Nothing ever is dead easy, is it? Troubled of Horsham Downs, Waikato has a tiny worry. Her husband is often out of the country on business trips leaving her to mind their 3½ha lifestyle block. While she and her daughter are awfully competent types, she does wonder what would happen if an animal died. “Goldfish are a piece of cake, you flush them down the toilet. But a 500kg Friesian steer is a different matter. We don’t have a front-end loader or any useful machinery for moving the thing…”
Fit and youthful as she is, digging a hole isn’t an option.
Getting rid of dead stock can also be a problem for large-scale farmers. “And they always die at the worst possible time - when you’re flat out in the Spring,” says Gordonton dairy farmer John Riddell.
The first thing he does is call in the Dead Cow man – in the Waikato this means Wallace Corp.
“In the good old days, the service was free. Then they started charging for it and it got more and more – frankly, it’s almost worth my time to bury the things.”
Which is, actually, a pig of a job, says his brother David, who years ago remembers a time when he did this with a front-end loader. “They’re bigger than they seem. I had to keep digging out the hole, and then piling more dirt on top.”
I gave Wallace Corp a ring and spoke with Allison Stewart, who says the company has a number of rules regarding picking up animals. The beast has to be fresh and not damaged in any way.
Hence the requirement to lift or carry rather than drag the beast, which damages the hide.
So, if you don’t have a means of doing this (eg a front-end loader), you’ve got a problem. This leads to the other important rule. Animals –the company picks up cattle and the occasional horse – have to be left close to a road or put on a race.
Wallace Corp won’t drive on to a paddock to pick beasts up – “this is for practical reasons, it would be terrible to get our trucks stuck.”
She said the service used to be free but they began charging in 1999. This was due to rising transport, processing and compliance costs.
She’d just been talking with an elderly woman who was out of their collection area. “A cow died and her son was away – she didn’t know what to do. I suggested she must have a friendly neighbour – ask them for help.”
Neighbours can sometimes do the trick, especially if they have tractors. But what if you hate your neighbours, or have lovely neighbours but none owns a tractor. What then?
Possibly, head them off at the pass. Try to stop your stock from dying. Hamilton veterinarian Keith Houston says many deaths are due to having too much feed or not enough – “Pulpy kidney, worms, bloat, those sorts of things are common problems. Sometimes it’s too many stock and not enough time.”
He recommends lifestylers ensure they have some good yards on their property. “Even if it’s a couple of gates in one corner. You can then inspect the animals easily and carry out routine procedures easily such as drenching and vaccination.”
So, keep a close eye on stock so you can act quickly if something clearly isn’t right. And in this regard, if a beast is seriously crook, there are two options. One involves bringing in the Pet Food people, says John Riddell. “It’s sometimes a hard call, but if an animal is looking sick, give them a ring. They’ll come and put it down and pay you for it – that’s the trick, it has to still be alive.”
The other option involves mad cow disease, otherwise known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE). Although it’s not here, MPI has had a monitoring programme since 1990. In a nutshell, if an animal has suspicious nervous symptoms you can get it tested and get paid for it. The programme is going very well, says MPI’s Phillip Barclay.
There are a number of criteria that need to be met. The animal has to be at least two years or older, and have a metabolic disorder which fails to respond to treatment. Symptoms include showing new aggressive behaviour, having an unusual gait or stance and neurological signs such as persistent ear-twitching.
The vet has to be called in to investigate the case and submit the correct samples (and paperwork) to MPI. Disposal of the carcass is the farmer’s responsibility, he says.
This could leave you with a headless cow – although not if Wallace Corp picks up your animal. In this case, the beast is taken away, tagged for identification and they arrange for samples to be collected, at the company’s plant. Wallace Corp won’t pick up headless cows.
Otherwise, says Phillip Barclay, it’s probably a case of deep burial. Which gets us back to that front-end loader or small digger that most lifestylers don’t have. And what about people who live out of a regular Dead Cow collection area?
Sheepfarmer Andrew Knox lives on a farm near Invercargill. While he gave up dairy farming a few years ago, he keeps a few yearlings. Down south, he says, there is a collection, but only during Spring. At all other times, you’re on your own. What do he and others do?
“I chuck it down a hole. There are no suitable sites on this farm, but we have what’s called Dead Holes on neighbouring farms, sort of gravel pits.” It’s a case of getting on well with your neighbours. Otherwise, he’d get someone in to dig a big hole.
Up North in Dargaville, he says there was no way to dispose of dead cows. “We used to burn them. We’d build a hot fire, using macrocarpa trees, and it would do the trick.”
My friend Gerry in Te Pahu says you can reduce the problem of burying a large animal with a chainsaw. But this probably isn’t much comfort for Troubled.
John Riddell has one final practical tip. If an animal has died, and you can’t do anything about it straight away – or you’re trying to find out what you can do about it – shock it. “Wrap some wire around one of its legs. Using an insulated handle, hook this onto a nearby electric fence.” This, he swears, will stop the neighbourhood dogs chewing away on the beast. “But remember to disconnect it before anyone picks it up. I forgot, and gave the Dead Cow man a hell of a shock!”
Troubled of Waikato had a concern about how to dispose of a 500kg steer if it carked it on her lifestyle block.
A solution is now at hand. Richard Logan got in touch after reading the story and he and his three-tonne digger will come and do the job.
He'll travel from the Waikato to South Auckland, and is happy to bury the animal under a tree or in a paddock - where ever the owner wants. Horses, cows, and sheep are all fine.