Posts Tagged With: mustering

“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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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

Central Station – Guest blogger

Central Station is a blog set up that will have a guest writer for each week, the writers are from all over Australia with many types of farming and pastoral enterprises, even some overseas people.

This week is my turn and my first post is ‘PMT’ Pre mustering tension.

Over the next week I hope to do more posts on mustering, drafting, weaner handling and selling.

Please share from the site on Central station and share others stories that will also be posted.

Day 2 – Mustering.

Day 3 – Drafting.

Day 4 – Weaners

Day 5 – Trucking

Categories: Advocacy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hanging in There.

We’re luckier than many, we have feed for now, we’ve had a light wet but the feed will hold for a few more months where we are in the Roper Gulf, NT. I dare say I’ll be singing a different tune in 6 months but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

We’ll be mustering next week or starting too, where we actually send cattle to sell, well that’s the million dollar question, quite honestly I don’t know.

No boats are planned to come in for a while, so we can’t send to live export the normal less than 350 kg Indonesian types. The heavies as we call them, aren’t really that heavy being generally about 450kg older steers, dry cows or cull bulls, sometimes rogue bulls we would send to Philippines, Vietnam maybe, Egypt in the past. As yet it’s not certain when bookings for these will occur, we won’t know that for likely another month or more.

So what’s our alternative if we can’t sell into our usual LE markets!

Abattoirs, well the Darwin one with AAco as far as I know has come to a grinding holt while AAco try to find more money to starts its build, the government has refused to come to the party with any funding of roads or infrastructure needs. To their credit I haven’t heard AAco say they aren’t going to build the abs but it’s certainly not in operation now. It is important to realize that the AAco abattoir always intended to process up to 90% of their own cattle so as an outlet for other producers it always will be a limited function.

So what about selling to other producers, it’s an option but means we actually have to sell at weights even less than the Indonesian weights, drastically so, as low as 220kg. At that weight we sell to others who may finish them on more consistent feed or better access during the wet most likely to the Indonesian markets. At that weight, we’re losing money.

Losing money what a funny term, like I put down $100,000 and just completely forgot where I put it, like I have suddenly been inflicted by dementia.

The most expensive part of an animal is the production of it. Getting its mother pregnant, to give birth to it, a healthy calf to then have it survive through dog attacks, nature and its own actions to weaner age, approximately 6 months of age. Intensive work takes place with the animal for a number of weeks to teach it aspects of feeding, yard work and people, then this is cut back to paddock handling to then be released back into general paddocks to grow some more until it is about 12 -18 months old when it is about the 200- 250kg weight range. At this point the male animal is likely to owe us $350-$400 just to cover costs of herd and property management. So to sell at say 225kg on property to make $400 means I need to find a buyer willing to pay $1.78/kg on property. I’m not holding too much faith in doing that at present!

We could possibly send some heavy animals to the abattoirs in QLD, 2500-3000km odd road trip costing $250 for each animal, feedlot costs if we decided to feed for a while could be a couple more hundred dollars, then to actually find kill space in an abattoir. I hear they are booked 3 months in advance at present. A heavy steer we’ve had on property is likely to owe us $400-$500 to recoup costs plus the freight and feed so now this animal needs to pay its way at nearly $1000 per head, that’s about $4 over hooks for a dressed beast at 250kg. It’s been a heck of a long time since that sort of money has been chucked around for 8 tooth cattle so I’m not confident in getting that either.

There is one last option, as stupid as it sounds we are seriously considering it. Sell nothing.

We’re lucky we have some unstocked country, we could move all sale cattle into there and hold for next year and pray like hell markets lift. We can’t not muster as leaving the weaners on the cows is as sure as holding a gun to their head, problem is mustering costs money. Chopper $350/hour plus fuel will cost close to $20,000 for seasons muster, $15,000 worth of vaccinations and treatments sitting in my shed. Labour, bikes, another $5,000 bill for hay waiting to be paid. Knowing we’ll need another $20,000 hay to muster and handle weaners. Throw in there supplement, repairs, fuel and food for us.

We’re only a small place, tiny actually, but at least I don’t have to tell people we can’t afford to keep them on and they will need to find other work, besides our son we don’t have anyone working for us.

My heart goes out to those in the position of being forced to shoot cattle for any reason, my husband and I have experienced drought, we fully appreciate its insidious unrelenting death stalk. I just can’t believe that anyone would think it’s OK for a farmer to be forced in a position to shoot stock, irrespective of what or who is to blame for that, little do these people realise the toll it takes on mind body and soul to destroy the very animals you raised.

While I have every confidence in the live export markets regaining momentum and cattle prices lifting, it is going to be a tough haul for the cattle industry in the meantime. To paraphrase a person I heard speak recently. It will be a roller coaster ride for beef producers be sure to wear a seatbelt and crash hat. I’d just like to add be really, really nice to your bank manager.

Categories: Cattle work, Live Exports | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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