Host: Country Downs Station
Written by Nikki Elizovich – Owner, Country Downs Station.
G’day to you all again. I hope you enjoyed getting a perspective of our life from both Kurt and Mary over the last few days. I have no doubt it would have been a refreshing change to the animated and sometimes convoluted drivel you have had to bear with from me!
Ok, so you have all gained in bit of an insight to the going’s on inside Kurt’s head. As he stated, Kurt rarely has a structured plan . . . much to my consternation (just call me “Little Miss Organisation”), but I will admit (somewhat begrudgingly), that he has an innate ability to adjust immediately (and with quite amazing accuracy) to anything that requires urgent attention . . . I guess that’s the payoff of not having a plan! Most people, who know us well, laugh at either one of us, when we complain about the ‘other half’. We are both so different in so many ways that we clash on a daily basis, however, we have a couple of fundamental opinions that are the same and these are what we both strongly believe in and therefore why we can actually work, live, play, and create together.
One of these opinions is of the intrinsic nature of animals and their relationship with their environment and their surroundings. Now in saying that, we are most certainly not experts and would never profess to know all there is to know. . . we are learning more and more every year and with every course/forum/workshop we attend. However, with the backgrounds that we have both had (albeit totally different, Kurt’s from direct experience and mine from a scientific background), we find that we more often than not, agree on how to manage and operate the property in an environmentally sustainable and holistic manner.
One of the main methods of operation we undertake is that of trapping cattle to ‘catch’ them, not mustering. Like everyone else, I love the romantic (???!!) imagery of dust clouds, bellowing cattle, whistles, the smell of horses, dust, sweat, wild animals, hearing the thunder of a hundred or more hoof-beats, the creaking of leather and jingling of saddlery, and being a part of the general commotion of a good Muster. The simple truth is that I have never experienced it myself . . . I do feel, though, that it is a natural part of Aussie culture to intrinsically know what mustering cattle is about, yet on Country Downs, we have only ever done one ‘muster’ since 2003 and that was only last year (November 2012). As many of you will have read in previous hosts blogs, not everyone musters, there are many out there who do as we do and that is trap their cattle. There are a variety of reasons why a property will trap cattle rather than muster, but I believe there are two central reasons that separate the properties that do trap and the properties that don’t and they are:
- Availability of natural surface water
- Economic sustainability
Mustering is very expensive, particularly so on properties, like ours, where there is not a lot (relatively speaking) of cattle roaming all over the place. And more significantly, on properties where there is no (or very little) natural permanent surface water, then it really is not necessary. All animals need to eat and drink and so if you can control where they drink, then they will come to you. Trapping cattle, not only reduces our need to spend a lot of money we don’t have, but it also means that two of us are able to do the same amount of work that it would take five to ten people involved in a muster. That’s where the economies of scale work for our operation. Trapping cattle also has the added benefit of training the cattle. They are trained to come to a specific water point, they get used human activity and structures, and they are never chased, so therefore they are rarely stressed (mind you, this can also work against you sometimes!). As Kurt has always asserted . . . “Trapping is akin to making a sponge cake . . . if you don’t get it right, it’s a disaster, but if you do . . . it’s a beautiful thing!”.
Sniffing comes before the licking, which comes before the flat out biting and taking chunks out. We have lost the wires to our tail lights (luckily we don’t need them!), dipsticks off machinery (which we actually do need), seats, side mirrors, and various items out of the back of the vehicles . . . just to name a couple!
Building a trap yard at our third watering point developed (Evergreen) on the property, 2007. I remember one of my jobs (apart from mixing concrete for the posts in a wheelbarrow!) was to make sure the cows didn’t take off with the empty cement bags!
In essence, the way we trap is to have a fenced area (anywhere between 100m square and 200m square) around a watering point that we call a ‘trap-yard’. We have an ‘in trap’ and an ‘out trap’ which are basically short ‘races’ that allow the movement of cattle in and out of the trap-yard. The cattle enter the water point through a set of ‘spears’ on the in trap (which are not actually spears . . . and I have no definitive answer as to why they are called spears!) that they are not able to return through. They then leave the trap-yard through the out trap which also has a set of spears. When you want to catch cattle you ‘set the trap’ (i.e. shut off the exit) and then . . . theoretically. . . draft off the specification of cattle you want or need (e.g. Mickeys/steers or heifers or cull cows or weaners etc . . . depending on what it is you are wanting to do) and let the ones you don’t want to continue on their merry way!
