Life on a property

“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.

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

“Come on, give us a hand!”

I thought I’d walk you through todays muster, so I took my notebook and jotted down what happened as I puttered along.

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We muster through the dry season,  that means we capture the cattle from each individual paddock, process them and return them to their paddock.

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We need to muster to remove the young unbranded animals from their mothers, vaccinate all animals and generally manage the herds overall health and quality. We remove the young animals to wean them, allowing the cows to maintain body condition by not feeding an animal that will sap its reserves.  Good body health and condition improves the cows ability to become pregnant again. We remove unwanted bulls, introduce new ones with preferable genetics, we cull animals that we don’t like for body type, fertility or temperament. We vaccinate for Botulism and jump the animals through a dip to control tick. We sort animals into various groups that may need to be placed in other paddocks, ie steers that will be sold the following year are grouped together for easier access to sell.

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Prior to the days muster the four wheeler bikes are prepped and readied, there will be 5 of us on the ground, my husband, myself, our son and teenage daughter and a worker. Today our worker is a German female backpacker who has never worked cattle in her life. She made the comment only the day or so ago that the animals looked nice in real life, that about sums up her experience with cattle, zilch.

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The paddock is a shade over 40 square kilometres shaped into a sort of rectangle with a significant creek system right through its centre. The main creek itself has a number of water holes that are permanent or very nearly permanent with an untold number of small creeks that feed into it. The topography of the paddock is dominated by the creek system being the lowest point and the areas north and south being the highest, with a significant hill region in the south.

Map 2. 1 - 10_edited-1

Figure 1. Diagram of the paddock. Mustering will start from the left and work the cattle to laneways which move around the paddock, to then lead to the processing stock yard at point 11.

The land system is made up of undulating bedded sandstones which tend to have shallow soil, native grasses and soft spinifix. Some areas have moderate tree coverage of  gumtrees and small woody acacias. Moderate meaning that you can drive a four wheeler bike comfortably at a pace of 20 km an hour among the trees without having to smash and crash through scrub and over large rocks. Termite mounds dot the area but they are not covered densely by vegetation, In other words you can see them. You can see some distance of about 300m comfortably and can generally move in a straight line if you need too over that distance  without climbing or descending hills or crossing gullies.

12.08.2014 015_edited-1Figure 2. Good open going for four wheeler riding. The dangerous termite mounds are small and hidden by grass. Most will break at the tops if you run into them but are solid at the base and can easily roll a four wheeler if your wheels ride up onto them

Unfortunately most of the paddock is simply not this accessible and other parts are rocks, gullies, thick scrub and densely covered grass areas. Spear grass makes riding a bike extremely dangerous because you simply can’t see more than a few metres in front of you, other times due to thick small woody trees or the topography is too rugged for bike access. If we can’t move a bike freely across the ground then we haven’t got a hope of chasing cattle across it.

12.08.2014 056_edited-1Figure 3. Speargrass coverage over a black soil area. There is a creek about 1m wide and 1 m deep just before the tree line, you won’t know until your in it. Then if you get across that you can’t get through the scrub.

 

12.08.2014 046_edited-1Figure 4. Part of the creek system, while easy to often get into sometimes you can’t get back out. 

Due to difficulty in moving across the terrain on bikes we hire an experienced helicopter operator. It would be simply impossible to achieve a reasonable muster without helicopters in this area. They may seem expensive to use but operated well they  make cattlework efficient. They catch cattle you would never catch on bikes or horses irrespective of how many people you could afford to have on the ground.

04.06.12 018_edited-1Figure 4. The chopper is hovering over cattle that are only 100m away from us but we can’t even see them.

Honestly the figures we put back in a paddock have no real resemblance to what we will get back out 12 months later.
We had a particularly ferocious wet season downpour that took out the floodgate fencing on both sides of this paddock of the main creek and a number of other smaller creeks that are also along the fences. We know bulls fighting damaged a gate and allowed steers and other animals to enter, as well as the paddocks herd to vacate.
We have no real idea of what calving percentage occurs, survival or mortality of animals born, or how many are killed by wild dogs. Death rates of cows or adult animals who may have died due to injury, disease or natural causes is a guess.

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Between musters we pump water, supply supplement, provide dog control and maintain fences as best we can, we have no contact with the cattle unless we happen to see them coming in for a drink while checking a water.

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The paddock currently has two bores, one in the north west corner, Bull, and another to the east, Tank, both have cattle traps, barbed wire holding yards and lanes which connect them and allow us to walk cattle through scrub with some semblance of control and prevents cattle escaping.
Laneways make walking stock efficient, over the years labour has become increasingly expensive. Years ago 10-12 people once did a muster on horses now 4-5 do it on bikes. Where the 10-12 would have all been extremely experienced and knowledgable of the lay of the land with no communication between them now we have 3  plus the chopper who know what they are doing. Mustering years ago was genuinely  people rounding up cattle on horses now we rely heavily on the chopper to bring the cattle and we sit behind the tailenders. The chopper captures and does 99% of the real rounding up, we keep them together and moving in the right direction.

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The basis of the direction of the cattle mustering will be to start at the furtherest area from the bores and work back to their watering points, they tend to move along pads and to these areas when herded.

