Sunday, August 10, 2014

Part 2: Farmerswayoflife, Ned the Kelpie and Mustering Goats.

It’s not very often that you come across a dog with its own twitter account, but that’s exactly what Ned the Kelpie is.

When we got up the next morning Farmersway had made his way back to Gabyon. Farmerbf and I got out of bed and strolled over to the homestead with Mrs Farmersway. She also brought Bonnie with her to hop around the homestead courtyard for the day and laze in the sun with the dogs.

Breakfast was a quick and simple affair involving the options of toast, porridge or cereal and tea or coffee. Everyone did a bit of a help yourself type of thing with the food but then the hot drinks had to wait for the kettle to boil so everybody put their tea bags, coffee or sugar into their mugs and lined them up on the bench top. It was a good system and it worked well.

We all sat at the kitchen table surrounding the map of the station to talk mustering. Mrs Farmersway explained where the boundaries of the station were and Farmerbf and I quickly realised that the whole way that we had travelled along the Geraldton-Mt Magnet Road we had actually been travelling within the boundaries of Gabyon, every cattle grid we had driven over had been the start or end of a paddock. We were told how many kilometres the station went for from one corner diagonally across to the other. It was almost as long as the distance it took me to drive from Perth to the farm every week.

Mrs Farmersway also told us about Dash who would be joining us for the muster coming down from his place at the other end of the station. Dash had been the owner of the station once upon a time but had sold it to the previous owner of the station and stayed on and worked there. By the time the Farmersways bought it he was pretty much a done deal and came with the property.

Shortly after starting breakfast Farmersway strode in still stretching after getting back late from flying into Perth then driving the five hours north to the station. He greeted the wwoofers that he had yet to meet professionally with a handshake and introduction before heading over to greet the Farmerbf and myself with a hug, handshake and a hearty good to see you.

After the greetings we finished breakfast and I was presented with some motion sickness tablets just in case as they had previously had people in the plane who didn’t cope well with flying in a light aircraft. The ginger tablets that I had certainly tasted funny washed down with my cup of tea. We exited the kitchen to get sorted out with motorcycles, four wheelers and radio headsets so that the plane could communicate with the people on the ground as well as the people on the ground being able to communicate with each other. Coming from a background of usually being able to see clean across a paddock with only a hill, rock or tree blocking your view of the other person this was very different. After coming back fresh off a mine site Farmersway felt the need to employ some of the safety routines he did on the job on site, these didn’t last long with Mrs Farmersway telling him to “Just get on with it!”

If we had have done the J5, the prestart stretches and the prevehicle start and safety inspection we might as well have started mustering at lunchtime. None of us had our safety gloves on to keep our hands soft either to boot, however Farmersway had a fancy little holder for his attached to his belt loop.

We spied the kennels while we were outside getting kitted up so we wandered over to have a bit of a look and see Ned. Farmerbf sidled up to Neds kennel “So, how’s your reception out here?” Weird question to ask a dog, but in the light of Neds twitter activity perfectly understandable. We had lost reception the previous evening somewhere after the Yalgoo sign and never really regained it properly regardless of whether Farmerbf’s phone was plugged into the aerial or not. He wasn’t terribly impressed with this as he was always under the impression that having the aerial gave you superior coverage to those around you.

Ned was coming with us to muster that morning so he got to be let out and joined the flurry activity with an air of “I’m here! Let’s go!” Farmerbf got a headset and radio and was assigned a two wheel motorcycle. It wasn’t an Ag-bike like he was used to but he was open to trying this particular bike as his dad’s cousin over in New South Wales had spoken highly of them. Farmersway left before everybody else to see how the road to the meeting point was faring after the recent rain. Some of the tracks had been washed out and would have been inaccessible with the trailer on the back. He also carried his four wheeler on the back of the ute so he had a vehicle to travel on whilst mustering.

After everybody was ready to go I was left with Farmersway’s FIL to wait about thirty minutes to give the crew on the bikes a chance to get to the point they were meeting Dash. Farmersways MIL was also there as there were not enough bikes to go around and she would later bring out the things for lunch at the same time as Farmersways FIL brought out the ute with the goat trailer for any animals that had to be brought back into the house yards. As the mob on the bikes took off there was this noise that started from the dog kennels. The remaining dogs that weren’t taken on the muster let out a mournful sounding howl as the riders rode away. It was rather funny as it was almost like they were voicing their unhappiness at Ned being taken mustering and them being left at home for the day.

