Cattle everywhere! Spending the past two weeks watching over nearly one thousand head of cattle has certainly been a change of pace for me. I arrived at the farmhouse on a Monday evening. No lights were on, no one was around. The two German girls I now work with were down at the paddock, watering the cattle. John and his wife, Karen, were away for a couple days.
Darcy and I finally met Ian, the landowner, who helped me get settled at the house I was to be staying in, he was very chatty and seems to have travelled many places.When Hannah and Tammy returned a bit later and made me feel at home. We headed to bed while the night was still young, in preparation for an early morning start.
The first day on the job was very laid back. John and Karen didn’t get back until the evening, so the three of us girls spent the day picking around, doing odd jobs. We watered the cattle, pumping water into the troughs. We had to keep an eye out for cattle falling in. They sometimes get so thirsty the cattle will push and shove other cows into the troughs. The bottom is just plastic and has no grip for the cow to stand back up again. We either have to pull her out, tow her out, or tip the trough and dump her out. While the cow is in the trough we have to have someone holding her head above water so she doesn’t drown. Luckily, we had no problems with that on my first day. We spent the rest of the day taking down an electric fence that we no longer needed.
The next day, once John had returned, we rounded up the cattle and prepared to head off to the next stop. We all hopped onto our four-wheelers, making sure they were fueled up, then hit the road. There were a couple new born calves that were too small to walk the seven kilometres we had to go, so we left them in the paddock for the day. When evening rolled around we picked them up and drove them to the new camp.
It was a fairly easy day, zipping up and down along the side of the highway, keeping cattle off the road. The odd cow would sneak out, in search of greener grass, bringing traffic to a halt while we brought her back to the mob. For the most part though, the cattle all stuck together and caused no issues. We walked and they grazed as we went. We would stop, and they would graze some more. At the end of the day, although we moved seven kilometres from out previous camp, I had clocked over fifty kilometres on the bike.
John’s cattle are very quiet. Even Bob, the bull, never stirs up trouble. Most days are spent sitting on the bike, watching the cattle eat away and making sure they stay in a certain area. From time to time we will muster the cattle together to move to a different area, but it tends to be fairly calm. We have been lucky with people in the area offering paddocks up where we can take the cattle to feed off what is left for grass. We haven’t walked the cattle far since I have been here.
While we were staying on someone’s property, our cattle chewing down their paddocks, John had me try out the motorbike. Apart from in April, when I tried one at Star of Hope, I haven’t driven one. I decided it was time I learn so that if need be, I can ride the two wheeler. I was a little nervous getting on it, as I knew I struggled with my right turns, however the direction I was going I would have to turn right fairly soon. I decided to give it a go anyway. I swung onto the seat, put up the kickstand, and got my balance. I gave the throttle a bit of a twist and let go of the clutch. The bike took off, not too fast, but not slow enough either. With a crash I ran into the back of the trailer, falling over sideways onto one of John’s work dogs. So much for that right turn. The poor dog was yelping and I fought to get the bike off the dog, she ran and hid under the trailer as soon as she was free. John came over to examine the damage done to the bike. The plastic casing was popped off in a couple spots, but I put it all back together that evening. Luckily, the dog was okay. I ran over her paw a bit, but after a couple days she was set to go again. I think I will work on my right turns a bit more before I get back on a motorbike with obstacles in the area.
While on the property the next day, I was sat watching the cattle graze. The granddaughter of the property owner came and sat with me on my bike. She’s about five years old and is a chatty little thing. She told me story after story, but the last one made me a little nervous. She began the story with “I went to a graveyard once”. If that isn’t a great start to a story by a five year old, I don’t know what it. Next she said, “There were dead people under the ground everywhere. I remember one man, his name was Thomas”, then came the best part. In a whisper she finished her tale with “He died with the rest of them”. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. It was a rather shocking tale to hear from someone so young.
We are now camped out at a crop farm. The crops have all been cleared and we were invited to bring the cattle here to feed off what is left of the chickpeas and oats. The cattle are all having a good daily feed, and there is plenty of water for them. There is a little dam off one of the fields where we tried to keep the cattle out of. Unfortunately, when there is green feed, and water, the cattle go nuts for it. One cow would sneak down to the waters edge, and as you turned to shoo her away, another would come down from behind. Before you know it, all the cattle were in the dam. We ended up with thirteen cattle bogged (Australian term for stuck in mud) in one day. I ended up chest deep in water and mud, trying to pull cattle out of the dam, and send them back out to the paddock. At least I was putting my lifeguard training to use.
We put up an electric fence around the whole dam after that. No need for more cattle to get stuck. I have touched electric fences before and you do get a slight shock, this one though, was a bit different. I was placing a bottle on the ground beside one of the fence posts an all of a sudden I was on my hands and knees on the ground. my first thought was that I had been kicked by a cow. It took me a moment to realize that I had leaned into the electric fence and the shock was so strong it had completely knocked me down. At least the cattle stay out of the dam now.
One Evening after work, Tammy, Hannah, and I returned to the station we had been on previously. We still had a few calves there, as they were too weak to join the rest. The five little calves are locked up in the cattle yards. We carried over a bag of calf pellets to put into their trough and made sure they had plenty of hay to eat. Then Tammy and I got a brilliant plan. “Let’s pet one”, we said. That was not the best of plans. We cornered the calves and cut out the four bigger ones. The smallest little one was left, he was a sandy colour, with white patches around each eye. He was a bit on the fluffy side and he walked painfully slow, always the last cow on the tail of the mob. I guess he isn’t always so slow. The little calf took off away from us and ran to the other corner of the yard where he managed to squeeze through the cable fencing and disappear into the night. Tammy and I were both completely shocked at how fast he went, at least we know he can move now. We searched and searched for the calf, but it was dark and we never found him. Confession time. We confessed to the landowners, who said they would keep an eye out and put him back in the yards if they saw him. Then we confessed to John. It was just such an innocent mistake. Two girls just wanting to pet the fluffy, little calf.
Some days on the job are quite full on, where others are very quiet. I have even gotten to take a nap in the shade when the cattle were particularly quiet one day, then on a different day, have driven my bike back and fourth after cattle so much I have run my bike completely dry of fuel, then refilled it, and run it nearly dry again.
The job does not consist of moving the cattle from place to place as I had thought it would be. I am still enjoying myself though and have gotten myself a fancy new farmer’s tan. I wear Wrangler jeans and R M Williams work shirts, and even have myself a cowboy hat. I’m pretty much Australian now.