Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Rancher's Life in Australia - guest post by Therese Johnston

I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains.
Of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons, I love her jewelled sea.
Her beauty and her terror, the wide brown land for me!

An excerpt from “My Country” by Dorothea Mackellar 1889- my favourite Australian poet

Our family and the Pratt family became friends in 2007. We were in the midst of a long Australian drought, our wheat crop was failing and we were offloading cattle as there was no feed. It was then that we began looking for an opportunity to experience life elsewhere for a while. Mark and Wendy offered us the amazing chance to live and work on Pratt Ranch while our own ranch healed. I am honoured to be a guest writer for Wendy’s blog and to share our story of a rancher’s life in Cowra, Australia.

Rodney and I live on the Johnston family ranch with our three daughters Anna (12), Kate (10) and Sophie (8). We are about 200 miles west of Sydney, over the Great Dividing Mountain Range which snakes its way down the length of eastern Australia. We have approximately 1500 acres which is an average sized holding for this area. I work in town each day as an elementary school teacher where our girls go to school. Rodney works the farm and we also own another business delivering milk products to schools, retail outlets, retirement homes etc in and around town. Life is full!

Our town of Cowra is in the Lachlan Valley which is primarily a sheep and cropping area. Farmers sow wheat, canola and oats in April/ May and then look for the winter rains from June to August. Harvest is usually in November/December. We have a mixed bag on our ranch, a couple of nearby dairies need good pasture for their heifers, so we offer agistment for these heifers and are paid a premium for weight gain. We also trade steers, with Angus cattle attracting the highest prices. We grow oats and alfalfa to ensure year round quality of feed.  Our business has changed significantly from 10 years ago, a more careful grazing and pasture management plan with a more holistic overall approach means that we can maintain production without the cost of expensive fertilizers and weed spraying.

If you stand on the highest point on our ranch you can see all that our valley has to offer. The Lachlan River is the defining feature of our landscape and the lifeblood of our community. It flows into Wyangala Dam about 30 kilometres upstream from town and from there water release is regulated to suit the environmental and farming requirements further downstream. You can see many productive farms along its length, ranging from alfalfa crops, vineyards, vegetable farms, livestock and many winter crops. As well as having a practical/commercial application, Wyangala Dam provides us with a summer oasis. Most weekends in summer are spent with friends, water skiing and enjoying the backwaters of this huge body of water. It is the place to be on a hot summer’s day and it was a fun place to camp with friends over the recent Easter break.

When I think about the similarities between the Australian and American rancher I think that we are all custodians of our environments, taking care to nurture what we have in order to manage the balance between income and stewardship. My family is lucky to have experienced ranching life in both countries, the common bonds of family, love, respect and friendship link us all. Spending 10 months with the Pratt family was filled with such wonderful experiences and memories that we are forever thankful. We forged lifelong friendships and bonds that we would never have found if not for the incredible generosity of Wendy and Mark, Callie, Seth, Anna, Anita and Gary, Bonnie and Aunt Anita.

                  - Therese Johnston

 Sophie, Anna, and Kate

Therese and Rodney

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