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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.