Last week, while mustering a paddock that borders the National Park, I noticed cattle tracks in the Park. I mentioned my plan to send some dogs to search for them to Rodney Garrett and he reckoned I would have a better chance if he and his Kelpie, Spy came along.
At 4:00 pm, when the heat had dissipated from the day we jumped 2 teams of 3 Kelpies each into the Ranger and set off to where I reckoned they may be camped. Of course there were no cattle at that spot but enough scent for the dogs to follow. We drove around to get a better vantage point, always a temptation but can confuse the dogs as they tend to bring cattle back to where they initiated their cast.
A crescendo of speaking dogs showed us that the cattle were found and that they were some 500 ft below us in some very inhospitable country. A couple of whip cracks re-oriented our position to the pack. As it was too steep and thickly vegetated to drive the Ranger closer, Rodney suggested we walk down and make sure that the cattle had a relatively clear path back to the ridge top. I think he really wanted to make sure Spy was assisting the flow and direction rather than hindering it. As it turned out the idea was sound as the dogs had located a small mob of 4 cows 4 calves and Zorro, a mature wild bull. He had been seen rarely, but discussed plenty over a beer around a campfire. By the time we were able to see the mob the dogs had cleverly applied force when they tried to run down into the depths of the valley and, more importantly, given relief when they moved upwards. There was a small spring at the base of a rock wall so we moved across the slope keeping the dogs off-balance to move the cattle around the rocks and upwards once again. Well done Rodney. As Zorro was understandably man-shy we kept our distance behind the cattle and allowed the dogs to drive them up to where we had parked the Ranger.
Back in front again, we allowed the dogs to guide Zorro and his crew to educate them. The valley we needed to pass through drops 1500 ft to the valley floor with plenty of options for a canny wild animal to escape and hide. As the cattle ran some dogs moved ahead to slow them to a walk. As they broke left and right dogs reminded them that relief was found walking directly behind us. We were going well right up to when we got to the gate and Zorro showed us his lack of respect for barbed wire. He convinced his mates that a broken fence is no fence at all. At least we went through the open gate, and, just in time to see Zorro demonstrate the “no time for fancy riding” as per “The Man from Snowy River”. Straight over a seemingly vertical precipice they thundered into a lantana infused gully.
” We’ve lost them this time for sure” I guessed but Rodney came back with “No bullshit, Spy has got them pulled up and coming back around the contour” And he did, with a little help from his friends.
The ride to the floor of the valley was a series of breaks, curtailed by dogs, attempts to hide to avoid pressure, followed by the telltale crescendo, then scrub clearing by the cattle as they learnt that hiding increases pressure. A bit of following the Ranger and then another break. The following sequence shows Zorro leading a break off the road, next you can see Force and Evil getting a long way ahead to the block section of the eye. Then there is a bend in the dogs body as he “draws his line in the sand” followed by the 90 degree change in direction by the cattle and they come back to the Ranger down the creek bank with a bit too much pace until their guides steady them to an orderly walk once again.
We noticed that the breaks were getting shorter and less intense and we reckon it was because the cattle were not being forced from behind, IE, no heel bite, pressure was only applied to the head if the cattle questioned our proposed direction and pace.
In this photo you can see Suki tracking along just behind the eye, in the drive section of the red weaners eye, which had the desirable effect of preventing Zorro from taking the left fork of this junction.
Much of this muster was happening out of sight to Rodney and me so it is imperative that we have dogs bred to force when required and where needed and then to give relief immediately they have achieved the desired result. The only “commands” we gave were “speak” so we could locate the cattle and “Good dogs” for encouragement. We reckon we would need a bit of encouragement to get in front of Zorro at full gallop with gravity in his favour. We also use “watch him” which means do whatever is necessary to teach the livestock that the only relief for them is to walk calmly towards the yards.
The remaining 3 kms went fairly smoothly with the odd half-hearted break easily anticipated and prevented by dogs who were confident with the contract they now had with this once unruly mob.
“So Rodney,what did you learn from that experience?”
“I know I’ve seen that face somewhere” Rodney was thinking to himself
“Maybe down in Victoria or a picture up on somebody’s shelf”
But then the mob began to stamp their feet and the sun light did dim
And in the darkness of the valley there was only Zorro and him
Staring at the butterfly who just drew the Jack of Harts.
“Strewth, I wouldn’t have picked him for a Bob Dylan fan”