Alongside the ‘trap’ we have a gate system that allows easy access into the trap yard and more importantly allows us to ‘train’ new cattle in how to use a trap. We have had friends come out and see our set up and laugh as they watch a calm old (or young!) cow walk through the ‘race’ of the trap, not even noticing that the gate right next to it is wide open! These girls are your ‘coachers’. They do what you want and show all the others that it is really not an issue!
The major benefit of trapping is that you can do it at almost any time of the year and the livestock are not unduly disrupted. I have at times had to slap the nose of a bull or cow when I have taken down the sheet of tin that blocks the exit, so that I have time to get out of the yard before they, literally, jostle me out of the way! The cattle then file out like good little soldiers (well theoretically . . . again) and Kurt stands in his little ‘hide’ and drafts off the ones we want. Because we are humans and tend to have issues with time, you will always get the odd few that don’t want to play the game within the time-frame we have given them . . . usually 40-60 minutes. That’s when we use our Low Stress Stock-handling skills and I get in the trap-yard and ‘push’ the remaining cattle out the trap!
As with everything you do with animals (and children!), it doesn’t always go according to plan, but by using the low stress methods the only real problems I have had is when they decide to go through the fence and not the out trap. I have even ‘pushed’ cattle out of the trap-yards with Rory in a baby sling and William trailing along behind talking incessantly the entire time we were in there . . . I think the cattle left because they just couldn’t stand listening to William constantly asking “But why, Mum?” and wailing at me because he fell over! The only time for us that is difficult to trap is the height of the wet season and that is only because there is a proportionately larger amount of surface water around and therefore cattle don’t need to go to the trap-yards to get a drink every day (or three, which a recent project we undertook with the WA Agricultural Department and MLA demonstrated).
Whilst we are nowhere near a trap yard here in the homestead (although sometimes I feel ‘trapped’), this is the sling that I used to carry Rory around in when ‘pushing’ the cattle out of our trap yards. You can just imagine the sight the cattle had with me galumphing around like this as well as a three year old squawking constantly like a belligerent baby T-Rex!
The adrenaline pumping time for us, just like everyone else, is when you get them in the yards and start ‘forcing’ them into the increasingly smaller forcing yards, then the race, then the crush. We usually have a helping hand during these times as most of this kind of work is done in the dry season and that tends to be when family and friends are trying (or dying!) to escape the winter months down south. However, there have been plenty of times when it has just been Kurt and myself out at some set of yards, trying to ‘process’ (mark, vaccinate, and let go) or load (put onto a truck to transport to our main yards at the homestead), with one, if not two kids in tow!
Our first ‘trapping’ expedition with mobile panels. This is a mean old scrub bull. You just don’t mess with them . . . well not much anyway. We had a bit of a receiving yard out to the left of the photo, but felt it prudent to just let the poor old bastard go . . . particularly when he rammed the panels so hard, we thought he was actually going to go through.
I remember one particular time, about two years ago, we were at our southern most watering point (approximately 30km from the homestead) loading weaners and sale mickeys (intact young bulls). William was hovering around the truck and Kurt and I were trying to get the last few (these are always the most stubborn) head onto the truck. A couple of young bulls were starting to get a bit sour and so we were having a bit of trouble as we didn’t want to get into the yard with them. So Kurt handed me the ‘jigger’ (cattle prod) with explicit instructions to head around the back of the mob on the inside of the yard and if any give me any trouble, to ‘jig em’. Well, what actually ended up happening was that I did head around the back of the mob and push them up and Kurt even managed to shut the gate on them in the forcing yard, however, because they were a bit feisty, they turned back to the gate and tried to get back out the way they came, so Kurt yelled at me to “get over here and help him”. Which I did, but with gloves on, a jigger in one hand, trying to climb up the portable panels whilst watching the feisty bulls all at once, I wasn’t paying much attention to where the electric end of the jigger was pointing.
I was then a bit taken aback when Kurt started yelling at me “For @#$% sake woman, what are you doing!” What I happened to be doing was electrifying my husband . . . in the neck! Without realising (that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it!), I had scrambled up the panels and jammed the nasty end of the cattle prod into the soft bit of the side of his neck whilst somehow pressing the button! He had two little burn marks for a couple of days! If cattle could laugh (and appreciated our humour) they would have been rolling around the dirt absolutely wetting themselves. I still have a little chuckle when I think about that . . . at least we can say . . . well Kurt can . . . we actually do know what it feels like!
Well, that’s another day in the life of us ‘Country Downers’! We can only hope that it has been as entertaining for you reading it as it was for me re-telling it . . . I am still chuckling over the cattle prod incident! I will leave you with a wonderful photo that serves to remind us that all animals, no matter their shape, size, and sound, are (when not stressed), intelligent and curiously loving creatures! Until next time, ciao ciao Nikki Elezovich.