Cattle station operations

“We’ll take you fishing, promise!”

When family and friends come to visit usually at some stage they in tend to go fishing,  we have a number of natural water holes so we can generally catch something. (I’ve no idea what breeds, they are fish that’s about all I know).

Mind you there are also crocodiles and other bitey things in the waterholes so fishing is not my favourite thing. I prefer to stand back and admire the scenery.

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Like most people who are on farms or pastoral stations the last thing we really have time for in the dry season particularly when mustering, is fishing. So unsuspecting family and friends tend to get roped into free labour of mustering and general property work before the fishing trip occurs, if it occurs at all.

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Anyway visitors usually bring their paraphernalia of fishing gear and ‘stuff’ because of course we promise them if they come to visit then we’ll take them fishing.

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This time we did take them fishing, of a very different type! The worst type of all, fishing gear out of a bore hole.

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We’re heavily reliant on bore water for our stock and ourselves, so for water we pump from drilled bore holes. While we do live in the semi tropics and have waterholes and plentiful natural water in the wet, bores are absolutely imperative in the dry season. They allow a clean available water source for cattle and are vitally necessary for their optimum long term health and survival. We also use the water troughs and tanks in the dry to enable mineral supplementation. That is a liquid we place in drums with dispensers and the animals obtain the supplement through simply drinking from their troughs.

This is a blog I wrote a while back for Central Station in regards to Drilling for water.

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We went to check a bore one day in late September and it wasn’t pumping. It wasn’t a critical period because the new steel tank we had there to hold water was full and we knew this allowed us at-least 1-2 days grace of fixing the bore and getting it pumping before the cattle would drain the storage and be thirsty. All the same it was important we repair the bore as soon as possible. So we went home and collected the gear we needed to ‘pull’ the bore which is a number of cables, clamps and winches. We set the gear up and got to work.

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We’d had a very good run out of this bore’s gear and knew it was a number of years old, To have not corroded or broken down before this point in time was unusual as water electrolysis corrosion and general wear and tear tends to mean most bore equipment needs some form of maintenance or replacement every few years.

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To understand how bore gear works it is important to envisage what is happening below the ground in regards to bore water. A bore is literally a very deep narrow hole of only 150mm diameter drilled into water bearing rock layers. There the ground water can be sourced from aquifers. For some areas this may mean you have to dig hundreds of metres, in others it may be very shallow. Here we tend to need to drill between 60-130m to hit good supply of water, and then the water is sub artesian. It actually rises closer to ground level above the point it enters the bore hole through slots in the casing. You place a pump down the hole and access the water.
For this particular bore we knew we had a bore that was a total depth of 61m, (that is  reasonably shallow  in the NT). It had pumping gear down to a depth of 42m and we knew the standing water level (SWL) was about 16m.

#2 bore 003_edited-1
A diagram showing the bore hole attributes below the soil surface.

The pumping gear that had failed was the mono gear down the hole. It is a system of 2” column that screws together and is hung down the hole. Inside the casing is rod that runs the length of the column and is joined at the very base to a screw pump that actually draws and lifts the water.

This screw that lifts the water works on the Archimedes screw principle

#2 bore 001_edited-1

Principals of the mono rod and column system used to lift water from a bore.

A motor is at the top of the bore and through a belt system and pulleys spin the internal rods of the mono very fast. The outside column stays stationary. The spin is transferred to the bottom of the rods to the screw pump which is inside a very tight rubber sleeve. As this spins, it sucks in water and forces it up the inside of the column and the flow moves to the ground surface to be used. The mono column and rods are in sections of 3m (10’) and each section has a joiner. On the column these are called collars on the rod they are thimbles.

When ‘pulling’ a bore we use pulley’s, clamps and very specific actions and processes to grab the column and lift it in sections to then hold under the collars and thimbles as we undo and remove lengths. Holding and removing a section at a time we unscrew and repeat the process until we have all the mono gear out of the hole. As you can only pull out 3m (10’) at a time it is a process that must be done very carefully and with considerable care.

We had 42m of gear to lift so that’s about 14 lifts and removals to do. I have no idea what column weighs but guessing 14 lengths of 3m column and rods would be about 1 tonne. Again not a great deal of gear or weight considering some bores can be extremely deep. It can be dangerous but everyone is particularly careful with bore work so things are checked and double checked. My husband and I have a system and we’re very particular about who does what, so it is a very measured process. The concern is to not have any items loose, everything is done slow and steady because if you drop the gear it will go sailing to the bottom of the hole and then you have all sorts of problems.

