Legends of the Bore

Some people hear their own inner voices with great cleanness.

            And they live by what they hear.

            Such people become crazy, or they become legends ...

4000 acres (1620 hectares) 250 cows, 235 calves, 10 bulls and 8 or 9 “Legend” cattle.

As I was educating weaners at “Riverside Station” Charles kindly invited me to witness a typical helicopter muster. The terrain varied from hostile rock strewn mountains through dense eucalyptus forest to some more open pulled brigalow scrub. Visibility changed from around 30 metres to 300 metres and water was available in one natural stream, a bore and a couple of fenced water squares.

The cattle were first calf, predominantly brahman heifers, brahman bulls and some wayward “Legend” cattle. There is a station in the district, which shall remain nameless, whose cattle invariably find their way out onto the “long paddock”, living on roadside grass. As surface water is scarce these cattle find their way into the neighbouring stations and have developed a reputation for being difficult to muster. So much so that anyone who succeeds at this venerated task earns the Legend status.

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Charles and the Legend team

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Charles, Jim, Netta and Claire

The Robinson R22 has a fantastic reputation for finding cattle in tough country ‘though its ability to muster depends on the stock handling skills of the pilot and the ground crew. It is also a machine and requires maintenance. Charles got the call early in the morning that the 10:00am plan was now extended to 12:00 pm. A management decision was made to press on through the first paddock of a couple of thousand acres as the water had been, strategically, shut off about a week before. We picked up 6 cows with their calves at the gate to the water square and set them on a course for the second paddock. Charles, the KingQuad, and his dog team, lead by Wump and Choko ,looking like Brad Pitt coming back from a stint in New Guinea, ran along the Southern fence looking for cattle and tracks while Claire and I checked the Western and Northern fence-lines. If we wanted to view into anywhere but the boundaries of this paddock we would have to wait for the Robo, but, we were confident that shutting off the water had moved the herd in the desired direction.

As this Burton Station is a relatively new acquisition for the Williams family Charles thought it prudent to invite the manager, Jim and his wife Netta to advise us on the lay of the land.

“That eastern boundary of this second paddock runs around to an impassible bluff. Rumour has it that there is a sidecut but I haven’t located it yet.” Jim explained, “The centre road goes down through some more open country to the bore and natural creek water. That’s where those “Legend” cattle were last seen but you’ll need more than those fat dogs to get them. A chopper and a .308 Winchester might be what you need.” Jim told us. “They’re not fat, just loved” Netta calmed the conversation as Charles worked out that I would take on the Bluff in Claire’s Viking while they mustered the bore and Jim and Netta left us to it. The R22 had now run out of daylight and would be here by early the next morning.

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Gnarly terrain

The Eastern fence-line of this paddock of about 1200 acres is an interesting easy run on a well graded track bounded by thick tree and shrub ground cover. The bluff was indeed impassible to the Viking but the sidecut was where you would expect so after following some reasonably fresh cattle tracks I moved quickly to our pre-determined meeting place.

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Claire showing great leadership

Charles cast his dogs around eighty head of cows, their calves, some bulls and half a dozen “Legends”. The few cows that felt they needed to protect their sappy big calves were quickly reminded by Choko and his mates that the way to attain relief was to follow Claire on the Grizzly. A couple of the “Legends” used a half-hearted break by a bull getting away from his compatriots to mount their own challenge to authority. They picked up the concept of gaining relief in the mob when Wump and Amy pressured them to return and then checked their progress by guiding the cows through the trees and onto the road. When my team joined the group my dogs held the mob while I offered water to Charles’s dogs and then we moved uneventfully to the next water square and the beginning of the third and final paddock. The old bull which had been getting a hiding from his mates tried a couple more tangents but met his match when Clancy kept him out of the overflow by tracking along at his eye level in the mob.

Charles was checking his watch when I asked him for the size of this last and final paddock. “800 acres of more open country and it’s 2:30pm whatdoyareckon?” ”

l think it was the bear's voice he heard deep inside him.

            Growling low of dark, secret places.

Charles and Claire sent me up into the rough stuff again while they started the main mob along the flat. The Viking has the turning circle of the Queen Mary and is nearly as long but it was able to pick a way through the iron bark maze, cross a couple of steep gullies and find a power-line track to the front of the paddock. About 50 or 60 pairs were grazing about the water square so the dogs softly dominated them to a point where they found relief by walking through the long wire gate. Upon shutting that we followed the gulley back towards the others.