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Its isn’t an early start and we’re not expecting a long day.

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Day of Muster.

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6am
• Generally a cooked breakfast, any excuse to have bacon and eggs, but also because you’re never quiet sure when lunch may be.
• Organise water bottles to be carried on the bikes and lunch to be stored in the car with the trailer that will cart one bike.

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7am
• Chopper arrives and the usual chin wag and general plan of attack is agreed on. Our chopper pilot has flown this area for many years and while the basics of the paddock haven’t changed we may have added fences or altered some aspects he needs to know about.
• Chopper refuels and takes off to make a start mustering in the paddock 20km from the house
• We ride our bikes with someone driving the car that towing the trailer. The car carries extra water, tools,fuel, tucker box, lunch and stuff!
• Car and trailer are left at point 6, the bike is unloaded.
• There’s a general discussion on the UHF radio’s of where it would be best to place the bikes to keep the tail enders moving and we go to sit where the pilot wants us. (read that a mostly out of his way for now)

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8am
• Husband, daughter and myself are sitting at point 1
• Son and back packer are waiting at point 2.
• Chopper is starting generally far west (bottom left) and sweeps the paddock in sections heading north east (top right) not unlike a broom sweeping a floor so that in generally everything ends up in the same place. Depending on where he spots cattle will determine where and how he moves. In general the chopper will move back and forth in a large arc progressively working different areas so the cattle are continually walking and moving in the direction towards the water points (3 & 6).
• The importance of a pilot with skill, patience and knowledge can’t be underestimated. They need to pressure the cattle firm enough to make sure they move in the right direction and keep moving,. The pilot also needs to be knowledgeable of how their movement in the air sounds to other animals as they fly about, approaching and moving away to work different mobs. If they push too hard the cattle will trot and soon become stressed and often sulky, they’ll start to hide in the scrub, duck back into gullies. The chopper needs to maintain the cattle at a walking pace. When the cattle walk they are rewarded by the pressure being released by the chopper moving away, they learn to keep walking away from the chopper. They go the wrong way or stop, the angry little bee in the sky will pressure them until they do it right, sometimes just with changing noise through rotar pitch, sometimes by using the air wash downdraught to create dust and disturbance. Sometimes if the scrub allows the pilot will get down to ground level and literally eyeball the animal. The animals learn the chopper means business and generally will walk together in groups to the waters.

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9am
• Chopper has been busily going back and forth
• We’ve done absolutely nothing.
• I sit back, look at the scenery, admire the trees, wonder if I’ll ever figure how the heck I’m going to learn any grass names when I can only remember one or two.
• My husband and I scheme, or he plans building infrastructure and I tell him what it will cost. Our daughter sits expectantly on her new bike, at the ready, bright pink helmet, waiting for the command, hoping today will be the day she’s given the responsibility to round up a few. She listens for the chopper and will tell us exactly where he is, stuffed I can see it.

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9.15am
• A small mob of cattle have been moved into the holding pen at Bull yard (3), we move there with the bikes to take them along the laneway, we’re the tailenders. These cattle are the slower ones who may have some smaller calves, older cows or just cows that are cunningly slow and drag their hooves every chance they get.
• Walking is one of the greatest animal welfare practices a producer can do, it calms cattle, it teaches them to respond to a bike without being paniced. It is an extremely important educational tool for cattle handling.
• I have trouble with a 1st year heifer that is determined to go the wrong way, maybe she last saw her mates at some point behind and has now lost them in the movement of coming in. I have an arugment with her, including physically to try to force her to join the mob. I loose, she beats me to a fence and I curse (I do that a lot). It is a fine line between working hard enough to get the animal back against how much risk you take. At what point do you smash gear, including yourself to get her back. I tried a few times to wheel her (turn her) but it wasn’t enough to bring her back so then I try to physically push her using my bikes bullbar to force her around to the mob, this is done while also dodging trees and termite mounds. Some I can run straight over others I have to go around. I wasn’t good enough to turn her, simple as that, there’ll be another time. She has gone into the paddock which we need to muster next week anyway.

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9.30am
• Cattle, only a handful of about 20 head are in the laneway now moving from Bull yard along the laneway (4) to an intersection of another laneway and then onto Tank (6).
• Our son and backpacker are walking cattle along a fenceline on the eastern side, they sat and waited at point 2. As they move along the fence heading north the chopper will feed them cattle to add to their mob and any others inbetween us and them will be walked directly to tank bore by the chopper’s sweeping motion.
• This lane is only about 3km, its warm, even a bit humid, temperature 25 degrees and very still, with no cloud the sun is feeling good, it’s a really a lovely day to be outside.

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10.30am
• Usually there’s a bit of talk on the UHF radio, as the pilot communicates where cattle are, what or where he needs a bike, it’s very quiet today. That can either mean the cattle are behaving really well and walking where they should or there’s no bloody cattle, now that’s a worry!
• So I spend the next hour worrying about where have the cattle gone and extremely worried they have all disappeared.
• While your mainly looking at the wrong end of a cow walking , you look at the other animals, you look for dog bites on calves, torn ears, try to figure which calf belongs to which cow if they are a little calf and should you take the calf off when drafting if the cow looks like her body condition is low. You look at bulls, are they walking ok, are they damaged in any way, are they behaving, if they are giving you a hard time you remember them to be removed to be sold.