Prior to beginning to lift the mono we’d diagnosed what we thought was the problem, a broken rod. Not a big deal as we could clamp, hold and lift the column which would lift the rods and allow us to replace them. At the base of the column is a foot valve that should stop any rods slipping through the base of the pump but as a precaution we also have a rod clamp at the top that held the rods in-case that foot value has corroded away. Just because you have hold of the column doesn’t always mean you have hold of the internal rods if that base foot valve or pump has disconnected for some reason. We knew the rods were broken so we knew we didn’t have a clear connection of the rods all the way to the foot valve. We hoped the breaking of the internal rod had not caused so much damage to the external column that it had caused the pipe to completely break away as tends to happen if the internal rod has flogged around inside an already weakened pipe and cause a whipping action, further increasing damage to spilts or holes in the steel pipe walls.

We lifted a couple of lengths, no problem, It felt suitably heavy and we hoped if there was damage to the column they were only pitted holes and not an entire disconnect. Then quiet literally shit happened! Where the column had worn it had caused a tear rusthole to occur in the casing partially around it, when we had moved the column, we had aggrevated it further and the column itself had completely gave way because the thing actually holding it was the rod and its tight fit inside the lower sections of the column and further into the screw pump, with the weight and nothing to hold it up it fell to the bottom of the hole. All we had was what we had clamped at the top of the hole.

Sometimes things occur that when they happen, you can just see the dollar signs, My husband and I knew exactly what had happened when we felt and seen the cable jump, We went from having maybe 700kg of weight to now lucky to have 200kg We’d still had hold of at-least one length of column and rods but we knew we had just heard a gut wrenching sound of a lot of rod and column go sailing to the bottom of the hole. To say we felt sick instantaneously was an understatement. Getting dropped gear out of a hole is no easy feat and usually means the hole is stuffed. Not only would we have to drill a new hole at who knows what expense, it would have been near impossible to get a driller in any short time frame. We had 500 head of cattle needing critical water in less than 2 days and while we could move them to other bores, it wasn’t a good time to be over stocking other waters at the end of the dry. Plus we were still mustering, plus it was drying off, plus to drill a new bore meant we couldn’t do the other improvements we had planned, plus drillers are notoriously difficult to get, often booked out 12 months ahead, plus, plus, plus. All of this and more goes through your head in about 2 seconds, then replays into all the worst scenerios,none good and none cheap! My hubbie just looked up at me and I looked at him and said, shit bugger bum! (Actually I can’t write what we really said or thought, there just aren’t bad enough words).

Our son and family were off-siding for us and actually had no idea what had just happened. They just knew by our expression that something had just gone very, very wrong. We’d been grilling them all morning about being careful near the bore hole not to let spanners and tools sit too close. Our explanation to them now was “we have to go fishing”, it wasn’t exactly conveyed enthusiastically.

As it turned out we actually had hold of still a fair few lengths of column so in some ways that was relief, it meant less weight to lift if we managed to get what was lost. What was now at the bottom of the hole was about 20m of column that is 50mm (2”)in diameter and 30m rod that was 16mm (5/8”). What we needed to do was put a tool down to catch and pull it out. It sounds simple but it’s not.
We had to get this stuff out, but the top of the rods were now 21m from the surface and at-least 6m below water, luckily for us this is not a very long way in ‘bore language’, actually it’s pretty shallow, but it was still very awkward and did mean that any gear lost in the hole would make it very difficult to place another pump due to lack of space. The gear had to come out.
If you were absolutely desperate you can leave dropped gear in holes, if the depth and water levels are Ok, but it’s not a good idea and restricts the use of the bore hole significantly as it usually makes it difficult to pump from. Sometimes gear can fall down a hole but not always to the bottom, if its lodged partway it can stuff the whole thing.

Rob drew on some old experience, we had ‘fished before’. It is a small cars spring welded to the inside of a heavy piece of column, in the hope that what we can do is send the tool down the hole and fluke it sliding over the rod, far enough that the spring would catch under a thimble. It would hold it strong enough to lift everything back up and remove all the gear.

#2 bore 002_edited-1

In theory the fishing tool will slide over the rod and column to allow the spring to jamb up under neath the thimble.

So back home we go to make the fishing tool. Back out to the bore we go to start fishing. It’s a simple idea but involves reconfiguration of the entire cable system and a lot of hands on touch and feel of the cable gently lifting the weight and trying to catch the rod. Remember we can’t see bugger all down the hole, it’s all by touch and the mind’s eye.
With the rod sticking so far out of the column it may have actually been leaning up against the wall of the bore. We needed to be careful not to the jam the ‘fishing tool’ down and actually push the rod into the wall of the PVC casing, that would have made it impossible to get it out.

