Hello everyone! I’m taking part in a weekly writing challenge to shake it up. Check it out:
It is night, and raining. A YOUNG WOMAN sits at a computer, headphones in, typing with one hand. Her chin is resting in the other. The audience can hear the tinny sound of electro-house music and the clattering of keys. Enter THE BOYFRIEND. She doesn’t notice. He taps her gently on the shoulder.
YOUNG WOMAN: (startled) Gah! Dude, you scared me.
THE BOYFRIEND: You’re still here how I left you this morning! What have you been up to all day?
She takes out her earphones and turns to face him, excited.
YOUNG WOMAN: Soils! Soils are amazing. Well, goats and soils. See, they had too many woody weeds, then they put goats on it to make it better, but the goats messed it up, so now the soil is unhappy because there isn’t any clay and so there’s a film and basically it’s all just terrible.
THE BOYFRIEND removes his jacket, sits down in the armchair next to the desk and looks at her intently. He likes hearing about what she’s learning.
THE BOYFRIEND: (patiently) … Right. And what are woody weeds?
YOUNG WOMAN: (impatiently) They’re woody shrubs that grow in the Australian rangelands and are unpalatable to stock. The rangelands are, like, 80% of Australia, but this case study is from the semi-arid region between Broken Hill and Cobar, in the south-west corner of New South Wales.
THE BOYFRIEND: So where do the goats come in?
YOUNG WOMAN: Well, removing woody weeds mechanically or chemically is really expensive, and they tried burning it but it doesn’t always work. That’s one of the main maxims in Australian geography; if there’s a problem, set fire to it and ask questions later.
THE BOYFRIEND: (laughing) So they put goats in? Where did they get the goats from?
YOUNG WOMAN: That’s the beauty of it, see. You just fence off a whole lot of feral goats that are out there anyway, and the expense of the fence is offset by the profit made from the goats. There’s a growing market for goat in Australia, especially goat that’s Halal. The goats start off eating all the yummy things, like the forbes and perennial grasses, but then they go on and eat the woody weeds. Unpalatable doesn’t worry goats!
THE BOYFRIEND: Forbes? Isn’t that a town in central New South Wales? And how does this relate to soils being unhappy?
YOUNG WOMAN: Yeah, it is a town too, but forbes is another name for ‘herb’, something that’s not a grass or a shrub but is still a little plant. So they put in heaps of goats. Like, heaps. Out there the stocking rate is 0.3 DSE per hectare, which means that for every hectare you should only have 0.3 of a dry sheep equivalent. This is the amount of resources needed to support a ewe that doesn’t have a lamb. A cow is equal to about 15 DSE, a pony or light horse has a DSE of 10, and so on. So this place is at 0.3/ha, and they go and put in 4 goats on every hectare! This is so they can really eat the weeds down, put that many goats puts pressure on the soil. See, the soil is usually alumino-silicate aggregates coated by clay, yeah? But the goats grind it all together and the clay comes off. You following?
THE BOYFRIEND: Yep. The area has a DSE of 0.3/ha, but you run it at about 4/ha and the clay gets rubbed off the soil particles. What happens then?
YOUNG WOMAN: Well, usually the water would just infiltrate into the soil and there’s basically no run-off at all. No erosion or anything, just lots of water for the plants, but because the clay has come off the soil it forms a film on the surface and the water can’t infiltrate into the soil. There’s lots of run-off which causes erosion, and the plants can’t access the water.
THE BOYFRIEND taps his nose thoughtfully.
THE BOYFRIEND: Hmm, doesn’t sound too good. Anything else?
YOUNG WOMAN: Yeah, dust. Because the soil is made so unstable by the goats they lose massive amounts of topsoil via wind erosion. This is a serious problem in Australia and is very costly, both environmentally and economically.
THE BOYFRIEND: So … goats solve one problem but create a few more?
YOUNG WOMAN: (sadly) Pretty much. If you can figure out how to solve the woody weeds problem they’ll basically make you Australian of the Year and you’ll be a gazillionaire.
THE BOYFRIEND: That’s a shame, goats are otherwise so cool.
YOUNG WOMAN: (excited, looking to a future of solving problems with goats) Yeah, geography is awesome!
So that was my night last night. More or less a true story.