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11am
• Slight breeze has come up, drink of tea would go down well, I chew gum and basically every one bludges my stash of lollies they know I carry when ever on the bikes.
• See that a smoke plume has started up again on our far eastern boundary, an environmental vandal has haphazardly lit a fire and just let it rip. No way to control it way out there and unless it crosses a main river and heads west isn’t of any real concern. Fires are so hard to pinpoint, we use internet to track to some degree but the accuracy of location of hot spots is fairly unreliable. I guess this one is burning hard because it is crossing heavily grassed black soil flats and burning along the edges of significant creek systems with lots of woody growth to fuel it.

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11.30am
• We’re within radio contact of the other bikes they are at the tank bore and have a good mob of cattle, we move our little mob along towards them which is only another couple of kilometres ahead. By this time the animals have become very docile and are content to walk steadily in single file. Daughter has sole responsibility of keeping them walking, a job she takes very seriously. Dad has to cough up and pay for ipod music as way of wages today.
• We are moving at a good steady walking pace.
• We’re starting to look like lounge lizards on our bikes, both legs one side, one with a leg up on the rail, one sits cross legged

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12am
• We put our cattle with the main mob in the tank holding paddock which has a pain in the arse creek through it and lots of small scrub. Knowing we always have trouble moving the cattle towards another laneway gate we decide to not have lunch and move into the next lane, we intend to pull up a little latter at another dinner camp.
• Daughter really needs a ‘snack’ which Dad says is Ok, so we go off and start to move the cattle while she eats.
• The mob of now about the 400 head isn’t compacted together in the yard which is about 2 square kilomtres in size so we have no real control in moving the mob as a whole until we do get them together. The gate we need to get the cattle too is not their usual gate, they use another one to  feed out when leaving the water so they are always reluctant to move to the laneway gate. As the bikes now do the sweeping to move cattle the leaders have turned and coming back, their natural inclination is to head to the trap gate which is opposite to where we need them to go. Some pretty serious back and forth of the bikes is occuring as we work as a team to keep the animals going to where we want and back each other to stop the animals who are turning in the wrong direction going that way.
• Daughter has pulled up for a 3 course meal I think. When called to assist she tells us she can’t remember how to start the new bike, she’s told to wait, we’re busy. She must have figured it out as she turns up in a few minutes, more likely she can hear us zooming around and doesn’t want to miss out on the action.

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12.30pm
• Moving well down another laneway now (7), the backpacker is having an absolute hout of a time. Usually after a chase some either collapse as nervous wrecks or can’t wait to do it again. She has good sense and is doing really well, she’s not afraid of the cattle but not out to destroy the bike either. It can be very hard to know what to tell someone when they have never worked cattle. We give a basic introduction of how to move animals on foot but often you don’t want to flood them with information or circumstances, because they simply need to learn sometimes while doing the job. We give a lot of instructions on the wireless, not unlike training a dog stop, go left, go right. Stay at the back. Our main advice is stay away from fighting bulls and stay with us.

07.08.2014 011Figure 5. Walking cattle along a laneway which  has fences either side about 70m apart. This allows better control of large mobs walking through paddocks and thick scrub.

1pm
• One of the bikes starts to play up, can’t find reverse, hubbie has to fiddle and fix stuff only men seem to be able to fix.
• I go back to tank bore, load my bike, drive car to where cattle are in the lane.

07.08.2014 007_edited-1Figure 6. Bike is loaded. Car carries tucker box with gear in it to make a drink of tea and lunch.

1.30pm
• No sooner we get one bike going and another one throws 7’s. The old Polaris, prior EFI, fuel blockage. We dismantle most of the plastic to get to the carbi, use the ageless if nothing else works tap the carbi and stuff me dead the bloody thing went.
• I’m getting hungry and I don’t run well when caffeine levels drop, hubbie asks do you want lunch at the intersection, ‘about time’, soon he says.

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2pm
• Get to an intersection of laneways. 4 Bulls pick just this time to have an all out blue and push each other over a fence into another paddock, Son and hubbie go through and bring them through a gate with no dramas.
• We yard up into the intersection and do a 90 degree turn into another lane, only a few more kilometres to the final yard.
• We pull up for lunch. I carry tinned meat and bread, lots of biscuits and we boil a billy can for tea.
• The distant fire is really billowing and looks bad, we see our mail plane fly over. They deliver our mail once a week, Every one teases dad about all the stuff he buys on ebay and how many presents he’ll have this week.
• We swap war stories on the one that got away, rocks or close calls and especially how mum seems to have lost another cow.
• We let the cattle meander along at any pace they want while we have lunch, some keep going all the way to the end gate some will sit and rest like us, feed around or just generally have a doze in the sun.
• Its come up really windy and gusty, no doubt fanning the fire.