So it’s not just a case of sending a heavy piece of metal down at a rate of knots and hoping it will grab, if we bent the top of the rods even if we did grab them it may mean we then have the rods jam into the bore casing and then we’d have the rods, column and fishing tool jammed down the hole with the cable. If we caught the bore hole wall casing there is the chance you can move it and then damage it thus again wrecking the bore as the casing is what holds the walls of the bore in place and breaking it can cause soil and rock to eventually cave the bore damaging the integrity of the whole thing.

We spent a full day trying to catch that gear with no luck, we decided that the cable we had wasn’t flexible enough so we sent an SOS to our neighbours to beg, borrow and plead if they may have any suitable cable. Luckily they did and so we drove over to borrow it, discussed all sorts of methods of bore recovery war stories, came home, set up and tried again.

By this time we did have thirsty cattle, thirsty cattle get destructive. It’s not a good thing. A thirsty animal will persist at any little point of moisture through licking or simply brute strength to get to what they think will be a water supply.
We tried again for another half day and just couldn’t get a grab to hold, we thought we had it but it slipped and went to the bottom again. By this time we were getting very worried. We had an audience of cattle who were simply watching and waiting and wondering what the heck was taking us so long.

We needed to move these cattle so we did, not an easy task as the other bores were not their normal bores and cattle being creatures of habit will return to the ‘home bore’ almost immediately.

The fishing tool was modified and refined and again we went fishing, we got it again, or I should say Rob caught it again and it was with very careful and extreme trepidation we lifted it out. It was such a relief to see rods emerge from that bore hole, even better when we had clamps locked on. Quick smart we pulled that mono gear out and we replaced the heavy stuff with new solar pump. Nice light poly pipe with a steel safety cable. If needed Rob, our son and I often pull these up and down by hand.

Most of the cattle we had walked away from the bore came back immediately when there was water available. We spent nearly 4 days fishing for that gear, through ingenuity and plain stubbornness my husband got it out. We were thanking our lucky stars that day. There are some horrid stories of gear dropped down bores and expensive redrills, we hoped we weren’t to add to them.

That fishing trip, we really did take the family fishing later, to be honest we needed an R&R day following the stress of that bore.

22.12.12 063

Fishes. They tasted good.

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Categories: Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, bores, Cattle station, Cattle station operations, Property operations, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

“Roger” – Message received.

Mustering River paddock today, I tried to take a few photos from my view on the 4 wheeler bike as we went along. We use 2 way wirelesses to communicate with each other and the chopper pilot who we hire. Most of the day is spent sitting behind cattle walking them to the yard. Occasionally the pilot will ask you to go to a place or get behind some cattle and generally the reply is “Roger”, communication jargon really, it just means I understand, I get the message.

29.05.2015 130_edited-1#1. R22 is beginning to muster.

A good part of the morning we do nothing! we wait. The chopper is working the paddock to bring groups of cattle out and we only move in behind when he needs us to help keep walking mobs along. Through this treeline is a major river system with a large waterhole. Along the entire river is many gullies and creeks with steep embankments and rocky outcrops.The gullies and scrub are impossible to get a bike through. Cattle soon realise to use trees or gullies to walk into which you have no hope to move them out of because you simply can’t get to them on the bikes. The chopper is an absolute necessity for our mustering capture effiency.

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We are mustering towards a permanent water point, a bore that the cattle know well. They will tend to follow their own walking pads out and follow the lines to the bore. Some animals will always give trouble particularly in dense and rugged country as this, and with the availability of natural waters they may be cunning and know the chopper means business. Some are very apt at hiding and knowing when to go to areas which makes it difficult to get them out of. We won’t get a 100% muster there are always some missed animals.

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The pilot works on using pressure and release. If the animals are moving in the direction he wants he’ll fly higher and hang back off them, staying the opposite side of the animal where he wants them to go. The reward to the animal is it is calmly walking and not being pressured. If the animal doesn’t go in the direction the pilot wants he will get right down low on them, using the noise and downward wind draft of the rotars to stir the trees and make noise, even a small siren at times to increase the pressure until the animal goes where the pilot needs them to move. When the choppers are doing this they remind me of an angry little bee at times. When the animal moves in the right direction the pilot will back off and give the animal space, thus the reward is the release. They move the wrong way he will put pressure on them again.

29.05.2015 159_edited-1#2. Still waiting. I usually carry a book, I read alot of stuff while waiting, or write blogs.

Some areas open up fairly well, though you still have to be careful and look out for the small termite mounds and granite rocks. It’s the small ones that catch you unawares, the size of basketballs, you don’t see them until nearly on them and if you hit them at speed they can really jerk your bike around, even tip you over. So your always looking for these mounds. Where the red spear grass is (reddish tinge where the trees begin) there are a number of small gullies that lead to the river system which is further in amongst the dense trees. These water lines are also nasty when riding as some are only about 50cm to 1m across. Deep enough that if you drove into them too fast they could cause you to actually nose dive over the top of your bike as the front wheels fall into the gullies.

