The Science and Technology Behind Yarrie

Host: Yarrie Station
Written by Andrea – Record Keeper/Station Hand, Yarrie Station.

It amazes me how many things we have to help us with our lives in the bush, and how we take them for granted. I can’t imagine what it must have been like so many years ago for those who first started grazing this land without the comforts we enjoy today. OK, granted, they probably couldn’t comprehend the idea of computers and mobile phones and internet the way they are now, but you get my drift; and personally I don’t know if I could survive in this life if I had to completely give up the things I consider to be essential to my existence. Solar panels (and large banks of batteries) let us have power 24 hours a day, air conditioners for when it’s hot, mobile phone coverage to easily keep in touch with loved ones, internet access with decent download speeds to fuel my need for online shopping, hot showers, and the list goes on.

I’ve come to Annabelle and the team at Yarrie after spending a season in a stock camp in the Kimberly. It was a great time and I learnt so much but was looking for a role that also challenged my brain and got me thinking like I had been at uni (I completed my Ag Science degree in 2013); this opportunity appeared in the form of a combined station hand/record keeper role at Yarrie.

2.1On the road to Yarrie.

I love the outside jobs, but it’s the time in the office that really gets me thinking and excited about what we are able to do. The aim is for me to spend half the week doing records and the other half outside doing station work; in reality this changes from week to week as the season progresses. Right now I’ve been outside pretty consistently for the past two or three weeks as we’ve been busy mustering, sorting and trucking cattle, and tailing weaners. But earlier this season I had many office days as I worked with Annabelle preparing records, systems, and procedures for the year.

2.2Time to drive the buggy.

Here at Yarrie we keep records on many thing; there are histories on all our windmills and bores, mechanical services and repairs, fuel usage, helicopter hours, and what we all do every day. It’s up to all of the staff to keep records up to date and everyone is pretty on board with it – it’s not very often that I need to ask people to update vehicle service sheets, or did they fill out the windmill file for me? Once a month I try to go through all the records and make sure they are entered into the related excel documents, then as the years progress we are able to compare and contrast what is happening.

2.3Machinery service board – when the last service was and what future services are coming up.

On the cattle front is where I find things get really interesting and exciting for me. A big part of my job is to work with a program called StockIT. This software is pretty impressive and lets us create profiles of individual animals in a database, using their NLIS tag as an identifier. We record birth date, age, birth area, weights, horn status, treatments, movements, and any other life events that the animal might incur. And there are so many other things you can choose to record, but we don’t use yet!!

Annabelle started using StockIT last year and so we are making progress with transitioning the cattle into the system. Obviously it would be a massive job to transfer ALL of the Yarrie cattle in one go, so instead we are putting all the new weaners and calves onto it when they are tagged and marked, as well as any older breeders that need to come through the crush (whether for preg testing, weighing, or other husbandry procedures).

2.4Using StockIT in the yards. We take the Toughbook (a rugged laptop designed to survive dust, heat, bumps, and generally the harsh environment where we are), scanner, weigh scales, and lots of NLIS tags!

With all of this information recorded, you can look up a specific animal and make management decisions relative to it’s history. And because that information is sitting there I can look back at a particular mob (or animal) and see what performance they might have had last year, and if that affects us now.

So, for example, a few weeks ago we were looking at the ADG (average daily gain) rates of some cattle and seeing if there had been a difference between various groups. And the cool thing was that we did see some differences!! There were two different lines of cattle and they had significantly different ADG rates. We are still in the process of figuring out exactly what it means or what changes might happen as a result, but because that information is already saved we can always look back on it and further analyse what is happening.

2.5Despite that I’d like to say I am perfectly tidy, the office quite often looks like this – lots of computers, files open, and hundreds of sticky notes!

When I was at uni, I had the opportunity to see a lot of innovative and cutting edge technology being used in agriculture. But that was all in small area, very high intensity situations; I was not exposed to how detailed and very specific data, technology, and science could be applied in large scale environments – like on a million acre cattle station! Using StockIT has really opened my eyes to some of the opportunities which broad scale farmers have to incorporate extra technology into their businesses. I see that this sort of technology has a number of benefits – not only to the bottom line of the business, but also to our animal husbandry as we can specifically treat separate animals on their individual history, and not the whole mob! For example, this means we can avoid missing (or doubling up!) animals when drenching, or looking at the pregnancy history of a breeder and deciding on future actions for that particular cow.

So I am enjoying (despite the occasional scream of frustration at the computer) the challenges that this year is throwing at me and my life at Yarrie. The opportunity to get into a different aspect of the business has been great and I love that even though going Jillarooing was only meant to be a “gap year” between uni and getting a grown-up job, I now have to chance to put into practice some of the things I studied and make a positive influence into the Yarrie business.

2.6Another gorgeous sunset in a beautiful part of the world.