The first year on the farm was going well. We settled in and our son was enjoying the farm life. We learnt to deal with the isolation and learnt quickly that when the job needed to be done, we don’t work only until the sun goes down, we work until the job gets done. 2018 was really the year that got hectic for us. Matt was working off farm boilermaking a few days a week to make ends meet and I was pregnant with our youngest son. At this point I was carrying out most of the farm work while 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 months pregnant. I was delivering the eggs to Brisbane with a toddler (and a friend in the later months of my pregnancy in case I went into labour). I was doing as much of the farming as I could fit in without jeopardising the baby. Matt was then coming home after work and picking up the rest of the work that I couldn’t do. Fairly typical of a small farming operation and there are many like us that have worked to the bone to make their dreams a reality. 2018 was the year we met Drought Angels. They spent a few hours on the phone with me one afternoon while I vented about life and decided that we needed to make some changes. I wasn’t able to keep up with the farm work and have a newborn, not to mention what was I going to do in the post hospital stage? In the end that stage lasted 3 days for me in hospital and then another 3 at home before life recommenced. I don’t think I will ever forget Drought Angels rocking up one day ‘for a visit and to see my belly’ only to arrive with a ute FULL of supplies and food. Our eldest son was confused if this is what Christmas looked like this year!
2018 the drought was starting but it wasn’t the worst year we had, 2019 took the cake. We had a toddler, a 3 month old and our bore broke. It was a full replacement and without Drought Angels providing us with drinking water, I don’t know what we would have done. Our insurance assisted with replacing the bore but because we were fully in drought, the sheer number of people needing assistance with water and it being Christmas/New Year meant that we went about 8 weeks with no flowing water in our house. Toilets, showers, kitchen sink – it was all bucketed. Along with the water to the stock. Drought Angels drinking water was such a heavenly feeling over that period, it was one type of water to deal with.
I would say from that point on we settled into drought. Life was awful, we were going about $2000 a week backwards, but we were starting to appreciate and feel grateful for the things we did have – each other and a home. The bank was knocking regularly, but they had certain drought rules around repossessing farms trying to survive.
The next hurdle that we faced, and Drought Angels were there for the ride again, was our feed bill. The air was so dry, as were the paddocks, that we were struggling to keep the chickens producing. Keeping them alive and well is easy, it’s the egg production system that stops the second a chicken is stressed. We spoke to a consultant who helped us develop a wet feeding system. Essentially, we bought a heap of feed buckets and put 15kg of feed in each one and then topped them up with 15L of water. This was kind of like feeding them Weetbix and they loved it! It meant that all the food got eaten and they had a large amount of water to boot. From here, we then had to get on top of the feed account bill. At one point we were sitting at about $12,000 and adding to that weekly and had already taken an internet loan for $10,000 to get by after asking family if they would consider helping. Drought Angels help allowed us some breathing room – they had faith in us when I think even we didn’t. We sold a lot of equipment and implements from our Massey Ferguson and slowly but surely we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s been a big few years of recovering at Watson Family Produce and trying to continue to grow to reach a sustainable level. We are very fortunate that the product we produce (eggs) is always in style and that there has been high demand throughout Covid. We are also very fortunate to have dodged the fires and the floods. The farmers that have survived all those challenges are some of the toughest men and women I know.
Drought Angels call us periodically throughout even the last few years even just for a chat and a mental health check. The time and energy they have injected into our family business has been just as important as the money and donations they provide. They have helped point us in the right direction to get information and opinions we needed. They gave us perspective from the outside looking in, when it can be so hard to see the obvious choices when you are stuck surviving day in day out and we are incredibly grateful for the support we have received.
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