Claire and Charles had the main mob drifting along at a slow pace with a few heifers still challenging the authority of the dogs. Charles said he asked his dogs to back off to avoid confrontation so I suggested we allow the dogs to judge this for themselves as they are all bred to be fair and offer relief when it is necessary. After a few minutes of readjustment the mob stepped up to a good rate, the cows stopped challenging and a happy truce ensured. There are many times when we just have to acknowledge that our furry panels know more about stock handling than we do.

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Starting to feel like success

From the water square Claire got out on the highway to protect cattle and dogs from any rapidly moving mining traffic while my crew feathered the mob towards the gate so Charles could get the count. “12 cows short” beamed Charles. I think he was already considering the accolades he was now entitled too for getting most of those “Legend” cattle. We moved the herd about 500 metres along the roadway, over a bridge and then sent some dogs up to roll them through a gateway into a lane on the other side of the road. To watch natural stock dogs roll livestock through gateways is one of the joys of the job and for some of these dogs it is a real craft. While Claire and I rebuilt a damaged wire gate Charles was busy cancelling the chopper for the next morning.

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The Viking with dogs and water.

I volunteered to look for the missing 12 cows and 12 calves first thing in the morning while Charles, Claire, Jim and Netta started drafting and branding the main mob. Jim and Netta turned up with some very nice looking horses to help yard up and they gave me an inquiring nod as I drove passed in the Viking.

Four cows with their calves were just above the bore and one black heifer would rush out 20 metres to challenge the dogs so I planned a move towards the natural creek water in case the re-education process required some fresh dogs. One more cow and calf were at the creek and after fifteen minutes we had an agreement where the cows walked and the dogs guided. The water square yielded up a further five cows with calves so we started a steady drive across the open country. At the end of the big flat I could see two more cows with calves but the red cow with a hooked horn was already on the move heading for the high ground and thick timber. A hurried call to Chief and Suki cast them out of sight and after a couple of brief barks and a bit of dust rising the two groups of cattle and dogs became one. The red cow carried the “Legend” brand and she was your classic rogue cow. When ever she thought she had enough cover she’d break and I was excited to see young Zoe (12 months old) adopt the drift section of her eye and prevent her from breaking through the couple of kilometers of brigalow scrub country.

Two more pairs had drifted to the final water square and so the dogs calmly moved the 14 cows with their calves out onto the highway and into the lane-way leading to the yards.

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Legends of the Bowen Basin

Earlier that morning Claire explained how the three steers out on the road were typically some of the “Legend” stock in the long paddock and if possible muster them in but the chances of success were low. That sounded like a challenge. The standard of the fence on the northern side of the road could best be described as ordinary so the dogs stayed in the Viking as we just bumped the bubble of their flight zone so as not to burst it. They went passed the gate on the first attempt and then galloped through it on the second. I allowed them a bit of time to settle with the cows out of sight, over a rise, and then approached, carefully, until the steers started to run. The dogs pulled them up and explained the benefit of seeking relief in the mob which they continued to challenge, along with their compatriot, the red cow, until we came to the yards whereby they calmly walked in. All fourteen cows, their calves and the three “Legend” steers.  Proving that strong but compassionate dogs which quickly offer relief to uneducated or spoilt cattle gain their trust and achieve success.

Jim said as he recognised the red cow and the steers, “Looks like you did alright” Looks like it Jim, fat dogs, no chopper, no .308 Winchester just some clever dogs and a bit of knowledge.

Charles, Claire, Wump, Choko, Amy, Mary and Boss. Indisputable Legends of the Bowen Basin.

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Bungulla Goats (A true story by Grant Hutchings.)

The phone was ringing, ‘ checked the caller id and sure enough it was Kelvin. His best mate, Darryl, had been telling me about their recent feral goat mustering attempts and to expect a call.
“How are you mate? I’m sitting on a hill watching some wild goats flogging my rye grass” “Can’t be good” I replied. “Do you reckon you and your dogs could get them in for me?” “As soon as I fix this fence I’ll be there. I’ll pick up Darryl on the way and we’ll see you in about an hour.”

