s, because they went round, they caught up with a few herds that definitely had it and—

Fay: The silly part of it was, they only tested the dairy herds, didn’t worry about the beef herds. There was just as much or more in the beef herds than what there was in the dairy herds.

Roly: They reckon the reason for that, the beef herds, there weren’t any studs around. They were just sending their cattle off to the meatworks in any case; whereas with the stud dairies, that meant that people were rearing stock that they were sending out everywhere to other areas. That was a different situation with the beef, so that’s why they didn’t worry too much about the beef. So that’s how we got involved with it. It was a big downturn as far as we were concerned, because of that.

Fay: But we never lost a cow on the property with it. There was one cow, they reckoned she had it, and we sent her through to the meatworks, and the meatworks said she didn’t have it. She went in, she was so big and fat when she went to the yards, she topped the yards for the day. It was a cow that supposed to have had Johne’s for the last six months, by the Government’s testing – so did she have it or not? No-one knows, but there was certainly nothing wrong with her when she was sold. She had to go through – the meatworks had to buy it, but there was several meatworks at that time that bid on them. Well, I don’t know which meatworks she went through.

Roly: They had to do it.

Fay: I’m not sure now, but anyway, she topped the sale for the cows in Lismore saleyards.

Roly: The thing is, it was costing us – what was it costing us per head to have them tested? We had to have a clear test for over three years, wasn’t it?

Fay: Something like that.

Roly: Well, about five dollars a head or something.

Fay: Now, another thing he did, when they came and took the test, now, you should never keep a test going in a laboratory if you’re testing for a virus or anything else, for more than three months, because they reckon once three months is up, it just, you know, becomes contaminated with other things in the laboratory. They kept ours going for six months before he said that cow had Johne’s. Now, Lynelle, she’s head of the Virology in the Hunter Hospital, so what she doesn’t know about it, no-one knows, and that’s what she said, that cow was not – she’d just become cross-contaminated. She said you can only keep it going three months. She said, ‘Once we’ve had something going three months, it’s time to see whether, you know, it is a positive. If you think it could be, well,’ she said, ‘that’s it.


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