Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days on my uncle’s farm in the central-west of NSW. Comprised of around 8000 acres, the property produces oats and wheat, as well as merino sheep and beef cattle. My aunt and uncle run around 1200 sheep, and one of the jobs I assisted with while there was the mustering, and subsequent drafting (separating), of the ewes and lambs.
We mustered three separate mobs, some several kilometres (and paddocks!) away from the sheep yards that were our destination. Though there were certainly sheep dogs in use, there was not a stock horse in sight. Instead, we worked from quad bikes, which have the major benefit of being able to be mastered quickly and easily*, unlike horses. I suppose the flat terrain means quad bikes are perfectly suited, whereas horses might be better in scrubby or hilly terrain.
I have been going out to the farm since I was born – my Dad grew up there – and have no recollection of horses ever being used for the purposes of mustering. I asked my aunt about it, and she commented that the dogs don’t work too well from horseback. Which makes me really curious about why we have this pervasive image of the stockman and his dogs mustering livestock.
I have a recollection from the early 1990s of visiting family friends who ran a small cattle property in rural Victoria, and being on horseback to help with moving the cattle, but vehicles were also involved. I have talked a lot in the theoretical context about the figure of the Stockman, but I have limited experience (outside the family farming connection) of real, contemporary stock work in Australia.
I’m wondering if any of my readers can comment on their experiences of stock work around Australia, and whether horses have featured significantly, or not? I am curious about just how accurate the continued depiction of the Stockman as a mounted figure is. Given the increasingly large size of pastoral holdings in Australia, I know that helicopters are certainly used to muster cattle in the vast properties of central and northern Australia, but what other methods are being used?
I’d really welcome any comments from those with first-hand experience of this topic!
*I have been riding quad bikes at the farm for at least 5 years, but every time I go out there I need to re-learn how to use them, as I keep forgetting!