Host: White Kangaroo Station
Written by Sarah Streeter – Manager, White Kangaroo Station.
I work White Kangaroo solo for most of the time. My brother and sister-in-law with one other employee come in only for the week or so that it takes to do each round of mustering, which we do three times a year (two musters for weaning calves and one muster for vaccinating cows prior to the breeding season).
Mustering is generally quite non-eventful, as we put a lot of emphasis on quiet handling and working of cattle with their mob mentality in mind. We also take the time to educate the weaners (calves freshly taken off their mothers) through the yards and mustering out in an open paddock.
Calves get a good learning experience from the first time they are mustered to the yards with their mothers. I believe they are much alike our own children in those early years; monkey see, monkey do. Also, I have found that the breed of Brahman cattle tend to have a strong mob mentality. There are “leaders” and there are “followers” and they tend to move as a mob rather than as individuals. Fences are few and far between and our terrain is quite rugged with many opportunities for cattle to run free from the mob if we do not approach the task with this in mind.
My place in mustering tends to be in the lead of the mob on the return trip to the yards. I have had many hours on the back of a horse marvelling at the leader cow following behind me. She will come out of the mob that we have gathered on a trough in the paddock as soon as I start the chant of “Come on, come on”. From 250 cows, this same cow (sometimes two or three cows) walk out of the crowd. For the 15 or so kilometres walk home, through hills and gullies, trees and shrubs, winding and rocky pads, with no fences guiding her, this cow will diligently walk behind my horse, sometimes so close that I’m sure my horse’s tail has tickled her nose.
My three kelpie dogs are my invaluable right hand girls once everyone departs and we are back on our own. With the cost of labour across the industry now quite high, I rely on the dogs to be where I would require another person to help with the week or so of weaner education. I’m sure that weaner education has been covered in some Central Station blogs previously – but in brief and with our management, this involves walking the freshly weaned calves out onto grass to feed during the day and returning to the yards in the evening. We go through the paces of walking (as apposed to running or rushing), blocking (stopping on demand), and turning (moving off on mine or the dogs demand). The dogs tend to have a soft approach and cast around animals, rarely ever coming in contact with a beast. This works well with the mob mentality, as it gives the stragglers or wanderers the chance to look and think about where their leaders and mob are heading. The majority of the time the animal will quietly go back into its place in the group and continue on the way.
I have seen “leader” animals establish their place in the mob quite early on in the weaner education process. A calf of only 5-6 months of age will chose to follow me where I lead it, walking out of her mob (equivalent to a room full of kids on their first week of kindy) as if to say “ok, I’m ready, where are you taking us today?” If I can get this animal in the right mind space that being with me is a positive place to be and to go at my quiet and controlled pace, then I have influenced the mob behind her. I marvel at this demonstration of personality and individuality in an animal. I do wonder, are we all just mob animals? Is a leader made or born? The things you ponder on from the back of a horse . . .