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3pm
• the laneways are only about 100m wide, we all ride abreast so we move any cattle along as we find them, It is important to keep an eye out for any laying down asleep that can be easily missed in spear grass and look out particularly for any calves. The cattle can’t get out of the laneway so it’s a pretty casual, easy job.
• The animals will tend to follow the pads they make, tracks in which they comotosly follow each other, nose to tail.
• Last gate, we don’t open until the mob are bunched up, we need to move them through efficently to keep them together for when we yard up into the stock yard.

07.08.2014 019_edited-1Figure 7. Cattle in the last laneway heading for the last gate before yarding up.

3.30pm
• Last section of lane, it is rocky and has a few small creeks, it’s rough to ride, we have about  200m of good going clearance from the stockyard gate. We start to get nervous and make sure everyone is in a line across the whole of the lane, the cattle have been fine but yard ups can go to crap very quickly and it only takes a cheeky bull or irate cow to mess the whole thing up. Cattle aren’t good at maths they never seem to figure theres 400 of them and only 5 of you but look out when they do. Trying to turn or even hold a mob that doesn’t want to turn back is not fun. Stay on your bike and make plenty of noise is about the only rule at this point in time as we keep the tailenders moving.
• We don’t open the yard gate until the mob is relatively close, that way the leaders will be filing into the yard and going to get a drink , the idea being the whole mob will flow and we close the gates before many know they are even captured.. If we let them straggle in the leaders will get a drink and then double back out, blocking the way for those trying to get in or even worse a few will realise they are in the stockyard and try to come back out. This causes chaos at the gates and is usually bulls who don’t like to be jammed in too tight with other bulls because of aggressive ones.
• Everyone is in a line across the lane, making noise but not forcing too hard, keeping the mob moving. I have my tin rattle dog I shake the jeepers out of, it drives hubbie nuts but it’s a great bluff for cattle, I can’t use a whip to save myself. I most certainly can’t use a whip and ride a bike at the same time.
• We yard up with no problems and close the gates.
• Its just past 4pm.

It has been a really good day, mainly because it looks like we’ve got a reasonable mob of cattle, no major problems, no one got hurt. The cattle are looking to be in good to fair condition with a few old girls looking a bit skinny. Odd cleanskin bull amongst them but nothing too bad, one in fact that we know gave us a really hard time a year and got away but we have him now.
Its been a good day. I hope you had a nice time,  hey thanks for your help.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, Cattle work, Dry Season, Life on a property, Live Exports, Property operations, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hope, Pray & Drill.

We made the decision to expand the area of which our cattle can forage for feed, to do this they need water, while in abundant with rain during the wet season, it isn’t during the dry.

With the cattle selling markets as they were earlier in the year (2013) we made the decision to keep our cattle on property rather than sell at ‘give away prices’, We also decided that economically in the future we needed to sell heavier steers aiming to above 320kg rather than lighter which we had done in recent years to maintain cash flow. The effect of holding cattle is that the herd numbers increase as we’ve held onto steers, yet they are located on the same available waters as was used as the breeder herd. The solution is to create more watering points to carry the cattle to ensure sustainability of the land grazing and herd health is maintained. We do this by water point development.

To ensure the supply of fresh clean water to our animals we drill bores to obtain the water we need. A bore is a 150mm hole drilled into the ground that taps into deep water storage aquifers and water bearing sandstones. We use equipment to draw the water to the surface to supply to the animals through pipes, tanks and troughs.

The establishment of new watering points is needed for a number of reasons;

  1. Supply of clean and adequate water through the dry season is paramount to the health of animals and good animal welfare.
  2. Watering points allow a greater range of area over which a herd can graze, this spreads grazing pressure and ensures the capability of the grasses to regenerate.
  3. New watering points will allow us to spread our herd from existing points and thus reduce some numbers at these areas and utilise land that is currently not being used.
  4. Cattle will tend to forage in a 5km radius around a watering point, some cattle can and do walk out further than this, but most will stay within the 5km range. Due to the need to drink each day the areas outside of the 5km range tends to be underutilised and the areas within over utilised. Over utilisation can lead to over grazing and degradation of the land. Creating new watering point’s spreads these grazing pressures out which not only minimises animal impact but improves the health of the herd as there is less competition for the available feed.

It is quiet nerve racking drilling for new waters as there is no guarantee that you will actually get the volume and quality you want, in fact there is no guarantee you will get any water at all. Due to the rock fractures and land systems all estimates of drilling depth are only educated guesses. Irrespective if you hit water or not the driller still has to be paid. Depending on the driller this could cost anywhere from $150 to $200 per metre of bore drilled and developed.

Location of a watering point is based on experience in knowing the area and requirements of what is actually needed for your purposes. This is Robbie’s speciality. He will study maps, consider other bores in the area and speak with other locals. He also will divine using wires. We’ve never had a dud bore yet, as in a dry one but drilling depth is always a best guess!

The bore in this article was established as the cattle in the area were reliant on natural waters and springs, some from which we can pump and store for cattle use. We try not to allow direct access by the cattle to these springs as many are very rugged to access and cattle walking in them destroy the ecosystem and water quality. Being springs though, pigs  wallow in them and the water late in the dry becomes murky and unhealthy. The last wet we had was an unusually dry one and we noticing some springs going dry that have not been dry in the 5 years we have been here.

