Some weeks ago, we decided to have a go at Wwoofing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) on a cattle station, to see how it works and what the life is like. We emailed one, and they sent a positive reply. After some more emails, we finally set the arrival date, and we arrived! A bit late, but before dusk. They were playing footie, with a square ball, and we got quickly introduced to the crew before having a very welcome shower and then dinner. And that dinner was very tasty. It must have looked like we had been on a diet for years, and got our first bit of very tasty food after a diet. Not that the food we eat is that bad, but this was incredibly fulfilling! We ate a lot of beef during our 2 weeks here :D
We didn’t say much the first night, listening to what was being said, asking some questions about the size of the station and so (half the size of Occidental Flanders), and when we had to wake up, what mustering was and so on. The next day would be a bit of day off, so we could sleep longer. In a BED!!!! :D.
Wake up was at 6 am, we had bacon and eggs for breakfast, got introduced to some more cattle terminology and going-about, and got to work. We started up the pump to water the lawns, fixed some cars bush-style, and got everything ready for the next day of muster. C mowed the lawn and Edda got her IT skills tested fixing pc’s and helped in the kitchen. The crew was about 12 people, so some help cooking was welcome! The day went by quite fast, and was very nice, but the next day would be going hard! Just before dinner, a chopper arrived which would be helping in the mustering.
So what is muster? Since the property is about 1/15 of the size of Belgium, it is quite big, and you need to search the cattle, because they are everywhere. You need a helicopter or plane to help you spot the cattle and drive them towards the yards. Then there would be help from a motorbike on the ground to bring in the cattle. The chopper pilot coordinates it all and the communication is by 2-way radios. During muster we couldn’t do much more than join along in one of the cars and watch what was happening. A couple of times you need to stop, and keep the cattle in one spot while you wait for other cattle to come in. Then they control the cattle with the bikes to make sure none escape (which they try to). While you move cattle, bikes race up and down along the line to keep the cattle in line. It seems like hard work, but also fun. That’s probably because they have a crew which works well together and have experience, so they know what to do. It could get quite chaotic otherwise. At the end of the end, C was walking behind the cattle making some noise to make the last animals move a bit faster, but it didn’t help that much. It takes two full days to muster the cattle in one part of the property. The whole muster takes about 3 weeks. But that includes other things as well. After the 2 days of muster, the cattle went through a race, and they were processed. That means getting an ear tag, vaccination, ring to castrate, and all the cattle is selected into different lots. One lots goes back in the bush, another lot goes on the truck to be sold, and then there are the neighbours cattle . The cattle to be sold is then transported by truck to another holding yard 40 kms away within the property, where they are processed again before they go on the truck. The whole process from the start of the muster to putting them on the truck is about 6 days. It’s a lot of activity and it’s interesting.
The people here are very experienced, and sometimes it looks a bit scary for us, but they are all used to it. There was one steer which went through the process as a calf, but never got mustered afterwards (each year about 15% is left out), although they tried. He is called bananas, because his horns are banana shaped and very peculiar. Last year they found him and got him in the mob, but at one point he left the line and just went in a bush, but never came out. Because it was all spinifex around it, nobody could get to him. This year they got him in the mob again, and even in the yards, but when being processed he attempted escape, smashed a gate and broke a horn, jumped four fences and ran away. But that doesn’t happened to often luckily. During the muster life at the homestead is very busy. At peak times we are about 12 people, and the chopper pilot stays here, and the truck driver, a lot of coming and going and a lot of cooking. Edda usually helped making tea and dinner in the morning, and was in the fields after that. C was mostly in the fields, trying to help and not run in the way.
After the actual muster was done, we got the job to paint the donga, where some of the crew stays when on the farm. It had first to be washed, then painted in the undercoat and then topcoat. We ran out of undercoat, and had to wait a couple of days to get more, but in the end it seems like we will get the job done before we leave. Edda was very enthusiastic about the painting job in the beginning, but the washing and the undercoat wasn’t that fun. The top layers went better and faster and that was a bit more fun. It’s a good experience!
When the truckload of cattle (approx. 200 heads on 3 trailers) was off, we went to Coral Bay. It’s only 50 kms away in straight line, but on the road, it’s about 180. You just get of the beach and you are on top of coral which is quite nice, but we liked Cape Range NP more, because it was more natural. This town is very much a resort like place, with all your wants catered for. We had a nice time with the crew in the pub and got supper offered by the station owners. On the way back it was a bit stressful because lots of kamiroos were on the road.
The last days here we need to finish the paint job, and help around with some fencing to make new paddocks in the property. Slowly the crew is leaving, and numbers are dropping. As we write this, another 2 go south. It’s fun when there are lots of young people around, and since everybody knows what they are doing, the atmosphere can be and is quite relaxed. The coming days we will do some other jobs besides the painting, as there are not many people left. The station owners are very nice, and we are having a very good time here, learnt a lot about running cattle, got to do some fun stuff too. But soon it’s time to hit the road again, because we are onto work!
Over the past weeks we applied for a couple of jobs. The one in the acoustics business resulted in an interview, but that didn’t give a good feeling. Then Edda got a phone call for an interview for a call centre job, but we were out of reach and didn’t see it so that didn’t work out either. So it seems like we will be working in the grain harvest. We got into the next level of the selection process and we had to fix some things for that, but all seems to be going ok, and in a couple of weeks we will hopefully attend some training sessions. After that, we’ll know more again!
Today we finally finished the paint job! We did some fencing as well, putting barb wire out, putting posts and droppers. It was quite fun work, but probably gets a bit monotonous when you are doing it for a week or more. All in all, we had a really good time here, some 4-wheel-driving, some truck driving, some motorbike driving and some normal driving for Edda . It was very interesting, and definitely worth it! We even got sandwiches and beef to take on the road. Edda also got roses from the garden
We said good byes to the family and the station dogs, Chuckie and Socket and off we went…