Written by – Kylie Savidge, Owner, Southampton Station.
As all school holidays revolve around some form of cattle work these holidays proved no different.
The gyrocopter had been booked, the mustering team of humans, dogs, and horses had been spelled for a week and it was time to up and at ‘em again. This time the muster was not to brand calves but to also wean off all but the littlest calves and turn the cows back to give them a chance to make it through ’til the rains come or they are off to agistment somewhere again.
Sadly for Meghan, her pony had come home with a badly swollen jaw that turned to an abscess and was in the hospital pen (i.e. my houseyard) and not rideable for this round. She was not very happy but with Jenna (our English backpacker) “needing her help” to do all the little jobs about the house and with all the animals that needed feeding, she was contented enough with that and working in the cattle yards where she could.
Jack had a mate from boarding school out, Charles hails from a cotton farm near Dalby and had never been to the “wild west” before and he was looking forward to some action!
Ben was a little less impressed as when he is on a 4-wheeler he gets stuck to roads and what little clear country we have so eats a fair bit of dust but as we always tell him, bringing up the tail of the mob is just as an important job as steadying the lead or riding the wing. Everyone needs to do their job so the mob flows along with no stopping and starting.
Three mobs of cows and calves, consisting of around 200 cows each, were mustered in to the yards and processed.
The kids love mustering and branding and if there is a little fun to be had whilst we are at it, well, all the better.
One medium sized mickey (bull calf still entire) calf decided that life in the mob was not for him and he hightailed it to the scrub with his anxious mother in tow. Gyrocopter, bikes, and dogs joined the chase and the call came over the UHF radio,” You there Brian?”
“Yeah Brian, Jack has this weaner here bailed up and needs a little help tossing him.”
“No worries Clay, I’m on my way, Kylie’s got the mob held up waiting, they’re right mate.”
Brian set sail and around 30 mins later, back they come, big grins on faces to tell me that the misguided weaner is trussed up like a Christmas turkey and he will be right till we come back. Good oh, let’s move these cattle onto the yards.
Once we yarded the cows we went straight back to where the weaner bull was tied up. We castrated, ear marked, tagged and tipped his horns on the spot and let him up. Then the shout came of “HEY!!! You boys didn’t take my belt off him!!!” Whoops!!!! Brian’s belt was still tied neatly around his hind legs and said steer was now making good time off through the box suckers!!!
The boys went after him at top speed and tackled him with the alacrity of Gordon Tallis’s tackle on Brent Hodgson in the 3rd game of State of Origin in 2002! Down went the steer, down went the boys, up came the boys with Brian’s belt, up came the steer right after the boys and chased them nearly back to the ute where to my shame I was laughing too hard to have filmed it on my phone. Good job fellas!
Meghan and Ben now have a “garden” of calves they tell me, little water poddies (a water poddy is a calf who has lost its mother and survives on water and food it can forage, this results in a pot/pod gut hence the name), these calves are just a little lucky as they are being cared for very well as these kids have an affinity with animals and make sure that they have everything on offer, even Dad’s lawn!!!
We have 224 “weaners” and I say that lightly as they are only just big calves that we are feeding in the cattle yards to give them a fighting chance once we turn them out.
They go through a fairly intense education program to teach them manners and good behaviour. Calm weaners eat more feed, are happier and more settled, and have a far better chance at survival and currently it is a game of survival of the fittest so we hope to even those odds a little by what we are doing.
Weaners are walked through the cattle yards quietly and taught the flow of the yard. They get treated to noise via the kids, dogs, and vehicles moving around. Young cattle tend to be flighty and can startle at almost anything, something as simple as you sneezing can send them all tearing away madly. For all intents and purpose they are a wild animal that has just been separated from their mother, they are in a sense of shock and lack direction.
Walking amongst them while feeding them, and talking to them helps gets them used to human contact. Spooky cattle attract a lesser price at the saleyards, they do not gain weight as rapidly as quieter animals in a feedlot, and they present a workplace safety issue if they are unmanageable in a yard. They may not mean to rush over you but in their fright, they are not looking where they are going. We also teach them that when a dog trots around the front of a mob you STOP!
When you then let them out of the yards to take out to feed on the grass outside, one person can handle them with a couple of dogs and free up other people to do other jobs. But the first time out requires all hands on deck because as the cattle are learning still, things can be a little lively if one or ten take off!!! Brought back in due course by a dog or three and someone on a horse or bike.