17.10.13 023_edited-1Figure 1 – A spring that has receeded more than normal due to the poor wet seasons of 2010/11 & 2011/2012.

This is not clean water and becomes stagnant and murky late in the dry season.

The bores on this property tend not to fluctuate in supply and therefore as long as we only pump what their supply is tested at will be unlikely to recede in supply over the long term.

The replenishment of springs and shallow aquifers in this area is from natural rainfall and can vary as the rainfall does. Deeper aquifers from which most of our bores source water are more abundant and dependable. Their source of water is over a much larger recharge area from other formations and soil structures that allow movement of water through them over huge distances.

So Robbie has decided he wants a new bore, and as minister of all things war and finance I gave the go ahead.

The first step is to make sure access is available for the drilling rig to get in. This road will then become the main road to the bore site.

27.08.13 012 - Copy_edited-1Figure 2 – Establishing access to the intended bore site.

Next is the drilling rig.

27.08.13 061_edited-1Figure 3 – The Drilling rig

This rig is smaller than most as it uses only 3m drill rods. The rotary drill head uses a large drill bit to cut in to the ground and the drill rods follow. These rods are hollow but very, very strong. The driller will use air to push any soil, pulverised rock and sediment from the hole by blowing air into the base of the drill down through the centre of the drill rods, then push the sediment up the outside of the rods and out the top of the hole. The driller’s use a mixture of water and a special soap with the air to keep things moving and keep the dust down, it also assists to lift the lighter debris out. The large grey mass of sediment is actually drilled basalt rock from the hole.

27.08.13 034_edited-1Figure 4 – Drilling. The air is lifting all the drilling tailings out of the hole as the rods move deeper. The bucket is collecting samples of tailings to be used to analysis rock stratas and record the bore details.

27.08.13 071_edited-1Figure 5 – Drill samples, the top is at the far lower left and progresses in 3m stages to the top of the picture. The lower middle sample is at 33m with the final at about 70m. The darker samples are basalt, the lighter are sandstone with the water bearing layer at about 65m, the very pink one at the lower right.

27.08.13 162_edited-1Figure 6 – Another bore being tested at 8 litres a second, a great supply.

Bore naming is quiet frustrating, in some ways is like naming a child; you have to live with the name of a bore for a long time. This bore eventually was called Cockatoo simply from the red tailed black cockies that live in the area. It started as Big Dog, Burnt balls, and then Red nuts because the drillers had a dog with them who got very sunburnt and you guessed it his nuts got sunburnt. Our daughter thought these names were rude so we thought we’d better call it something a little nicer. So Cockatoo stuck.

27.08.13 070_edited-1Figure 7 – Beautiful Big Dog.

We were pretty nervous drilling this bore as it was in an area where we didn’t have others in close proximity and also an area of heavy basalt. Generally where basalt is here you have to drill deep, ideally we were looking for 1.5 litres a second at hopefully only 60m full drill. For many cattle producers that wouldn’t be adequate supply, but we only intend to run 200-300 head on this water, for that 1-1.5lt/s is adequate.

We drilled to 60m, got nothing, so by this time we are thinking we have just spent $10,000 on a toilet long drop or we keep drilling and hope we hit an aquifer. We decided as another bore in a similar topographical area had water at slightly deeper we kept the drillers going.

Fortunately at 65m we got 1 litre a second. Not quite as much as we would have liked but enough to have a small solar pump draw from and supply water to several hundred head. Due to the pressures of the underground water supply the standing water level of this bore rose to 15m.

With great relief we have a bore. To ensure the bore hole sides don’t cave in the driller’s insert large steel casing and clean the bore out, they test it again and finish it off with a cement base at ground level. These final stages are called bore development. Once the drillers are finished it’s our turn to step in.

09.10.13 109_edited-1Figure 8. The bore hole developed, Not much to show for $10,000.

First rule of equipping bores – Do nothing else until you make sure it will pump water and can get it to the surface. Robbie had made a solar system frame up in his workshop and some of the infrastructure such as troughing.

We bring all this to the bore site and set up the solar system with a pump and pipe that go down the bore hole.

09.10.13 113_edited-1Figure 9 – Bore equipped and checking to make sure it can hold the supply. This is a 500W solar system pumping at just under 1lt per second, or about 800gal an hour in old scale.

Infrastructure takes a few days to put up, it includes troughing, fencing, earth pad for the steel tank, the tank itself and holding paddocks with traps and gates. We bury some pipework, especially if the cattle are going to walk near them and we always put an outlet for a fire fighting unit to obtain water from the tank in case of bushfires.

09.10.13 122_edited-1Figure 10 – Constructing some fencing and the trough. Latter the trench will go in for the pipework so it is buried and keeps the water cool.

09.10.13 120_edited-1Figure 11 – Constructing the earth mound for the steel tank to ensure its above the height of the trough.

