Host: Yougawalla Pastoral Co.
Written by Jane Sale – Manager, Yougawalla Pastoral Co.
Hi there, this is a very exciting day for Central Station and for me, Jane Sale. I hope you will see through tuning into the weekly hosts on Central Station, how differently each station, feedlot, and all the business’ run. This is due to so many reasons that I hope you will learn from the site. There are many different reasons for the decisions we make for our animal’s care on a day to day basis; some of them being a lifestyle choice (e.g. some people preferring to work with horses rather than mechanical vehicles), and some being based on geographical reasons. This is very much the case for Yougawalla Station which would have to be one of the most isolated stations in the Kimberley.
I assume you have read our profile, so I will not tell you more about Haydn, I and our 2013 staff. In this first blog I would like to tell you a little bit about how we manage the cattle. Myself, Haydn, and our staff do this job for the love of it and a lot of the newer staff if they are not loving it, for the experience. This is not a well paid career choice, especially with the worries and uncertainties that the 2011 live export ban has caused our industry and us personally, so I take my hat off to the brave people that give the station life a go.
As I mentioned in our profile, Yougawalla was built from the ground up and although being remote makes this a huge undertaking, the benefit of this is you can develop the property the way you want, with the usual economic and geographic restrictions of course. When designing the paddocks and yards for Yougawalla, we sought advice from many people that had done station development before and as a result the construction of dams, fencing paddocks, laneways, and cattle yards enables us to handle the cattle quietly with low impact on the environment. The waters and fencing is placed to manage the cattle without overgrazing the rangelands and the additional waters have improved the native fauna and bird life in the area.
The south east of our property is our breeder area. This is where we keep our cows and bulls. It is far from an intensive farming area, the cattle are only handled once a year. We muster this area by helicopter and motorbike. We are able to do this without horses because there is not a lot of scrub or heavy timber areas, it is mainly open spinifex plains. The bikes are followed by a ute that carries food and water, and picks up young calves that get tired along the walk. The cattle are walked from watering point to watering point so they drink along the way, and at the end of the day they end up in a fenced laneway. If it is late in the day they are left in the laneway overnight and then walked up into the yards the next morning.
The laneway design means we do not need the helicopter (chopper) all the time. The chopper can go to do another muster the next day while one or two people walk the cattle up on horse or bike and into the yards. We feed the cattle hay and handle them using low stress stock handling techniques in which all our staff are trained. For this reason they become quieter every year and usually walk straight into the yards easily and put their heads down for a feed or a drink.
The cattle are then drafted (sorted). This involves them being moved through the pens that become smaller and are shaped to allow the cattle to walk through and end up in single file into what is called a race.
The larger offspring that are old enough not to be feeding from their mother are sent through one gate into a separate pen, and are called “weaners”. The cows and young calves are sent straight ahead where they are administered their annual vaccines. Then the cows are separated between wet (milk in their udder and teats that have been recently sucked) and dry (udder flat against their stomach and teats tucked up). The calves go into the wet pen because that is where their mothers are. If a cow is wet, it means she is producing milk because she either has a calf on the ground, or one in her belly.
The bulls are drafted off into a separate pen also. They are given their vaccinations and then sent to the bull paddock. We keep our bulls separate from the cows from muster through until the wet season. By controlling how much time the bulls spend with the cows, this means calves are hopefully born within the same few months as opposed to all year round. Now we are seeing the results from doing this for three years, and there are less cows feeding calves through the hot dry months, which eliminates the need for a second round muster to wean these calves, which also means less handling in these hot months for the cattle.
After drafting we use horses to cut out the young calves that have stayed with the wet cows and look for the cow that they are feeding from and push them quietly into another pen. Matching up the right cow with her calf takes a fair bit of patience and observation. The remaining cows are walked back out to their paddock or a new paddock if their previous one is having a once every four year spell (spell means keeping grazing animals out for a wet season, burn the paddock and let it regrow). The cows with calves are put into the same paddock so we can feed supplements to the cows in the hot dry months before the wet season, so they have the best nutrition possible while feeding their calves.
The weaners are trucked to our north western area which is creek country with perennial high protein grasses where these young cattle that are taken from their mother’s milk will continue to grow well, putting them closer to market weight. The weaners are processed when they arrive. They are given an RFID (radio frequency identification) ear tag (gives the animal an electronically traceable number that is scanned through any movements it makes throughout its lifetime, from property to property in Australia and overseas), earmarked, branded, and administered their vaccinations. They are left in the yards on hay and water so we can keep an eye on them.
Over the following days the cattle are “tailed” here. This is one of my favourite jobs on the station. We work with mobs of about 150 weaners at a time and two of us on horses and maybe one person on foot. When we first start tailing the weaners, they rush around a bit and try to run away from you as they are not used to being handled in a close proximity. However, after about two hours of working with each mob, they will follow a horse out of the yards right to a trough in a small paddock where they are held until they are settled quietly. The benefit of this process is lifelong, they come back into the yards the next year quietly, they don’t rush away when they see people as they do not feel threatened so they are not as likely to harm themselves, each other or our crew. They will walk to a trough and feed happily in a yard which makes them likely to truck without stress or weight loss and walk off the truck at the other end and straight onto food and water.
The smallest of the weaners are put into a separate paddock and fed pellets as an extra supplement. We re-draft (re-sort) this mob every ten days to take the larger ones out so they don’t bully the littler ones off the food. The females of the weaners (heifers) are our future herd and the males are our following year’s sale cattle.
This year we have already mustered most of the weaners from last year and separated the females and sold the larger of the males to Indonesia. I was fortunate to join a group of farmers and industry representatives on a trip to Lampung and Jakarta last year to see the journey that our cattle go on and meet the people that take care of our animals over there and if you stay tuned to Central Station some of these wonderful people will be hosting this blog.
This week at Yougawalla we will be starting the mustering of our cows I have attached a picture of the weekly planner that goes out to our staff. We have a running joke here at Yougawalla that nothing runs to Plan A, so I am sure by the end of the week this sheet will have plenty of red marks and look more like my French homework from when I was at school. French doesn’t help me much out here anyway!
Stay tuned this week to hear more about mustering as well as outback schooling, remote management of groceries, life as an outback beautician, an Indonesian city to Desert culture shock and incidents and accidents in the remote Kimberley.