The Cattle Season: A Relationship Survival Guide

Host: Dampier Downs Station
Written by Anne Marie Huey – Owner, Dampier Downs Station.

Women are the back-bone of the cattle industry. Admittedly, it is still a very male dominated world with the vast majority of managers and head stockmen being men. However, alongside every successful cattleman you will find a busy, hard-working woman whose efforts keep everything – and everyone – functioning.

Whether it is in the heat and dust of the cattle yards, wading through a mountain of paperwork in the office, sweating it out in the kitchen, or juggling the chaos of running the house, managing staff relationships, keeping kids and poddy calves fed, filtering the important emails from the junk and fielding phone calls, without women the industry would crumble.

And it can be a tough gig. No matter how well you attempt to plan and organise it only takes one random weather event, disaster in the stock camp, or machinery break down to throw your entire schedule into disarray. Those who grew up with farming/pastoral backgrounds will develop a new-found respect for the fortitude of their mothers who did it all before them. However, for those who find themselves abruptly thrust into the bedlam that can be living on a station because they fell in love with a man who can envisage no other life, it can come as something of a shock.

It’s easy to get disillusioned when your partner is gone before dawn and not home until well after dark for what seems like months at a time. It’s natural to question why you are doing this as you eat dinner alone for the fifth time that week. Facebook becomes a double-edged sword. It keeps you in touch with the life you once had, but at the same time makes you wonder how you came to be wrangling the bunch of uncooperative poddies installed on your front lawn while your old friends are sipping cocktails and posting pictures of fabulous new shoes.

With this in mind I have put together few tips and home truths for those new to the industry (or those considering making the leap). Hopefully this – and the right amount of wine – will get you through to the end of the season with your sense of humour and sanity relatively intact.

  1. You will never be his first priority

Don’t get me wrong, he will love you with all his heart but there will be times – a lot of times – when whatever you have planned will have to take a back seat to the day to day running of the business. As frustrating as this can be, it is a good thing. It means you have someone who is truly compassionate and accepts the responsibility of putting the needs of his animals before his own wants.

This doesn’t mean you have to – at least not every time. Admittedly there will be occasions (such as when a bushfire is roaring towards the fully stocked sale paddocks) when all hands will be needed on deck and events will have to be rescheduled. However, if a broken-down grader means he can’t get to the race meeting you’ve been looking forward to all year and there is nothing constructive you can achieve by staying home – just go.

It’s too easy to be so overwhelmed by all the demands of the business that you lose your sense of self. Decide what’s really important to you and don’t feel guilty about making yourself a priority occasionally. Whether it’s visiting family and friends or just taking time out to attend a social event in town, making the time to do the things that make you feel like you will benefit everyone.

My advice is – if it happens in the dry season and is important to you, be prepared to go it alone. Chances are you won’t be the only cattle widow in attendance and kicking up your heels with a bunch of like-minded women who truly know how to make the most of every social occasion can be an event in itself.

3-1-copyAll dressed up with somewhere to go. Any photos taken after this point in time will not be entered into evidence.

  1. He will have a wandering eye

Every man has his weakness. For some it will be a well-bred stock horse, for others a quality Brahman bull or heifer may prove irresistible. I have even known those who will lose complete track of a conversation when presented with a shiny new grader at road works. Personally, I never thought my greatest competition for attention would be a tiny fur ball, but put a kelpie puppy anywhere in the vicinity and I may as well not exist.

Fortunately for me, adorable kelpie puppies turn into incredibly destructive, extremely naughty kelpie teenagers – which is when some of the infatuation tends to wear off. By the time they have matured into valuable working dogs we have all had a chance to re-establish ourselves in the correct pecking order. Until the next puppy comes along, anyway.

3-2-copyEven I have to admit, with competition this cute maintaining the top spot is always going to be tough. Photo credit: Miss Grey Photography.

  1. The cattle industry has its own language

I’m not talking about the terms such as mickey, scrubber, or whoa boy, that while unique to the industry, are relatively easily defined but more about the unfathomable sign language you will be expected to immediately grasp at any given time.

Sign language tends to be most important when operating machinery. Backing up trucks, hitching trailers, or using machinery to lift heavy objects can all require a degree of non-verbal communication. Your partner will obviously have a preferred method of conveying instructions, however there is no guarantee he will use the same method on subsequent occasions. Misinterpreting these instructions can result in a healthy level of extremely loud verbal communication and the occasional spot of interpretive dance (aka jumping up and down on the spot).

I suggest you develop your own system for getting your point across and have found that simple hand gestures involving just one or two fingers seem to work quite well.

  1. Performing minor miracles is part of the job description

Mind reading is a handy skill if you can master it. Don’t be surprised to have a conversation along the lines of:

“Have you seen my thingamajig?”

“You’re what?”

“You know, my whatsit.”

“What does it do?”

Big sigh.  “I need it to fix my whatchamacallit.”

If telepathy is not your forte a blank stare, or at most an artfully raised eyebrow, is a perfectly legitimate response. Don’t ever, ever be tempted to volunteer to go into the workshop and look for anything (unless you were the last one to use it and then it’s only fair). Once you enter those unchartered waters you will spend your life searching for ‘dooverlackies’, ‘thingamabobs’, and ‘whatsits’. I admit I am somewhat mechanically challenged and therefore subscribe to the theory that if it can’t be adequately described it doesn’t exist. Find it yourself.

  1. It’s gonna get messy

I am sure somewhere there is a homestead that remains pristine throughout the hustle and bustle of the season. Verandas are swept daily, lawns are neatly mowed and laundry doesn’t hang on the line until the next load of washing demands it be taken down. Wherever this mythical place is, it’s definitely not here.

I will confess I have conceded defeat in the war against cobwebs and the dust that settles on every surface each time a willy-willy blows through. I have a healthy pile of chalk and ear plugs resting on the sink in the laundry, retrieved from the bottom of the washing machine because no-one ever manages to check pockets. It is not surprising to find cutting disks, drill bits, and welding masks on the dining table but I do draw the line at goannas in the lounge room and frogs in the bedroom.

Every so often I will make a determined effort to restore order (usually the day before visitors are due to arrive) but there are still many nights when the most I can manage is toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner. My approach to housekeeping is far from perfect, but that’s OK.

When the dust finally settles it’s not about how often you have mopped the floor, but the partnerships you’ve built. It’s about embracing the chaos of managing a dynamic, constantly changing environment. It’s about watching a magical sunset paint the sky at the end of another hectic, heartbreaking, uplifting, stressful, laugh-out-loud, crazy day and realising you occupy a very special place in the world.

Take a bow, women of the bush. Your partner needs you, the beef industry needs you, and dinner plates all over the world need you.

3-3-copyAnother day done and dusted.