10 April 1998

How three neighbours battled through storm

A good tanker driver, prepared to go that extra mile, saved Brian Maitland from dumping milk from his 80-strong herd at Maitland Meadows Farm, near Merrickville. "But we had trouble with the feed, we burned out three motors on our feeders and had to guess the amounts we used."

Brian is married with four lads aged four-12 and his parents, sister, brother-in-law and their baby stayed for the duration. "I was getting cabin fever – we were so crowded. It was not a good way to be."

Beef farmer Cy Easterbrook had more stock than usual when the storm hit Easterbrook Farm, Merrickville. "We had 100 head; usually I have 50-60 cows but prices were bad for heifers so we kept them," he says. "Our big problem was water."

Cy has a little creek a few hundred yards from his farm. "I cut a hole in the ice and dipped it," he says. He dipped it with a 5gal pail, carrying the water to a tank on a tractor than couldnt get closer than 18.5m (60ft) to the creek. He slipped and slopped his way across the ice to fetch 800 to 1000gal a day and still the cattle were thirsty. He was six days moving water like that until he got a generator and could pump his well. "By then I was shot," he says.

He lost a cow and calf during the crisis and reckons he has found out more about his insurance cover than anything else.

"Some loyalties were broken quickly. If your insurance or fuel supplier lets you down at a time like this, you switch."

Robin Phillips, also of Merrickville, is just starting in farming and has a few cows and sheep and a horse. His wife does much of the work with the animals as Robin maintains roads for the township. His priority was to keep the roads clear and his snow plough had trees and powerlines to contend with in addition to ice.

"I ploughed 75 miles and fallen trees were just woven across the road. I worked 16 hours on the first night on a road that would usually take eight hours to clear. Thousands and thousands of trees crashed," he says.

When Robin finished on the roads he went from house to house round six neighbours, with the little generator he owns pumping water for them.

Brian Maitland

Cy Easterbrook

Robin Phillips