Declan Price at the end of a long day sorting cattle at Larry's Lake corral on Victoria River Downs Cattle Station. The station covers 3,900 sq km, with almost 33,000 cattle scattered across a lease established in 1883. The ringers work from first light to sunset and then return to camp for dinner. The station hands take turns preparing meals in the "silver bullet" kitchen trailer, which has a generator and shower with hot water from a wood-fired "donkey", but no mobile phone or WiFi.
Cattle ranching is very seasonal in the Northern Territory, with most of the non-sealed roads unusable during the wet season from December through March, when the cattle are left in near-wild conditions to graze on the abundant fresh grass, and the stations have only a skeleton crew of caretakers. You can maintain a healthy herd on a well-run cattle station while selling about 1/3 of the livestock yearly. They sell 2-year-old cattle, keeping the most desirable young females, the unproductive old females, and all of the male calves. The bulls are bought from off-station to keep them genetically mixed and are vaccinated against venereal diseases, and all adult cattle are vaccinated for botulism. Approx 3 bulls per hundred cows. The mustering is done so that they can sort through the herd to separate the one-year-old “weaners” from their mothers, all the weaners will be branded and given ear tags, and the males will be castrated. They will do a pregnancy test on all of the cows, and pull out the old unproductive females and all the 2-year-old calves for the live export market.
- ©2023 George Steinmetz
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