A few weeks ago Brian took a phone call. Mick from Wallangra was putting together a herd of weaners (young cattle) for the route but the stock contractor would be a week late. Could Brian take the mob on the road each day and return them to the yards at night? Would Brian be the drover?
The stock trucks arrived at Wallangra with hundreds of weaners – young calves removed from their mothers – who went through the yards to be vaccinated, drenched and ear-tagged before being turned into the capable hands of the drover and his canines.
Freshly weaned calves usually want to do one thing – find Mum; so off they trotted and off raced Spy and Manu to block and turn them back; Brian giving whistles from the ute to direct and instruct the dogs. The second thing freshly weaned calves want to do is eat, so the primary role of the drover in the first few days is to block the walkers and settle the mob into grazing. Then weaners, drover and dogs establish a routine.
“It might not look like I’m doing much when you drive by and see me having a cuppa,” Brian says, “but I’m always watching and getting to know the cattle, getting to know which ones are going to cause problems or drift off,
“and then I’m watching for traffic, trying to keep dogs and cattle safe. Some of the stock trucks are the worst – going too fast through the mob –but the farmer’s wives are the biggest offenders. Both truck drivers and wives should know better. One driver was even blowing his horn – I felt like throwing rocks at him.”
Brian was particularly worried about the young dogs as they haven’t got any cattle sense yet, let alone any road sense.
Brian was also worried about Bo; not because he thinks of Bo as a such a good working dog, but because Bo is my dog and Brian would be afraid to come home without him.
Being only 30km from home the droving crew returned on dark each evening, but the dogs were so keen for the work they would bound onto the ute in the dark each morning; except for one day when Brian had to tell Bo twice to get out of bed.
During quiet moments during the day, with the weaners camped under trees chewing their cud, the dogs would be flat out snoozing on the back of the ute, but when the action was on there was a different story. Spy or Manu would race to get to the front of the mob, Bo would let out his mighty bark and Biggun, in a fit of unbridled enthusiasm, hit the ground running and ran straight into a tree stump.
Each dog wanted to work. Bo, miffed at missing some of the excitement, clambered onto the roof of the ute, slid down the windscreen and was off after cattle. Manu just went over the top of the cage. Brian ended up chaining them when they weren’t required.
At the end of each day drover and dogs walked 655 weaners into the yards with help from Big Steve,
or Mick. Even Mick’s young fella (aged 10ish) did his bit, all wide-eyed interest as he acted as Brian’s offsider for a day.
And what did the drover’s wife do while he was away? Well she took delivery of 72 cows, tagged, weighed, drenched, mouthed and bang-tailed them, worked them through the yards and settled them in their new paddock. She moved the mobs at Rocky Springs, checked waters and changed trough floats. She cooked and cleaned, did bookwork and wrote a blog post.
Friday evening the droving job was over but no-one told the dogs. Saturday morning, much to the confusion and consternation of the working dogs, Bonnie and Clyde were loaded onto the back of the ute. There was a tractor pull in Coolatai and the foxies had high-jump records to defend.