Host: Wongawol Station
In the pastoral industry, a “scrub” (also known as a “scrubber”, or “scrub bull”) is a male cattle who escaped castration early on in life. Or, as once said on McLeods daughters ‘A bull with balls’. You see, on a cattle station, during the annual muster (when we round up all the cattle) all of the young male cattle (bulls) are castrated, so they can’t make babies of their own. This is to keep control of the genetics in the herd, stop inbreeding, and stop fighting. The bulls that are used to make baby cattle on stations are called “herd” bulls, and they are carefully bred from studs.
However, when you have thousands of cattle over hundreds of thousands of acres (the average station size in WA is one million acres), it is pretty hard to catch every single animal each year. So sometimes the young boy cattle don’t get mustered, and of course that means they don’t get castrated. If this happens for a few years in a row, they become somewhat of a “rebel” or “rogue”… aka a scrubber. They are cheeky boys who try and avoid being mustered by hiding out in the scrub, hence the name scrub bulls.
The older a scrub bull gets though, the more rebellious he comes. They can put up quite a fight during muster, and once in the yards, they have been known to charge at the jackeroos and jillaroos.
The charging is because of the “flight or fight” response in cattle. Cattle are prey animals, they are the ones being hunted and eaten, whether it be by humans or wild animals. So when they feel threatened or pressured, they take flight (run away). However, in a set of cattle yards, cattle can only run away so far. So if the bull is trying to avoid the people in the yards, and he can’t get far enough away for his liking, instead of taking flight, he will fight. That is why it is super important that the people handling the livestock are well aware of livestock senses and behaviour, so they can read the situation and handle the cattle properly.
Another way of explaining it is like this… say you are in a bar and this creepy guy (or girl) keeps edging up to you on the dance floor. They keep getting up in your personal space, and it’s freaking you out a little bit. You probably will keep moving around the dance floor to put a little bit of space between you and them… the closer they get, the more you back away. Eventually, if they have been following you around long enough, and they just wont back out of your personal space, you’ll probably smack them one. Well, I’d like to think that’s how it would go down, although I would probably just hide in the toilets! But you see what I’m getting at right? If we keep intruding into the cattle’s personal space, and they can’t maintain that distance between us and them, they’re going to charge. Although I must say, they are bluffing a lot of the time!
So, it is possible for any animal to charge you, but I suppose you would say the risk is highest with a scrub bull, because they have escaped human contact for so long and they have all that testosterone running through them. Although, in saying that, I have been known to work the gate for the bull pen as opposed to the bush cow pen, because bush cows are sneaky old bats that are more cunning than bulls. Even though they are mustered every year, there is always a handful who seem to become more and more resentful each muster!
I took this photo from the other side of the fence FYI! When a bull is this angry and unsettled, the best thing is to walk away and let them calm down. You can not work an animal that is upset, it just doesn’t work. This fella really had a bee in his bonnet. Two pens were open, and all the other bulls were in the other pen, we just wanted him to join his mates. He was ‘locked on’ to us though, he obviously felt threatened so that he couldn’t take his eyes off of us. In this situation we walked away so he had nothing to focus on, and gave him some time to wander over to his mates.
Here are some young scrub bulls. You’d be surprised by how well they can behave after being in the yards for a few days with fresh hay and water. That is why we don’t work “fresh” cattle (cattle that have just been mustered). It is super important that they be given time to adjust and acclimatise to their new environment (aka the yards) before being handled by humans.
To be fair though, not all scrub bulls are naughty! This black Brahman in the picture below was so chilled out during his stay in the yards. He kept having naps next to the fence, so I would sneak up and pat his bum through the fence. He would turn his head, look at me, sigh, and get up to walk away. Eventually, after I had done this many many times, he gave up and once I patted him 25 times in a row before he moved away. On the day we put him on the truck to go down south, I held out a handful of hay to him, and he ate it from my hands! He was eating out of my hands! That is how chilled out he was. Oh I loved that moment so much! He ate from my hands a few times, and then one of the other scrubbers came up and took hay from my hands. Magic moments like that make my whole week! Check him out below having a stretchy snooze in the afternoon sun, and then having a munch on some hay. I love it when cows eat hay it they take such big bites that it all hangs out of their mouth.
In the last week of muster we were drafting cattle on Carnegie station and I met another friendly scrub bull. We were drafting the cattle into “bush” and “truck” and the bull was in the “truck pen”. However, instead of hiding up the other end of the pen with the rest of the cattle, trying to maintain a certain distance between himself and the humans, he kept standing next to the race way! You’d shut a gate, look over your should, and there he would be!
He was an odd bull, because he was stand right behind you, and be all chilled out, but whenever I needed to walk up the fence, and go around a ‘stay’ (a panel used to support the fence of panels, think of a row of panels, and then one panel attached to make a ‘T’ shape, so to walk along the fence I would have to walk around this extra panel and then back in again, you can see the stay in the pictures below) and he would shake his head at me, and I’d be too afraid to pass.
Eventually though, I made a decision and tried to pat him. I wasn’t too ballsy though, so I only tried a few times. He let me!! I even got to pat his ear and his nose! Then when he had had enough he would just walk away. He was a pretty cool bull. I think some scrub bulls just give the rest of them bad names, like the scrubber who kept charging me at another set of yards, so I had to stand in the other pen and work the bull gate with a piece of rope.