A day in the Drafting yards

Host: Abingdon Downs Station
Written by Jason Kohler – Headstockman/Manager, Abingdon Downs.

Jason has been employed with us for nearly 11 years.

“Bush, Bush, Bush, Heifer, BLOCK UP – fat cow!”. There’s never a dull moment when drafting cattle so it pays to stay alert. It all starts with a muster the day before where we put a paddock or area together and walk the cattle back to the yards and into the “cooler” overnight. Then it’s up bright and early the next morning to yard up 1200 odd breeders and spray them for flies (depending on the season). Normally we have two people in the back yards to keep cattle coming to be drafted. The beast goes into the pound – a smaller round pen with an additional five gates where they are drafted off into. There’s a Bush gate where all the breeding cows, young heifers, and bulls go. These cattle will be walked away back out to pasture. There’s a Weaner gate where all the previous year’s calves go to get weaned from mum. Another gate is for calves to get processed then they get put back out with their mothers in the bush cow mob. There’s also a Poddy gate for all the little guys that have lost their mum or smaller weaners that need a little extra help. They get a free truck ride back to the homestead yards where they live it up on weaner feed and hay for a good few months, the little fighters they are. There’s also a Spey gate where anything with a crooked nose or a bad attitude for example goes to get spayed so they can’t breed this trait back into the mob, these will eventually go to the meatworks as fat cows. Speying is just another term for cow hysterectomy! (Speying doesn’t involve removal of the uterus like in a human hysterectomy, but it does leave the cow infertile).

3.1 Cattle in pen just before they are drafted off in the round pen copyCattle in the pen just before being drafted off in the round pen.

3.3 Sending cattle into the pound to be drafted off copySending cattle into the pound to be drafted off.

There’s often a few leaps over rails and sprints down the lane to the cooler to shut gates when a weaner or calf has escaped out the bush gate or a race to catch a calf that has got through the branding cradle. The branding crew normally have sore shin bones come beer o’clock from being kicked by the calves trying to put them up the race, and the speyer is normally covered in poo from head to toe! Back yarders generally have a few tales to tell about that one old cow the just wouldn’t go up or a bush cow that put them up the rails more than once! Then the person in the yard before the pound yard, well he’s got to have eyes in the back of his head, there’s no noise quite as bad as a snort just behind your back. It sends a shiver up your spine and you’re looking for the quickest escape route you can find! Cattle generally don’t appreciate a gate being shut in their face either so sometimes the gate openers in the pound often do a few rounds with a beast up their backside until a gate is opened  and they are on their way again. SO many stories could be told from over the years, of the tea pots, rail shiners, the ones that just got a little too much courage, it could go on for ever, these stories are best told around a camp fire while having a cold beer and a laugh!

3.2 A snooty cow giving it to the workers copyA snooty cow in the “pound” giving it to the workers.

3.5 You always have to be quick on your feet, hey Jason! copyYou always have to be quick on your feet, hey Jason!

Our main aim is to work our cattle quietly and low stress, no yelling and yarring, just simple pressure and release. It’s all about being able to read the cattle, a lot like raising young children, too much pressure and boundaries will be pushed and tempers will rise! So by giving the cattle room to move around you we don’t run into too many problems. For example if a beast that won’t go up the race into the head bale so she can be tagged we will annoy her while she isn’t looking where she should be but as soon as she turns and looks the right way (up the race) we stop and 9 times out of 10 she will go up. This may take a while but the end result is better cow to handle. You will get the odd cow that has too much madness is them, hence the reason they will be sent to meatworks.

3.4 Separating a weaner steer and a weaner heifer in the round pen copySeparating a weaner steer and a weaner heifer in the round pan

I really enjoy drafting and watching the mob as a whole improve over the years, my wife and I have been with Keough Cattle Co for quite a few years now and the general improvement of stock is unbelievable. This is achieved by spaying and culling cows and heifers with bad conformation, scaly necks, crooked noses, and bad attitudes and culling temperamental bulls with not the best line.

3.6 A mob of drafted weaners copyA mob of drafted weaners.

A lovely quiet bull.