Host: Dampier Downs Station
Written by Anne Marie Huey – Station Manager, Dampier Downs.
Many previous hosts on this site have spoken about low stress stock handling. At Dampier Downs, this is pretty much the closest thing we have to religion. Mike even went as far as to travel to America to learn from the late, great Bud Williams, a pioneer in the field. Working cattle according to low stress principles generally results in safer, calmer, and more efficient days. Having said that, however, we still have a lot of cattle that have had very little contact with people, and while low stress stock handling allows you to handle these animals, they are by no means as quiet and well behaved as we would like. You can also bet that if someone from outside turns up at the yards, something, somewhere will go horribly wrong.
A while back our neighbour was helping us truck some sale cattle. Mike was working the race and putting in ear tags, our neighbour and his father were loading the cattle onto the truck, and I was working the back yards. My job was to ensure there was a steady flow of cattle coming through at all times.
It works like this. The cattle start out in one big mob in a large yard. They are then moved through progressively smaller yards in progressively smaller numbers, until they are eventually moving single file down a ‘race’, which leads to the truck.
Obviously, as the yards get smaller you are working in much closer proximity to the cattle. This is where you really need to pay attention as it can get dangerous if the cattle decide they don’t want to play the game.
On this occasion, Mike knew there was a really snaky bull in the mob (hence being drafted for sale) and warned me to really watch him as he was likely to ‘go’ (or charge) me. I took this very seriously as these are big animals and can do a lot of damage when they choose.
All was going well until we ended up in the second last yard before the race. This particular yard has three fences made of weld mesh, a light steel product with a square pattern, rather than traditional post and rail construction. I was watching the contrary bull like a hawk. If he so much as lowered his head or twitched his ears I would back right off. Unfortunately, I was so busy watching him I didn’t notice his mate, who by this stage had also had a serious deterioration of attitude.
He came out of the mob straight at me. I turned and raced for the closest fence, which happened to be made out of weld mesh. Now, I had often wondered how you would go climbing one of these fences in a hurry as it is not the easiest to negotiate, but I can tell you, I was up that fence like a little cat.
Unfortunately, once I got to the top, the belt lugs in my jeans got snagged on some protruding bits of steel and I was stuck. I couldn’t go forward and there was no way in hell I was going back.
Normally, once a animal has put the fear of God into you and made it’s point, it is usually happy to put itself back in the mob, at least until next time you get too close. Not this time. This bull just wouldn’t quit. It kept head butting the fence, which by this time was getting a real sway up. All I could think about was the fact that my father had his ankle pulverised in a similar situation when I was just a kid, so I was desperately trying to keep my legs out of the way. By this time, I was virtually planking on top of this weld mesh.
Mike was in the yard I was trying to get to and, alerted by the commotion, came racing across to rescue me. He flew up the fence from his side, grabbed me by my britches and hauled me over the fence. Now, though, I was head first toward the ground, pretty much eyeball-to-eyeball with a very irate bull that was still intent on having me for breakfast.
I ended up in a fairly undignified heap on the ground, while our neighbour and his father did their best to not notice anything that had just happened. I have to say I wasn’t sorry to see that bull loaded onto the truck and off the property forever.
I guess the the moral of the story is, don’t get so caught up with what you think might happen that you fail to see what else is going on around you. Which is a pretty good philosophy for life, really.