We like steel liner tanks as they are relatively easy to construct and hold a good capacity of water to their cost. They do take a few days to put up and can be a bit tedious due to the number of bolts etc. but in general we have found them to be good tanks. This is an Aquamate tank, 13000 gal or nearly 60,000 litre capacity

12.10.13 002_edited-1Figure 12 – Tank constructed, with a roof. This stops sunlight creating algae and protects the liner, it also keeps the birds out.

Ideally we’d have aprons around the troughs and some other infrastructure but as we are trying to do this bore as economical as possible those things will have to wait. For about $20,000 we now have a new bore with assured clean water and a new home for our cows.

The only thing left to do now is go get some cows and relocate to their new home.

17.10.13 018_edited-1Figure 13- The Girls at their new home. This trough will water two paddocks and offer relief to a spring and another bore.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, Environment, Life on a property, Live Exports, Northern Territory., Property operations | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Life’s always better when your in the Vegie Garden.

I’m a vegie garden person. I love all sorts of fruiting trees and trees in general and while I am an absolute sucker for any plant nursery, things that can be eaten are my absolute favourite, well that’s my excuse for throwing good money after bad at any nursery I walk into.

People say grow your own vegies, so you know where they come from and the chemical use etcetera, etcetera. Personally I think the need to have a garden is more basic and primitive than that. It is the simple need to use the soil, nurture and grow and consume it. I get a real kick from going into the vegie garden picking something and simply eating it then and there.  It’s nice to be able to eat dinner and say I grew the pumpkin, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, as we tend eat the majority of our own beef at times some meals are nearly 100% home grown.

I’m fortunate to be in a position where I have the space and resources to have a larger than most suburban house block vegie garden. Personally I believe anyone, even if they had only space for one tomato plant in a pot would get enjoyment from growing it. For me the vegie garden is my quiet space, thinking area, planning and simply down time place. I spend a little bit of time each day, then on occasion have a few hours where I do some serious mulching or cleaning up but in general I just  potter around, weed something, stake another plant, replant and other garden stuff like that.

I believe if more people grew something they would appreciate how difficult it is on a large scale to produce a top quality product that they see in supermarkets. I believe then people would be more prepared to support our Australian food producers when they realised what good quality fruit and vegetables they produce. I think it is absolutely disgusting that orange orchards are being ploughed in in southern areas at present due to replacement by imports.

As I don’t go to town that often when I buy fruit and vegetables the bulk bill can be quiet large, while there are many things I will always need to buy the things I can grow that are seasonal can save us some money, but I really garden simply because I enjoy it.

My vegie garden is in mainly two segments, the part most frequented by snakes and the part not. Needless to say I have an absolute fear of snakes and the areas that are more prone to snake habitation simply tend to be watered and not much else care given otherwise. I live over 300km from the nearest hospital and irrespective of how seemingly harmless a snake is identified, I have a healthy respect for keeping my distance from all of them. To illustrate how committed I am to maintaining my snake clearance space I have been known to take a shotgun gardening when I have sighted a snake and know the mongrel is still residing in the garden. Usually these are whip snakes, black, fast, low venomous toxicity, but enough to still make you sick, normally quiet shy snakes in that they move just as fast to get away from you as you from them. Others like old carpet snake, black headed rock pythons usually, absolutely beautiful animals, harmless, but lazy as all crap and will usually only move if you  nearly stand on them and thus scare the living daylights out of you. At often over 2m long I’m sure these buggers have an innate sense of humour and enjoy seeing me lift literally 3m in the air when I nearly stand on them, not to mention the tyriad of abuse they cop, if I can’t throw something at them then I can assure you their ears are ringing or they feel the earth move, what ever, they give me the hebbi-gebbies. We get other harmless ones too like children’s pythons and small tree snakes. Most of these I’m happy to live with, and with deft hopping and shovel manoeuvring we tend to direct away from living areas and live side by side. Though the whip snake if he frequents the vegie garden too often will get a 410 shotgun headache to terminate residency. The ones I really fear are the Western browns, they come in all sizes, cheeky as all heck, highly venomous, if they think you’re a threat will actually give chase, I’ve been chased by a number of small 30cm ones  for 15-20m. Those are not allowed in the garden, full stop, They have thousands of square kilometres outside my vegie garden they can have that and I’ll leave them alone, but my garden is mine and they aren’t allowed in it.

So my snake area garden is the pumpkins, sweet potatoes rambling plants, that I can set up sprinklers on and besides the mulching prior to planting really receive little care though-out their growing period.

My maintained areas are the garden beds, with my tomatoes, rocket, pakchoy, beans and anything else I can manage to get growing, corn, egg plants, celery, silverbeet, zucchini, capsicums, herbs and squash.

This year, during the wet I had a major garden renovation, with my wonderful mum who I tend to rope into these activities on her supposed rest holidays while visiting. We redesigned the area to allow access to a great little front end loader I have, rocks for garden edging and to allow me to set up a more efficient sprinkler system for watering.

Garden reno

January 2013 – Garden reno during the ‘wet season’, these will be the maintained garden beds about 1.5m wide and 15m long.