The hill and the valley.

The hill and the valley.

I rang my wife, Tracey, to let the dogs out for a run before I got home to save time, and I contacted Daryl to put him into the picture.
I found out it takes a 5 km trip on a slow road up a mountain to hear all of the dramas associated with this particular mob of goats. And it is a worry when the most successful capture was of three goats at the expense of one of Kelvins young sons falling from his horse through barbed wire and Kelvin rolling the quad onto himself and the three hapless goats. Continue reading

Do you need “rougher” dogs for rougher cattle?

A while ago my northern neighbour changed lessee’s. Usually that would be a simple enough operation: Old lessee (Bob) musters his cattle into the yards, trucks them out, new lessee (Johnno) trucks his cattle in.

The property is about 2500 acres of steep, heavily timbered country hiding about 70 head of cattle. The usual practice of cattle management  relied

on the age old use of “Black gold” Amamoor lodge Strategically placed troughs of Molasses entice the cattle into portable yards where calves are branded and the whole mob is released until next year. It turns out that a few of my cows were running on the block and communication of this fact from Bob was non existent. Allegedly, a few extra cows bolsters the calving percentage considerably.

After half a dozen years the “Black Gold” had lost its sheen so Bob employs one of the local guru contract musters (Lancelot) with his fast horses and about 10 hard, heel biting Collies. From the stories told in the truck, on the way to the muster, Bob was feeling extremely confident. In the yards by lunch, a couple of loads trucked out by Dinner, Bobs your uncle.

Bobs report of that fateful day wasn’t as pretty as he had imagined. Cattle ran rings around the 3 men and 10 dogs for 8 hours. “Those bloody Collies followed my old black dog around all day and he is f%@#ing useless on a good day.” This wasn’t a good day. By nightfall 9 head were yarded, none were trucked and differences of opinion were being expressed over payment for services rendered.

Time for plan C.

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Mustering Rig

Johnno rang me, said he was paying for agistment for cattle owned by Bob, another neighbour and about 10 of mine. ‘Do you reckon your dogs could muster the remaining 60 head into the portable yards?” He gave me a bit of their previous history, including a bit about Sir Lancelot and  the hard biting dogs debacle.

As most of these cattle had lived their lives as wild animals they hadn’t had much education. A lot of their experience with humans and dogs involved them seeking relief through escape. A large percentage of the property is overgrown with weeds ranging from Casuarina regrowth to Lantana, both offering these kind of cattle good cover. Casuarina’s offer food and habitat for the beautiful, if noisy Black cockatoo.

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Black cockatoo

With 5 experienced dogs, Chief, Suki, Storm, Force and Clancy and 1 19 month old bitch, Swift in the Ranger I picked up Johnno at the portable yards and set out for a look about.

The cattle were living in small mobs between 5 and 20. Some we could only find tracks leading into the undergrowth but each time we asked the dogs to “look” they would find, make it uncomfortable for the cattle where they were hiding and give them relief following the Ranger.

This education process averaged about 10 to 15 minutes for each mob and then we would set off for the yards, hold them at the gate until they decided the best relief offered was into those yards. Every beast we encountered we yarded except for a cow, with a week old calf, we elected to leave behind. Continue reading

Zorro, Pat Garrett and the Jack of Harts

View 2Last 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 Dogs and vehiclejumped 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.

dogs to the lead Continue reading

The Saleyard Quest

There was no movement at the station when the word had got around that three steers from the feedlot mob had escaped the Gympie saleyards. “She’ll be right mate” retorted the boss of the trucking company ” M’driver, Dougie’s got the best dogs in the district” During the week of waiting for Dougie’s dogs to step up I had a quick look on Google Earth to see a stretch of country about 120 hectares, 5 kms around ranging from thick wattle scrub to riparian vegetation along swampy gullies. Railway lines bordered the eastern and western edges whilst north and south had roads and dwellings. It looked a good place for a few steers to rest up and settle after their escape.

