Feed the Dogs
This is a simple tale set in farming country and has always made me smile. Maybe the dogs you’ll meet had a different view but the story has a connection to Christmas and we take this opportunity to wish you, one and all, a joyous festive season.
His folks had left the farm about the middle of this year, handing it to him to manage. His dad had a bad back, originally from shearing, and later from heaving wheat bags, while his mum had been diagnosed with kidney disease, and these days needed dialysis three times a week. She was on the list for a kidney transplant, so it made sense that they should move to Perth. After all, quite apart from the health reasons, they’d been married for forty years, all of it spent working the farm, where Cracker’s dad had spent his whole life.
He’d met and married Sally, Cracker’s mum, when she came to teach at the school in the town. And she’d loved the farming life, the cooking, milking the cows, and bringing up Don, Ashleigh and Cracker. So it was a bit of wrench for them both when it came time to go.
By this stage, Don had a Ph.D in conservation and worked for the state government in Kalgoorlie, while Ashleigh had married Tim, who ran a freight company and had moved to Perth. So it wasn’t a difficult decision about who would take over and manage the farm. And that was fine by Cracker. He loved the farming life and had a sort of sixth sense about what to plant or the number of sheep to stock. That intuitive strength, however, was balanced by a deficiency in organisational matters. His Mum diagnosed the deficiency as resulting from a one track mind: he could only focus on the one thing he was working on and everything else became unimportant or was forgotten. It had caused issues most of his life and it created this problem, too.
It was coming up to harvest time a few months after his parents had headed for Perth on their new adventure.
His dad told him, “If you need a hand any time, just give me a ring. It’s only a three hour trip and I’d enjoy coming up. So would Mum when we get her new kidney. And then we could go on to Kalgoorlie and see Don, Sheila and the twins as well.”
His mum hugged him, gave firm instructions about looking after the house, and then ordered him to make sure Muzzle, Stack and Ragbag, the three sheep-dogs were well looked after, particularly Ragbag, the Border Collie, her favourite.
Getting used to being on his own in terms of the farm and the house took Cracker a good deal of effort and concentration . With so many things to remember, he decided to look after the dogs differently. Bert Russell, who operated the school buses, was also the butcher. One of his buses passed the farm each weekday morning. So Cracker rang Bert and organised for his driver to toss a package of off-cuts and bones into the driveway to the farmhouse each Monday to Thursday morning and a double load on Fridays. Water wasn’t a problem: there was always plenty around the farm.
Things seemed to be going well. The crops were ripening nicely, lambing had been taken care of by early November, and the sheep were in the right paddocks for shearing early in the new year.
He got into the harvest in mid-November, often continuing at night to get the crop off and into the town bins, not wanting to bother his father who had enough to do with his Mum. And he finished it a few days before Christmas, the day his dad rang to remind him to get Gary Phillips to come and have a look at the repairs on the old shed that he’d mentioned as he left.
It was a very hot Thursday morning in December when Gary arrived, so Cracker wandered out to meet him and Dusty, his apprentice.
As they walked to the shed, Gary suddenly asked Cracker, “Why are the sheep-dogs all hanging around down at the front gate Cracker?”
Cracker grinned and explained his deal with Bert: a package of meat each weekday with a double load on Fridays to get the dogs through the weekend.
“What’s that, Gary?”
“Well, since last Friday , my kids have been on Christmas school holidays, so that means Bert’s buses haven’t been running for nearly a week. I’d say Muzzle, Stack and Ragbag must be pretty hungry by now mate, and ready to chew a couple of sheep each to make up for the shortfall.”