A younger Megan Holzwart with Little Red, the poddy calf.
A younger Megan Holzwart with Little Red, the poddy calf.

Country kid speaks out

THIS is the story of an orphan steer calf, affectionately known as Little Red.

Little Red and I met when I was about 15. He was a tiny little thing we found curled up next to a watering trough so weak from starvation he couldn’t stand up by himself.

Any farmer will tell you that poddies (what we call orphan calves) are not something you do for a financial benefit but when he looked up at us with a dusty nose and eyes sunken into his skull with dehydration, finances are the last thing on your mind. All there is to care about is this little calf who is looking at you wondering whether you are a saviour or an enemy, knowing he is too weak to run away no matter what you are. Then for the first week, sometime longer, you have to wait and see whether the poddy will live or die.

Little Red was special, mainly because of his fighting spirit. I got so attached to Little Red. I knew he was going to live. And he did. He got strong so fast.

He was soon able to stand by himself, run around like a normal calf and head butt the back of my knees when he wanted more milk.

Every dawn and dusk I would go down with his bottle of milk and his little red face would be waiting for me at the gate. After he’d finished his feed I would sit with him for a while, tell him about what was happening at school, how my day had gone, and any other 15-year-old girl chatter that I was too embarrassed to tell anyone else or no-one else really wanted to hear.

Then he got bigger. He grew into a steer and steers on our family property go mostly to Indonesia in the live export trade.

I was a country kid. I was well acquainted with the circle of life and we all needed to eat. I took solace in the fact that Little Red would not know what was happening to him until it was over.

With that in mind I don’t think there are many people in this country who can begin to imagine the disgust and betrayal that I felt upon viewing the atrocities from some Indonesian abattoirs.

My family and I take it in good faith that after years of sweating, crying and sacrificing for our beautiful cattle, they will be shown kindness in death. Perhaps that was naive.

Every cattleman who saw those images had a face to attach to those images and sent up a silent prayer saying “please God, don’t make that one of ours”.

But we can be a stoic bunch too, far more prepared to get on with trying to fix the issue then lament over something that we have no control over.

Which is the pivotal point, what can we do to fix it?

Indonesia will source cattle from somewhere, it might be India or Brazil, but they will find cattle. And then there will be a 15-year-old girl somewhere else in the world, sitting in her room late at night while everyone else is sleeping, wondering about the fate of her “Little Red”. Her beef industry may not have the relationships in place to change anything. My beef industry does. And it is working to provide a long-term solution.

Not a ban that will put a problem out of sight but not out of existence.

So maybe instead of condemning our beef industry show them support.

“All there is to care about is this little calf who is looking at you wondering whether you are a saviour or an enemy, knowing he is too weak to run away no matter what you are.”


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