Days of our (station) lives

Host: Donal Sullivan

I tried for several days to write about how my family manages our properties until I realised that the best way to explain would be to show you, rather than tell you. So following are some of my own photos of our station life and cattle management, as well as some photos from other properties I have worked on.

Our family run about 6000-7000 head of mostly Brahman cross cattle for the live export trade. We use both Brahman (grey or red in colour) and Droughtmaster (red colour) bulls so all the cattle we breed are a bovine rainbow of colours. Here my father Rohan stands near a trough as thirsty cattle drink, to make sure none get trampled or stuck.

My siblings and I, in no particular order. L to R: Jess, Philip, Dean, Margo and I.

For part of our mustering season everyone camps out away from the homestead. It’s probably my favourite time of the year. Some young stockmen saddle a horse just metres from our ‘dining room’ camp fire.

Young cattle ready to be weaned from their mothers are trucked back to our main cattle yards.

We often keep ‘poddy’ (orphaned) calves with us while we camp out, we keep them in a harness and we tie them up so they don’t wander off. Once we pack up and go home the calves move to a yard with plenty of room to run around together. My sister Margo is pictured here with one of her calves called ‘Gandalf’.

One of my calves ‘Noeline’, became a seasoned traveller after I had to take her with me between several properties. I didn’t even have to tie her up to stop her moving around! She was happy to curl up on the floor.

Cattle are drafted (sorted) into various groups, young calves are put in one pen. We brand them at the end of the day and let them back with their mothers.

Each year every breeding cow needs a vaccination for Botulism (a poisoning cattle can get from chewing bones which they do to try and get phosphorus). Every cow mustered is ‘processed’ – given a needle vaccination, a ‘bang tail’ (haircut on her tail to show she’s been mustered), a quick overall health check and then let into a large holding paddock. Any cow with no milk (known as dry) is pregnancy tested as well, this isn’t painful for her at all and gives us a good indication of how the cows are cattle are coping nutritionally. Pictured here stock men and visitors help processing cows through a ‘crush’ (a stall to hold one cow at a time), you can see a packet of vaccine hanging from a rail.

Cows who are pregnant are treated normally and let go with the others, cows who are ‘empty’ (not pregnant) may be let go if they are in poor condition or young. Empty cows which are older and in good condition are trucked to a new paddock, they will go for sale either as live export or to the abattoir near Darwin. My father, my sister Margo and I can all preg-test, we usually take it in turns. Here Margo gets her glove ready as she swaps in to start preg-testing.

Processing breeders involves a lot of long, dusty days in the yards.

Once the processing is done we walk the cows and calves back to their paddock. A quick team meeting before the crew set out.

Not everyone is strong enough to make it under their own steam! We chauffeur newborn calves out to meet their mothers back in the paddock as it would be too far for them to walk.

Once the processing is done we pack up camp and go home. The next job is to start tailing (educating and training) and processing the cattle we weaned off their mothers and trucked to other yards. Step one is to get them used to horses and people, we practice walking them in and out of the yards so they are used to it and then we take them out to good grass and let them feed all day. In the late afternoon we put them back in the yards for the night.

We still use horses a lot on our property, they’re an important part of how we work cattle. Two ringers, Darcy and Cait, give me their biggest grins as they saddle up for the day.

(Image by family friend Trevor) Once young cattle are educated and have settled down the young cattle are branded, given an identification tag in their ear, vaccinations for botulism and tetanus and the males (mickeys) are castrated. Castrating is an important part of improving our herd quality and making cattle easier to manage, dealing with hundreds of fully grown bulls can be very dangerous! It’s best that bull breeding is left to studs. To castrate we use a medical grade scalpel, which is disinfected between each animal. Branding all the young cattle is a big job and takes days, we brand about 2000-2500 every year. Pictured here I castrate a mickey while someone brands. Doing two things at once saves us time, it’s a $20 fine if they burn me though! The Mickey’s top hind leg is tied back so he can’t kick us, injure himself and so he doesn’t move else I could accidentally cut him or myself.

Then it’s time to go to their new paddock! A quick selfie with part of my class of 2017.

We have to feed our cattle phosphorus supplements all year round to keep them healthy. Breeders especially need plenty of extra nutrients to help them raise a calf, these cows pictured are on a property in the Douglas Daly, 200km south of Darwin.

Seb, one of our aboriginal stockmen, does battle with the dust. We often employ local aboriginal people to help with cattle work.

My amazing mother Sally, and Michelle, one of the regular employees, commandeering a bull-catcher. This business wouldn’t function without my mother, she runs the books, cooks, organises staff, looks after the animals, butchers our meat, and does so many other things behind the scenes.

Young cattle in the yards, spending a few days being fed hay before we begin educating them.

Letting the horses go in the late afternoon. We have between 15-20 station horses, of various ages and ability. Most are Australian Stockhorse crosses, some are part Brumby or part Quarter Horse, some are completely mixed heritage!

Our friend Niki works a young horse in ‘the pound’ (a round yard). Although he’s already been broken in, it’s good to spend some time with the horses before the season starts and go over some basic training before we start riding them again.

Mostly calves we’ve hand reared forget us after we put them with ‘the big cows’, which makes me happy in a way because they’re able to be normal cattle despite their rough start in life. Sometimes though, they remain part of the family for years afterwards, seeking us out and coming over for scratches and cuddles even after they have children of their own. My sisters are pictured with ‘Bora Bora’, a hand raised calf who never forgot us.

A photo from where I’m currently living, where I work as a Junior Pilot. The next twelve months will be a big learning curve for me as I try to master working cattle from the air.

Breeders crossing the river on their way back to their paddock. Looking back at photos like this makes me appreciate the beauty in everyday work.

These are just a handful of the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the past couple of years, it was incredibly hard to choose just a few! I hope they’ve offered some insight into our busy, isolated lives. Thank-you for your time this week, I’ll catch ya round!