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You’re not racing madly around on these areas but atleast you can see some distance to keep an eye on cattle, you can keep cattle together and this is where the pilot is generally pushing the various mobs he has moving. The chopper has been in the air a couple of hours. Our son is in the scrub there somewhere having problems with a bull, we know small mobs are starting to walk out but we haven’t seen a single beast yet.

sulky old bull

#3 Sulky old bull has bailed up.

River paddock as per its name has a whopping great river system going through it and while mostly dry at this time of year is a challenge to get a 4 wheeler around due to the topography. We get the occasional old sulky mongrel like this bloke. He’d be over 10 years old and then some, never been in a yard and he’s got the shits, he won’t walk with the mob but has the energy to belt us. Before this photo he’d already hit into my sons bike and had a go at rearing mine on its arse end by head butting the front bullbar. He’s standing in the water because he thinks we can’t get the bikes in there to get him. We left him there. We’ll see him in the future and shoot him. He’s too thin to sell and is certainly not what we want breeding with our females. Animals like this who refuse to be mustered only encourage bad behaviour of cattle. Often if one gives you trouble like this the next time you see him he’ll have friends and they will all give you trouble. The debrie in the tree to the bulls left is the water flow level of this river in the wet.

flicks Pdk

#4 Cattle starting to string along.

A relatively flat area. We’re on top of a tableland area, we will move through some drainage areas in undulating country before we hit the road and a fenceline, which the cattle will follow to the bore. We’re starting to get a few small mobs together and they are calmly following the stock pads. The chopper is still heading them in the direction of the yards about 3km away. We have just pushed these girls out from some very rough gullies and creeks and now we are heading them to other groups of cattle to the left. My son has another mob out to my right and I can hear my husband and daughter on the radio are further south with mobs already coming along a fence line heading to the road.

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The chopper will work like a large broom across the paddock flying over all us in a large arc, letting us know if we have any that have snuck off or diverted into gullies, or ones he has found standing quietly. We are all very spread out at the moment and the chopper is making sure we stay at the back of any cattle to keep them all heading in the right direction.

29.05.2015 196_edited-1#5 Cattle moving through their holding paddock

Yarding into a holding paddock, The chopper really does the majority of the work. We’re having trouble with the young bull on the far right. He was getting beat up by other bulls and doesn’t want to be part of the mob. He’s a cleanskin and starting to get fed up with the noise of the chopper and bikes. We got him in the yard.Though he needed some persuasion with our bikes to physically push him there.

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Most of the mob is cow and calves of varying ages as this is a breeder paddock. When a chopper has been working the cattle all day the animals recognise to obey it, move away when it moves to one side etc. Most of the mature cows and handled animals give no trouble and know they are going to the yards. With cleanskins or unhandled older animals sometimes moving bikes in, actually confuses the animals as they aren’t sure if they should be watching the chopper or watching you. If the animals are busy looking at who’s herding them rather than looking for the gates or following their companions they can become agitated and break away from the mob. We don’t want that to happen. We want them to follow the cattle who do know where they are going and moving into the yards.

Flicks Pdk

#6 Secure Holding paddock

We are pushing the entire mob through a double set of gates into another holding yard which then leads to our stockyards. The chopper is about 40-50m ahead of us, on the bikes we will move in a line to sit beside each other across the short laneway. The chopper yarded up without out help required.

As this is a major water point where cattle walk every day to drink, the area becomes very dusty.

The pilot will often prefer yard up without the bikes for 2 reasons.
1. Sometimes the chopper can simply do a better job. The pilots can anticipate the herd actions much better because of the view they have. We are only able to see the last few head due to dust.
2. If the chopper does need to be aggressive and come in low the pilot knows we aren’t under him or in a position that he may hit us with the rotors. This may sound silly but there have been some terrible accidents over the years of pilots yarding up, dropping very low and not realising a worker has driven under them. The rotors have hit the person on the ground killing them. If any of the cattle had turned we would have all moved in to stand and hold the cattle until they turned the right direction again, we wouldn’t have done that until the pilot knew exactly where we were and had lifted higher.

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We had a good yard up and left these cattle in this small holding paddock for a few hours to rest, this allows cows to mother up with small calves. We came back in the afternoon with our bikes but no chopper and yarded up into the stock yards ready to draft and work the cattle the next morning. We don’t leave them in the barbwire holding yards over night as some animals may try to get out and escape.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Cattle station operations, Life on a property | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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