Riverside Beef, Coal and Gas.

Driving into the Williams family’s Riverside Station we were imposed upon by a massive artificial horizon. The ugly overburden from our insatiable appetite for coal towered 140 metres into the dying rays of sunset such that the pristine brigalow cattle country to the east was blanketed by the black dust of darkness.

Riverside Homestead

Riverside Homestead

The Williams family is still smiling, even under the glacial encroachment of mining on their land and they have a lot to smile about. Their aggregation comprises about 158,000 ha and runs 10,000 hd of quiet productive brahman and brahman cross beef cattle on what is arguably some of the most efficient beef production in the world. Claire keeps the water flowing, Charles makes sure the nutrition is available while Holly, Allan and Jeanette keep the well oiled machine rolling. Allan tells us that he, his father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather have been developing their farming system since the mid-1800’s. The experience is evident from the infrastructure in cattle yards, fencing and dams as well as their oasis, the Riverside Homestead.

Behind Charles’s endearing smile there is method.  He informed us on Thursday evening that he had 240 head of fresh weaners to be educated by the clinic participants. “There could be a few ‘rail-shiners’ in the mob” he quips. Perfect, day one is all about stock-handling and so is weaner education.

After expelling some old habits the group used the minds of the livestock to achieve calm, steady flow around a yard and then from one yard to another. Sarah, cleverly, used our brain to trigger the release of a hormone called ghrelin to move us to the very well appointed smoko shed.

IMG_9537bWatching the video from the days successes, and otherwise, was useful and much appreciated by many who waited up late into the night. Thank you to the camera girl, Sarah.

Day two and we found Sarah on the barbeque expertly wielding the tongs over the bacon and eggs. Charles must have been there somewhere. We lost Edward Williams to the call of a bridal party but Claire and Holly started to believe there just might be some value to all this knowledge and became very enthusiastic.

Allowing our dogs to assist with the previous days exercise seemed an obvious move. But first we checked that they understood how to influence a mob to walk a figure of eight pattern. Some of the handlers led there dogs astray and some dogs needed reminding that the parts of the eye are crucial for efficient livestock movement, but, by days end, the three minds were working in unison. Human, Bovine and Canine together, a symphany, well a few cymbals falling off the stage is to be expected IMG_9541at the start of rehearsals.

Barbequed Riverside beef, salads inspired by Master Chef, more late night videos, some inappropriate jokes, a bit of a camp and more of Sarah’s bacon and eggs readied us for a day of pup starting, training cattle to handle the pressure of moving correctly through a race and the education of the last of the weaners with pressure and relief with and without dogs. One group, who shall remain anonymous, but may be in one of these photos, discovered that if they remained IMG_9544totally silent and concentrated on getting themselves into the correct position their dogs also made position. Michelle felt that she now had the tools with which to apply a lot of the concepts she had learnt from previous experience. Charles, with three of his dogs, let the weaners out into a large cooler just as the sun was setting through dust and the enlightenment that proceeds hard work and diligence.

I have some video of the weaners moving out into a kilometer long grazing laneway where they settled for a couple of hours while Charles was swearing at some machinery.

The credit for the calmness in these weaners goes partly to Alan for selecting for temperament in his cattle for many generations but also to the clinic participants who adopted a different pattern to their normal approach to working livestock. IMG_9559 Yes, we had a few excuses when the old mold was challenged but in the end the result speaks volumes.

Charles kindly drove me around part of the water run where he demonstrated his good nature by firing a warning shot at a visiting dingo. His cows are magnificent, infrastructure impressive and buffel grass abundant. However Clancy would have been disappointed because instead of:

“And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

We were rudely interrupted by concrete trucks, water spray rigs, powerlines and utes with flashing lights and I’m told the thumbnail has well and truly been dipped in coal and soon, a good dose of gas.

IMG_9562Perhaps we could devise a system to train our society to value the irreplaceable fertile clay and clay-loam soils of the bowen basin. After all, beef production is 100% renewable, coal mining is not. The local councilor, Peter Freeleagus, said when he was Mayor of the now defunct Belyando Shire  “. If we can’t build a house at the end of an existing residential street because it is earmarked for mining, does this mean that our families can look forward to a mine going up a few hundred metres from their homes? We work in the mines – we know what they’re like and we don’t want our families exposed to those sorts of environments, day-in, day-out.” Where is his concern for the Williams family, their house, their history and their livelihood?  Jeanette informed us that the recent, also defunct LNP Qld Government, changed the distance a mine can operate from rural water infrastructure from 700 metres down to 80 metres. Shame on them.

Perhaps Alan Williams summarised it best when he said “The effect hasn’t been felt yet but it’s the effect later on when people wake up and realise that all this country’s gone. And the ability to feed our population as well as anyone else, is diminishing.”

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the draglines and the dumptrucks making hurry down the street,
And the stratagem uninviting of the miner people blighting,
The landscape and the brigalow in the pursuit of compressed peet.

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Starting Pups on cattle

We just enjoyed a fantastic clinic at Konjuli, hosted by Sean and Evonne Barrett. For three days the instructors and wingmen, including the ultimate wingman: James Green) challenged all participants to consider their principles of stock-handling and dog management.

This was a particularly diligent team of men, women and children who rose to the occasion amongst heat, ‘hammer & tongs’ hangovers and camera shyness to adopt new concepts and achieve amazing results.

Peter may have won the trial by 6:00pm Sunday evening but we were all winners for the experiences of the weekend.

By the end of day one we all had a better understanding of position and hydration. Harden up crew it was only 38 degrees C in the shade and if you won’t run around there why should your dogs?

Day 2 brought the genetic makeup of our dogs into the spotlight as we now knew about the importance of being in the right position. We started these two young Kelpies, Brutus and Zoe on the cattle trained for them by the clinic students. Have a look and please comment.

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.

Bank 1

Suki heads off a break

Suk

Suki, happy with the result

Railway

Chief and Suki guiding their livestock

Cattle and dogs

Moss and Chief, drive and hold.

Mustering cattle and moving them through the Yards

Since posting the  “Mustering with clever dogs” post last year I have had quite a few requests for the complete footage from which that post was taken. At over 14 minutes this video demonstrates how well bred, herding dogs with natural instinct  take up positions around a mob of cattle to guide them, mostly at a walk,  from a paddock to a set of yards where normal husbandry procedures can be conducted. Although this is filmed handling cattle the principles are the same for all types of livestock. If you have any questions please comment at the bottom of this post.

Music

Dirt Rhodes, Hustle, Matts Blues, Porch Blues, Slow Burn, Whiskey on the Mississippi.

Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Bonshaw, Thunderbolt, Livestock and Dogs

It is little wonder that Thunderbolt was attracted to this paradoxical border region.

Throughout his career as an outlaw he never fired his pistol in anger. In fact his demeanor towards his victims was always polite and jovial. In 1867 Thunderbolt, and a young accomplice, held up and robbed the Bonshaw store/hotel in a very non-violent and respectful way.  J.N. Roper’s Account

His “death” was just as intriguing  as it was enshrouded in a Police coverup, a suspiciously tall woman with a manly gait attending the funeral and a boat trip to USA by a Fred Ward and Sarah Shepherd. The real names of Thunderbolt and his mother.

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Was that a compliment?

Last week a young team of Kelpies and I had mustered 200 Brahman X yearlings and were moving them about 4 Kms along a  gravel road that runs through our property. As they were quite a heavy mob I was droving from behind on my ATV while Milburn Moss, Tracker Gibbs, Tracker Fiona (Fi) and Tracker Chief guided them along the sides and kept the odd slow follower from lagging behind.

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