Jessica in Australia December 4, 2017 20:06 4 Comments

I have been in Western Australia for about three months now. I have enjoyed learning about the differences of farm life between Australia and Canada and discovering the many similarities. I am living and working on a farm located two hours north of Perth near the town of Moora. This opportunity was put together through an organization called International Rural Exchange (IRE); the Canadian branch is managed out of Saskatchewan. They have many other branches located around the world including Austria, New Zealand, United States and Denmark. During the application process the IRE matches suitable trainees (me) with the appropriate agriculture related work experiences anywhere they have an office. Many of the different countries have different style farms or agriculture operations. In my application I requested a farm with mixed operations in either New Zealand or Australia.


Thunderstorm over the farm

The family I am staying with has a cattle feedlot where they fatten a mix of cattle breeds and ages for direct sale to the abattoir. Most of these cattle come off the northern cattle stations and are assumed to be a little on the wild side. After all, they may see people and fences three times a year and only the smart ones survive the feral dogs, droughts and intense heat of the northern region of Western Australia. Part of my responsibilities include mixing up a feed ration to feed the cattle in the feedlots, twice daily. I help process new ones that come into the feedlot and then weigh and sort the groups that are sale ready. Another task I have is taking care of calves. Fresh baby calves appear quite regularly from cows that hardly have enough milk to support a calf. Their lack of milk is due largely to breeding and environmental factors. These calves are taken off their mothers to a cleaner grass pen where they have lots of shade and I get to bottle feed them. It is a gong show trying to keep anywhere from 8 -10 calves drinking their own portions and not just sucking on your leg!

The family also runs about 2000 merino ewes that they cross breed to white suffolk rams. This arrangement allows them to produce the highly demanded merino wool as well as contribute to the lamb meat market that Australia is known for. I have been shown how to herd a mob of sheep as well as how to give vitamins and vaccines to each lamb. This past winter has been more dry than usual and the farm had to do some serious analysis to make sure they had enough forage to feed the sheep through the summer. The weather gets so hot and dry that all the grass goes dormant; usually by late October. Therefore all the feed they right now will have to last until next May.

Australia_Merino x Suffolk sheep

Merino cross Suffolk Sheep at a feeder

The month of October was dominated by putting up oat hay. The crop growing season is during the winter months which is between June and August. Australia has exactly opposite seasons to Canada. This means it is getting hotter here while it is getting colder over in Alberta. I know everyone at home is shivering, shovelling the early snow falls and likely jealous of me enjoying the nice warm weather but... have you ever wrestled a group of 200 lambs into a trailer in 36 degree heat?! Trust me, you can hardly drink enough water and find enough shade to make it through the day. I have officially decided my optimal operating temperature for farm related activities can not exceed 26 degrees. And it’s not even hot here yet! In the height of summer (December to February) to can get up to 47 degrees Celsius.

On my days off I have been doing some solo adventuring. I have been to the couple local national parks and nature reserves. It was wild flower season! There was an incredible amount and variety of plants flowering; the colours and textures were amazing. I have also been to the beach and adventured around a few beach towns and as well as the the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. They are an incredible geological feature in the sand dunes near the west coast.

Jessica visiting Australian parks

Selfie with the Pinnacles

I have been having a great experience so far and I already know it will be 6 months of my life not easily forgotten. However, I am still missing friends and family at home and will be happy to return to Alberta in April.