I have a good secure fence around the vegie garden to keep dogs, roos, wallabies and pigs out, including the odd inquisitive bull. Outside my vegie garden I have more bananas, passionfruit vines and a small orchard of fruit trees

04.01.13 029 garden reno #2

January 2013 – ‘Wet season reno’ – To be pumpkin area, garden bed to the left will be bananas, the other bare section will have sprinklers to water pumpkins. Prior to planting I will lay full bales of hay mulch on the area and wet down, then plant seeds willy nilly. In following seasons I just let the plants reseed themselves from previous fruit that has dropped seed. This is my form of the toughest survive and whimpy plants die. I can’t stand whimpy plants

Being the semi tropics my vegie garden growing period tends to be during our ‘dry’, March through to October, the ‘wet’ is simply too hot and wet to grow  so I do renovations and spend most of the time just keeping up with grass growth.

There is no such thing as too much mulch, our soils here are quiet deficient in some respects, phosphorus particularly but I find the greatest difficulty is to keep the moisture in the soil even up here in a the semi tropic. Its June now and we don’t get much below 15 degrees but the soil dries out surprisingly fast and due to the warmth mulch breaks down very quickly. So I use whatever mulch I can get. This isn’t usually a problem and I’m spoilt for choice. We feed weaners (young cattle) a lot of hay in the yards at the house so I’m able to collect much of the waste they leave along with soil and manure and use this to top dress the garden. I also have about 15 pet goats, some of which I milk that are great manure producers, in turn I feed them vegie garden surplus like banana leaves, and the zucchini type plants that are in excess, they love these. They also love the small cherry tomatoes that grow so rampant throughout the garden year after year and I never need to buy seeds for again. I’m sure in 20 years’ time there will be an invasive weed declaration of them in the Roper Gulf, and it will be traced directly to my vegie garden.

Pests can be a problem, I have great difficulty in just getting seeds to germinate and I’m not sure if it’s a temperature/climate issue or bugs and ants in the soil taking them as fast as I plant. The usual course is I plant full packets of seeds in a very small area, get to germinate what I can and then transplant from there. I have issues with some aphids and bugs, which depending at what time of year, may have to resort to chemicals to control. Bower birds and other little birds like the tomatoes but we have an agreement to share, I net most of my fruiting plants and this protects the majority of the fruit for us but the birds can nibble at a few at the base or around the edges. Bower birds can be bit of a nuisance in that they pinch my sprays, particularly if blue. Fruit fly can be an issue; I set traps for them and find this seems to keep their numbers in control. Being isolated from any other farming areas means I’m fortunate to be protected in some respects from other people’s gardens and their associated pests. Dogs are strictly forbidden from the garden though we have a pet foxie who seems to think monsters reside there, Maybe he seen one of those pythons once and has been traumatised ever since.

As the season progresses I’ll try to add to this post to show the garden growing.

25.06.13 026 garden 1

June 2013 – Pumpkins and Bananas at the rear planted March 2013, Tomatoes to the left are about 2 months old and the new seedlings about 3-4 weeks. I have just mulched. The rock is all natural Granite on our property.

Categories: Life on a property, Vegetable garden | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A trip to the local store

Katherine is 320km away, as the crow flies, our nearest major town. This can have its challenges for keeping up the food supply at home. With the use of cool-rooms, freezers and our own 24 hour solar hybrid system, keeping of food is much better for us than it was for our predecessors.

I need to feed a family of  4 and the occasional worker and visitor, in case of wet weather I always try to have enough to last three months, it would be low by the end of three months but it could be done easily enough.  We kill our own beef and occasional goat, have chooks, grow some vegetables and fruits, and I milk goats.

The rest of our food requirements needs to be bought in and considering I sometimes haven’t  been  to town for over 2 months that’s one heck of a shop up for not only food but general household supplies. At the station I have what’s called a store, not your retail store but a storage of all our canned goods and non-perishables in a room attached to the house. It is about 10m X 6m, with a large number of heavy shelves. This room also has our coolroom and acts as the butcher shop when we get a ‘killer’, drop a beast for meat. The store is not unlike a super -sized pantry, I have 4 freezers.

Image

This is just a small area of the store. The labels are for our daughter to practice maths for school

Planning for town begins at-least a week ahead, this trip was predominately to stock up on food and a few other station items. I knew I was taking my station wagon and trailer this trip, other times  we have a small 16 tonne body truck for heavier station items if needed.

I  pre-order some goods so it will be in town on the day I specify to pick up, frozen, chilled and non- perishables from a wholesale group who despatch from Darwin. These are things that I will buy in bulk, such as a boxes of tins of fruit, vegetables, beans, beetroot,  10kg drums of flour, rice, pasta, boxes of bread, whole outers of  toilet paper, cordial, butter by the carton. I can pretty much buy anything from this group as you would buy at your local supermarket, except I buy in boxes like sauces in 4 litre bottles and cereal in 6kg boxes laundry powder in 20kg tubs.  It’s not unusual for this order alone to cost several thousand dollars.

Fruit and Vegetables  I can pre order from a local  store,  20kg bags of potatoes, onions, carrots and the like. Depending on the time of year I’m able to grow a large volume of tomatoes, pumpkins, some salad varieties like Rocket, capsicums, and eggplants. I also grow bananas and fruiting plants like paw-paw, I have planted over 40 fruit trees the last 4 years, mainly mango’s with the odd citrus. The problem with the vegie garden is I have a constant battle with animals that like it too, bugs, fruit fly, bats, Bower birds would you believe constantly stealing my small water sprays, particularly if a bright colour, even pigs are coming in recently, not the vegies as it is very well fenced but the pigs love the mulch around my fruit trees.

