Snow dusts the crest of The Giant and a waterfall of cloud spills from the top of the Range into the Valley beneath; a day so spectacularly beautiful after a weekend of rain that it is as if someone has hand washed the emerald and cobalt surrounds and hung them out to dry.
The November Sale may be over but the turning cogs of time merely reveal the start of the next prep. as two stable blocks fill with yearlings heading for National Sales selections, their heads adorned with new dark green halters. The whinnies that emanate from the stables are shrill as the youngsters struggle to come to terms with four walls and their best mate now being next door.
Their 2 yo companions - some of whom clients have sent home for light work after their Ready to Run preparations - suddenly look a whole lot older.
“I just close my ears,” Tarryn says when I mention the rise in decibels across a landscape which is renowned for its tranquility.
For a moment it is as if I am back in Australia more than a decade ago when the weanlings were separated from their mothers and stables were over run with frantic calls for the 24 hours it took them to acclimatize to the next stage in their lives.
But weaning is still months off; today it is a morning meeting finishing early which allows me an hour to go and watch the stallion team at work (pondering as always whether this particular conception will herald tomorrow’s Champion); then on to watch the cattle get their annual ‘Quarter Evil’ vaccines.
The somewhat bemused eyes of the Zulus observe my painstaking progress towards the crush, RM Williams boots finding little grip in the going. The words “couldn’t you have chosen a day with less mud?” escape my lips before I can stop myself; I can only hope those who have been raised on the farm have some residual hope for me!
29 year old Barry Watson heads the Agric. Division, his second in charge the quietly spoken Bongane. Together they manage 23 staff, and 2600 acres which comprise 337 hectares under pasture, 62 hectares of Eragrostis Curvula [a species of Hay … yes, I had to ask how to spell it] and 60 hectares of maize. Close to 700 horses graze the paddocks along with 275 Black Angus cattle, and the maize supplies the property’s feed mill - VUMA.
As Barry wields a vaccination kit with a needle gauge big enough to make anyone feel faint, the heifers bellow in protest, the splatter of manure and slither of hooves just two of the reasonant tones as beasts struggle to move in a closely coupled race. The brands on their shoulders are quintessentially Hartford - an H and then a wineglass on its side with the year and sequence number above it.
Apparently immune to the commotion, Barry simply raises his voice to explain to me the finer points of bovine conformation which include (for cows anyway) “Femininity, bone, muscling, legs, depth, spring of ribs, height, trueness to type, and early maturers”. He counts the factors off on his fingers then adds “but Angus are early maturers anyway.”
The young bullock calf that mock-mounts its mate in the adjoining paddock seems to underline the point.
As if reading my thoughts Barry says “Bullocks can mate at 9 months so you have to be careful with your herd management.” For a moment sounding identical to our broodmare manager he says “This year’s group of bullocks are very impressive - actually they’re magnificent.”
Do cattle have the same conformational defects as horses?
So why cattle on a horse stud - beside the fact that these are a prize winning herd?
“They complement the horses,” Barry explains. “They are good at taking worms out of a paddock and they are more responsive to anti-worming treatment than horses. They also play a vital role in ‘cleaning’ paddocks”.
The cattle are released and commence their trek back to their hillside paddocks . Sudden calm descends. Yearling thoroughbreds graze intermittently in the next yard, their presence courtesy of the calendar date which indicates they are due for their African Horse Sickness vaccines.
It’s hard to believe that this time next year this same group will have just greeted the auctioneer at the Ready to Run sale.
The drying grass beneath my feet generates a wave of heat that combines with the pungent smell of cow manure, settling mud, and the sweat that streaks three yearling’s coats. It’s not an entirely unpleasant combination … if you’re used to it. One of the horses kicks a bucket and the group snort and flow into a tightly bunched canter that ends as soon as it begins by the proximity of the fence. They shift restlessly, finally re-settling to their grazing.
My hour’s up.