Over the past two months (which seemed more like years), Farmer G, Rich and I (with help from Farmer J and Ed) have been demolishing and re-building the house cattle yards. I was going to call this post “It was the best of times, It was the worst of times” but then I realised that it definitely had not been, in any way, no matter how I spin it, the best of times. It has been, however, fairly representative of the worst of times. To put it into perspective, obviously this experience isn’t even a drop in the ocean of world hunger, disaster, poverty, or any of the other atrocities faced by many people around the world today. However, I involuntarily parted with many litres of blood, sweat and tears which, in my mind, warrants a post about what was achieved. In short, Pyramid now has a brand spanky new set of steel cattle yards. In long…..
THE OLD YARDS:
The original set of yards were hand built in the 1950’s using timber and held together with steel bolts and wire. As you can probably imagine, after being exposed to the weather and a good beating for 60 years, the old yards had become almost unusable due to rot and damage. For those of you who aren’t sure, cattle yards are usually one big fenced area connected by gates to many, smaller pens that are designed to filter thousands of cattle into small groups and eventually, individual animals. As the pens get smaller and smaller, the cattle filter into a drafting pen – a circle of gates which can be opened and closed manually from above (in what’s known as a crows nest) with a number of long steel rods. This allows you to ‘easily’ separate the cattle into the required groups by gender, brand, age or whatever. You can then send them through the dip or get them in single file for branding, ear tagging, castrating and things like that.
As you can imagine, this high concentration of cattle in such a small area puts huge amount of pressure of the fences and gates as apparently cattle don’t believe in queueing. “After you, Sir Bull, Madam Heifer”… more like ram, run in circles, stampede, kick, head but. For this reason, we used recycled steel railway line (from 1929), heavy duty steel pipe and steel cattle rail. As you can imagine, this involved a LOT of cutting, welding, angle grinding, melting, concreting, measuring, lifting, digging etc. In fact, It went a little something like this…
1. Demolish old yards with wire cutters, sledge hammer, chains, dozer and general brute force. Pick up and recycle/dispose of tons of wire and hundreds of fence posts and logs, 90% of which took all my effort to lift if I could even lift them at all. In 35-40 degree heat and relentless sunshine.
2. Measure, string line, mark and dig about 50, 3 foot deep post holes. Cut railway line (by melting it with oxygen and acetylene) and place in holes. Bearing in mind each one is far too heavy to lift by hand, not to mention far too hot to touch thanks to the bloody sun! This means, each one has to be cooled down with water (bucketed by hand) before you can wrap a chain around it and pick it up with the loader. Also in 35-40 degree heat and relentless sunshine.
3. Mix two, 50 pound bags of concrete with 200 pounds of sand and water then pour into hole, level and set, PER POST with one small mixer. For 50 posts, that’s a total of 5000 pounds of concrete, 10,000 pounds of sand and 100 separate mixes, not counting the ones we had to re-do. All shovelled by hand. In 35-40 degree heat and relentless sunshine.
4. Once the posts were in, all we had to do was measure out 2,500 holes and rail marks, blow holes through the steel with Oxy Acetylene, measure and cut about 80 sections of steel cattle rail and pipe, measure, level, hold and weld all the rail to the posts. We also pulled, cut, chained and secured, 20 steel cables running the perimeter of the yards. In 35-40 degree heat and relentless sunshine.
5. We measured, cut, placed and welded steel box to make 8 gates, hinged and hung them in the gate ways. In 35-40 degree heat and relentless sunshine.
During this time I ripped two pairs of jeans, got a third degree burn on my arm from getting it pressed against molton metal, burned all my finger tips until the skin peeled off by picking up rail that had been lying in the sun, got slapped in the chest and stomach (a few times) by the worlds springiest steel cable, bruised and cut my hip bone and wrist where a steel pipe fell on me and got heatstroke no less than five times. Now I’m not one to make a fuss, but did I once get an ‘are you ok?’ or ‘that looks like it hurt’ or anything like that? Of course not, I got a ‘bloody women’ eye roll and told to hold something. I cried probably about 3 or 4 times out of frustration, had a few secret tantrums and sweated more each day than I have ever sweated in my life.
Some brilliant cattle yards that could keep in several elephants, that will keep in several thousand cows, that will be there for the next 100 years, that I will never see again in my life once we leave here next month.
WHAT I LEARNED:
I was foolish to expect that my opinion, intelligence, or problem solving skills would be anything other than completely ignored for the first month of this project. It apparently takes three to four weeks of proving yourself before you are ‘qualified’ to use a tape measure or shovel sand into a mixer. For at least half of this project, I could easily have been replaced by a table. Not through lack of skills, willingness to help or effort. Though Rich and I had equal experience in construction work (not much at all) being male, he was taught how to drive the loader, use all the power tools and his opinion was trusted when solving basic problems. I, on the other hand, was allowed to stay out of the way and hold things that needed holding. I was allowed to dig holes (sometimes) unless one of the men needed the shovel I was using. The number of times I suggested something that was completely ignored, done a different way that turned out to be wrong and had to undo the mistake just to have somebody suggest the idea that I had suggested in the first place, is innumerable. Heavy lifting aside, had I been given even the smallest opportunity to prove myself I would have excelled at 90% of the tasks involved in this job, but I wasn’t. You can’t become an expert welder by being allowed to hold the box of electrodes. SO, What have I learned? If you are a woman and you want to do this kind of work, you better bloody love it or it just won’t be worth your while. This isn’t chivalry, it’s sexism. I don’t believe this was intentional, more an old fashioned, inherited point of view that they have never ‘wasted’ 5 minutes re-considering. For the sake of my sanity, and to restore my faith in the human race, I have decided that I wasn’t allowed to do anything that required three brain cells or have an opinion because they all secretly know that within 5 minutes I would show them up and no respectable old fashioned farmer wants to be shown up by a woman. : P
MORAL OF THE STORY:
I feel like I could have been a whole lot more helpful if I had been given the opportunity. Such is life.