Tackling cattle & “contagious abortion”

WALPOLE WANDERINGS  by “Martingale”. As published in the Western Mail, October 3, 1946:

Down in the extreme south of the State among the heavily timbered forests of the karri belt, a number of dairy farmers are battling towards success against cruelly heavy odds—and making headway. When I visited Walpole four years ago I was appalled by the hideous ill-constructed hovels in which these people were compelled to live. I referred to them as “Slums in the Bush” – and they still stand as a lasting reproach to those responsible for this particular phase of our land settlement policy. Walpole was one of the Cinderella’s of our settlement projects— an infant scheme born after a painful and protracted labour in the depression years and grudgingly allowed to survive by succeeding foster-parents. About 15 years ago the settlers built shacks from corrugated iron and cut timber supplied by the government. They had to cut their own floor boards and make any additions such as verandahs and extra rooms.

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A beautiful Jersey herd on Mr. T.C. Cooper’s farm attracted much attention. He expressed the opinion that the Jerseys were the best breed for the hilly districts owing to their lightness and agility. He has some truly magnificent cows with vessels which would please the eye of any show judge and his production figures of 274lb. of butterfat per cow bore witness to the fact that they combined quality with beauty. An attractive concrete brick house was being built on the property and both Mr & Mrs Cooper had put in some strenuous work making the bricks using an old South African clay-brick machine which turned out the standard sized bricks. He said that their record tally was 510 bricks in one day but admitted that they were glad to slow down to an output of 300 on the following day. In view of the fact that the brick making had been carried out in addition to milking and tending the herd it was certainly a splendid performance and the new house which is being built with cavity walls should stand against comparison with any modern city residence.

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When we arrived Mrs Amos, garbed in gumboots and dungarees, was helping to yard the bull. Her husband admitted that she could handle him much better than he could and throughout the properties I found that the womenfolk were the mainspring of the industry. It was usually “Mum” who was called out to help yard the heifers as in most cases she had handled them from calves and was the only one who could get near them. These women are playing a splendid part and carrying out arduous and exacting work with a cheerfulness only equalled by their efficiency.

Incidentally, I should think that the Married “Ladies” Race at the local sports would be an event likely to put the Stawell Gift in the shade for all of them seemed to possess remarkable speed and amazing powers of endurance. For instance, when it was discovered that some of the heifers were away at the end of the pasture paddocks, Mrs Amos sprinted up an almost perpendicular hill with an agility which a mountain goat might well have envied. Anxious to be of assistance I tried to follow, but after stepping into a mud hole and sinking over the top of my gumboots I was well and truly in low gear long before reaching the top of the hill.

snaringSnaring the victims

With the heifers safely yarded it was necessary to “snare” them—a cunning little scheme which consisted of hanging a wide loop of cord on a nail in the fence and placing a tinful of food at the other side of the loop. As the unsuspecting heifer poked its head through the loop a sharp yank on the rope successfully lassoed it and it was dragged up to the bails to receive the hypodermic needle.

Rodeo stunts

On the neighbouring property of Bill Vigus we heard that Guernseys were definitely the best breed for the district and Bill has some remarkably fine specimens to support his contention. With Mrs Vigus putting up some good sprint records we managed to yard five heifers for vaccination. It was a large yard and the heifers were wild and exceedingly active. If a movie cameraman had been present he would have been able to film a rodeo which would have made the Calgary Stampede look quite a small-time affair.

The procedure was for all hands and the cook to drive the heifers into a corner of the yard then to rush in and attempt a flying tackle.

If one was fortunate enough to grab a horn with one hand and get the other thumb and forefinger in a bulldog grip of the nostrils it was fairly easy to hold the animal long enough for Cyril to administer the shot of Strain 19 under the skin of the shoulder. On the few occasions when I was able to obtain the desired grip I was usually too fully occupied to look behind me and had a few anxious moments especially as several of our most strenuous Wild West stunts took place on Friday the 13th.

Near miss

According to interested spectators I several times narrowly escaped a jab with the needle in a spot which would have made sitting down rather a painful process. Sometimes I missed putting the hammerlock on the heifer and did a few circuits of the muddy yard grimly grasping the brute’s tail, with my gumboots throwing up a bow wave like a destroyer. Judging by the way the scenery whizzed past on such occasions I should say that some of those yearling heifers would have extended Bernborough over a furlong or two.

Greatly to the disappointment of my colleagues I managed to hang on until the brute slowed down instead of flying off at a tangent and making the three-point landing in the mud which they were anxiously waiting to applaud.


A serious problem

In the evening after visiting a number of farms Mr Toop addressed a meeting of farmers in the Walpole Hall and gave an explanation of the use of Strain 19 vaccine for the control of contagious abortion. He said that he realised that the present visit was to some extent unexpected, but to carry out a large-scale programme of vaccination the full co-operation of stockowners would be necessary. He suggested that large numbers of heifers could be effectively treated about May of each year in view of the fact that mating usually commenced in June.

He explained that the Department’s policy was to carry out an annual vaccination of unmated heifers throughout the dairying districts of the State as with the small staff available this method was likely to give the best results.

Brucellosis or contagious abortion he explained was a source of loss to the dairying industry second only in importance to mastitis. Apart from the losses of calves, it was responsible for a considerable reduction of milk yield and in addition sterility resulting from inflammation of the womb was a common sequel to the disease.

Co-operation needed

He pointed out that the vaccinations were being carried out at a cost of 1/ per head of cattle treated, a fee which barely covered the cost of obtaining the vaccine from the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. The co-operation of stockowners in the direction of constructing suitable races and forcing pens at central points would not entail very much labour but would greatly facilitate the work of veterinary officers.

On the following morning Pat Burton guided us to other farms in the district. The heavy gales had blown down a number of trees across some of the bush roads and Pat gave a neat exhibition of log chopping in disposing of one of these en route to Butler Bros’ property. Con Butler is a Dutchman and showed me a number of photographs of his home farm in Holland which had been badly damaged by flooding during the German occupation. Some solidly constructed stockyards made our task a comparatively simple one and a number of heifers were treated before we moved on to Sep Sweeney’s farm. Sep, looking somewhat piratical in a red woollen cap, proved most co-operative and we were soon on the road again heading for North Walpole.

We paused for a “cuppatea” with Mr and Mrs Joe Lown. Joe is an ex-wheatbelt farmer from Xantippe and asked me to send along a cheerio to his old friend “Scrub Sciolist” a well-known contributor to these pages.

At our next port of call I was able to renew acquaintance with Mr and Mrs S Hatfield who staged a field day on their property during my last visit to Walpole four years ago. Syd Hatfield hails from Broome and he and Cyril Troop, who was stationed in the North-West for some years, were soon exchanging reminiscences of picturesque identities of the north country. There had been quite a severe blow through this property a few days before and a large tank had been carried about 400 yards into a creek while some enormous karris had crashed down on the pastures.

Production records

We called in at Mr Bill Wilde’s property at Hazelwood and saw a farm with an amazing production record. Over eight seasons an average of 303lb of butterfat per cow has been obtained on this property and in response to the appeal for more butterfat in 1944-45 Mr Wilde achieved the amazing output of 313lb per cow and 121lb per acre from his herd of Jersey-Guernsey cross cows which usually number about 24 milkers. After the corrugated iron shacks of the Walpole district, the “group house” on his property appeared quite a palatial residence.

And that’s where this story appears to end—rather abruptly! This post was adapted from a two-part article that appeared in the July 29 & August 5, 2015 editions of the Walpole Weekly. Thank you to Lee Hunter and the Walpole, Nornalup & Districts Historical Society for supplying it.

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