IMG_7106After a week of no cattle retrieved by Doug and his dogs we loaded up the Polaris, Chief, Suki and Moss. Rang Bob the saleyard manager, who, kindly, unlocked a couple of gates. He did look a bit skeptical.  With GPS in hand we started our reconnaissance run. Saleyard GPSGenerally, the roads were in good order and we found cattle sign mostly on the north-eastern end of the park. The centre featured a well presented shotgun and small bore range whilst the southern section hosts a series of mountain bike tracks and obstacles. After traveling 15kms over 2 hours we had a good feel for the terrain, had seen fresh tracks in the wet gullies and were short on day light so we packed up and prepared for the full assault the next morning.

On day two we hit the ground running, drove the 5K boundary and then all of the roads marked by blue on the map. No new sign was evident so Knox and Suk started the emu parade through the areas we thought they may be camped up. On the second run Knox found 1 steer with a bad leg lying in shelter while Suki searching wider picked up 2 more mobile steers. She has clever way of calming livestock in thick wattle but giving a short bark to let Knox know where she is. I was back on the perimeter heading towards the rendezvous point when I got the phone call from Knox, so I turned around and sent Chief and Moss to help Suk hold her steers while we assessed the cripple. He was in no condition to travel, one of the other steers was limping obviously and the other steer was severely “tucked up” making us wonder if all three had suffered a fall from the top deck of the double, rather than just “got out a gate” in the initial report.

The decision was made to take the two healthier steers back to the saleyards and leave the cripple to “recover”. With a mob of two the best option is to allow the dogs to give them relief as they walk towards the Buggy. These three dogs are exceptionally clever at anticipating when  livestock intend to deviate into someones garden, or an especially thick wattle patch. After 2 Kms we reached the railway line, skirted around the bottom of the yards and into the open gateway.

Critical comments:

Without dogs with a blind search, finding cattle with the mindset of these stressed steers, in these conditions would be very difficult.

Dogs with a bark on command is necessary when visibility drops to 10 to 20 metres.

Dogs ability to dominate livestock, but then give relief and anticipate deviations allowed these cattle to decide to walk out of very trying terrain.

Having good off-balance commands was necessary for negotiating some very tricky obstacles along the railway stretch.

Having a 4X4 buggy with good ground clearance and awesome tyres as well as great carrying capacity allowed us to escape some very sticky mud.( Sorry no photos)

Knox’s GPS app for his phone saved us a lot of time learning the lay of the land.

The third steer will need monitoring and perhaps some quiet coacher cattle to muster steadily once he is more mobile.

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Suki heads off a break

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Suki, happy with the result

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Chief and Suki guiding their livestock

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Moss and Chief, drive and hold.

“Scott and the Magic Lead Rope” by Sean Barrett

It was one of those moments, Scott just put down the phone to a tour bus operator.  He walked outside looking over towards his farming land and scratched his head with frustration.  Casually he patted his new Kelpie, Ted, on the head and asked “What the hell are we going to show these tourists boy?”

Usually the buses came later in the year and the tourists enjoyed the views of fresh crops sprouting from the ground and Scott could discuss the techniques of farming and show off his wealth of knowledge to the eager tourists.  This was not to plan this time as the crops had not even been planted and to look at an empty field was not exactly riveting viewing.  “No boy” he said to Ted “I have got no idea what we can show these people, I mean look at this place.” 

They cast their eyes around the farm and the fresh green shoot from the early spring rains was now shrivelled and brown from the early morning frosts of the past few days.  “Can’t win a bloody trick at the moment Ted.” Scott said as he donned his infamous terry towelling ‘bucket hat’.

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Genetic differences between lines

Some years ago, we farmed deer on our property in South East Queensland. We started catching the local feral Red Deer but due to their better adaption to the sub-tropics and tropics we sourced a herd of Rusa Deer.

Good dogs can handle these species of deer and it is wonderful to watch a clever dog adjust to the flight zone of livestock very different to sheep and cattle. Rusa can be very aggressive, approaching, rapidly, with stamping front feet and then breaking unpredictably, usually, leading part of the herd away with speed and determination. Useful dogs must have courage, cover and the ability to pat that flight zone bubble with skill and accuracy.

On one occasion we got a call about 150 Rusa Deer which  had escaped the confines of the high fences and made their way down the valley some 14 Kms (8.5 miles) and were enjoying a pasture of irrigated rye grass. This was not good news to the owner of the farm as he needed the feed for his young stud Charolais bulls. It was suggested by many neighbours that the only solution involved rifles,  sharp knives and plenty of volunteers.

Continue reading