Image

This is the recently renovated vegie garden in January 2013. Getting ready to plant about February /March. A small banana section is outside the vegie garden and fruit trees further to the far left in the background. Behind the camera is an area for sprawling plants like pumpkins.

For several days before town it is planning, write everything down, to the smallest thing, nothing worse than getting home and realise you’ve forgotten deodorant, dish cloths, face cream, toothbrushes or other basics that will simply drive you nuts to be without for the next few months.

We have two ways to go to town, shorter of the two is 3 and half hours drive, the rough, is 90km of very corrugated dirt, many creek crossings and some fairly ordinary black soil flats that are treacherous if wet, 100km of a narrow bitumen road, single lane you share with road trains. I should explain here, you don’t really share, when you see them coming you clear off, they can weigh up to 120 tonne. My cars no match and doesn’t play well with trucks, this same road is heavily used by several large aboriginal communities, of which there is no police so all manners of unregistered broken down vehicles often litter sections, abandoned, sometimes on the road, many trades people and tourists, usually towing caravans and boats, these you can share the road with if they don’t decide to play chicken at 100km/hr head on. Not forgetting this road is often frequented by suicidal kangaroos, cattle, horses, donkey’s, pigs, buffalo and carpet snakes and then there’s the birds. This single lane bitumen with blind corners, single lane bridges and a number of water ways which after a wet often have whole sections washed out,  joins the Stuart Highway at Mataranka and then I’m on a two lane road to Katherine. I hate that road with a vengeance so I actually prefer to go the longer way which is much safer.

The long way, 450km, 100km of good dirt, much better maintained dirt, 9 gates and then onto the Stuart Highway just north of Daly Waters, I takes longer but does less damage to your car and gear and simply doesn’t have the volume of on coming traffic, though still with the manic depressed suicidal kangaroos and  other animals like cattle.

Due to the weather and not wishing to overnight in Katherine we try to do town trips in one day. This starts by leaving home at 4.30am, we’ll be in town by usually 10am, hopefully not much wet weather around and the creeks are crossable with no flat tyres or problems on the way, Thank goodness NT has decent speed limits as once I hit that highway that right peddle go’s down, hard.

So four and a half hours of solid driving, after the obligatory chiller ice coffee at Maccas, and a strategic a plan of attack, we go store to store picking up goods and doing the town jobs we need to do.

This is from picking up feed for animals, chemicals for weed control, the stores that we ordered from, hardware stores for small maintenance and repair items, chemists, newsagency, office shop and  irrigation shop for plumbing, car parts, bike parts, tyres, oils. A super quick run through Country Target for essentials like knickers and new bras, just hope there’s a discount sale on. Forget browsing, you still got a list as long as your arm to check off.

Last job is always Woolies, the only major supermarket in Katherine, the largest turnover of all Woolworths shops in Australia is Katherine. This is where I buy the items I really don’t want to have packs of 24 of, like various varieties of ‘tasties’ ,deodorants, various dry foods, noodles and such. If birthday is coming up, like 2-3 months away I need to buy for that too. Have resorted to matches on birthday cakes because I forgot candles. Rarely do I leave this shop without filling at-least 2 trollies and often it’s three.

Out on the car trailer I have 4 large eskies, I put  cold and frozen goods in these, pack with ice and then proceed to find any vacant spot on board, in the car, the roof rack, on the trailer, on seats, under seats, just  keep loading and strapping everything down. If we think wet weather is a chance, we’ll place a tarp over the trailer. Usually the trailer is so loaded now its starting to groan, the tyres look decidedly flatterl The only room left inside is now for hubbie and me to actually sit.

Heading home, always stop at the servo on the way out, fuel up and buy a multitude of life sustaining energy drinks, munchies and chocolate. Going home is usually a slower affair than getting to town, due to the weight. Often taking turns to drive as usually the fast trips hubbie and I tag team the driving, If all going well getting home about 10-11pm that night.

So having used 150 litres of fuel to drive in and out, it normally is a 20 hour day, having spent probably close to $4000 just on food and grocery items, hopefully without hitting any kangaroos, there’s normally several victims, windows haven’t smashed from rocks and trailer bearings have hung together, tyres have stayed up. If all goes to plan it’s a good day, if a long one.

So next time your wandering through an outback town and and leisurely strolling around a supermarket, if you should see a woman struggling with several  trollies, that are ridiculously full, its not that she may have a footy team of strapping hungry teenage sons shes just trying to fit 3 months shopping into 1 hours speed shop. You’ll look at her with sympathy but she’ll only need to say two words “station shopping”  Just give her a smile and plenty of space,  because she’s on a mission and no time for delays.

Oh, but what ever you do, beat her to the checkout because you know those 10 counters they built, there will only have 2 or 3 working at anytime.

Categories: Property operations, Shopping | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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