After waiting the half hour for the riders to get a head start I joined Farmersways FIL at the shed they used as an aircraft hanger. The plane was already out and ready to go. It was a bright blue little thing with plenty of windows so you could see where the sheep were in the paddocks. We jumped in the plane and did the start up procedure before taxiing to the runway. Gabyon has quite a good runway that is registered for use for the RFDS so the take off was pretty smooth, even though it was off a graded patch of earth.

The view from up in the plane was incredible and it only took us about five or ten minutes to reach the paddock that we were mustering. To muster in the plane at Gabyon we first of all went around the paddocks edge, following the fencelines, so that the GPS on the tablet that we were carrying could record the boundaries we had to stay within. After mapping the boundary we then proceeded to grid the paddock, looking out for mobs of sheep as we went along. As there are also goats on Gabyon we also kept a look out for mobs of those too.

We soon spotted the sheep from the plane and proceeded to radio down to the riders. They sent a couple of people after the sheep while we continued to grid the paddock. We then spotted the big mob of sheep and the other riders went out after them. When you spot a mob of sheep you then have to circle around them with the tip of the wing in the centre of the circle so that the riders can get an idea of where the sheep are. It was around this stage I started feeling a little queasy. I later explained it to B2 as “If you stand with your head like this [with my chin on my right shoulder looking to the ground], then turn around like this [walking in a small circle to my right] you will generally start to feel dizzy and sick. This is what happens in the plane, but at a much slower pace as the circles are bigger.” We did a mid flight touch down at the other end of the station so that Farmersways FIL and myself could stretch our legs. Farmerbf reckons it was so I could be sick, but it was a matter of needing a jolly good stretch!

After we had checked the rest of the paddock and returned to the homestead we finished gathering the lunch things and put them all into the back of the two vehicles remaining at the homestead. We hitched the goat trailer to one and we were off down the road.

Now, 5 to 10 minutes easy flying in a plane is a bit different to covering the same distance on the ground. It took us at least half an hour to get through to the holding yards where the sheep were being taken and in the process we had to cross three flooded crossings on the road and risk getting bogged with all of the equipment on the back of the ute. It also didn’t help that Farmersways MIL and I were in the vehicle that was making a funky sound whenever we went too quickly.

When we got to the yards the riders on the bikes had the sheep already sorted in the pens. This was where I met Dash. Farmerbf told me that when he heard the name Dash he was expecting a spritely young man who was quick on his feet, when you met Dash this was not the case. Dash was easily in his seventies and very clearly not as spritely as he used to be, he did have that tough look that made you think that you could probably throw a tyre iron at him and he would catch it in his teeth before sptting it back at you. Dash most likely got his name from how quick he was on his motorcycle. B2 later told us that he thought he was doing really well that day fanging through the scrub keeping up with Dash…until he realised that Dash was only riding one handed and rolling a cigarette with the other.

We had a BBQ lunch next to the sheep yards with Ned the kelpie loving every minute. Ned firstly hedges his bets as to who might give him first bone by sitting I the middle of the circle and eyeing off any new comers to the station with one of those “I’ve been a good dog, I promise” stares that only a hungry Labrador seem to have perfected. Then he waits to see who has finished their chop before sidling in close to them and being in the perfect position to lock onto their gaze, then he is rewarded with the bone. Farmerbf made him sit and tried to make him shake paws. Ned gave him a look of “I’m a station dog, not a city poodle, gimme the bone” before Farmerbf handed over the bone to him.

After lunch Farmersways MIL packed up the lunch things to take back to the homestead while the rest of us started working in the yards. Ned did his best as the resident “Good working dog” but gets a little distracted when there are lambs in the yard. He sees one and then proceeds to stand there staring at it with a look of fascination on his face while everybody around him continues to try and push the sheep up the drafting race. That is until he gets called off the lamb and his brain snaps back into gear.

Farmerbf got handed a pair of elastrator ring pliers with Dash making noises involving the phrase “This will be good.” Dash however was surprised when Farmerbf quickly fitted the ring to the first ram lamb and popped the little one back down on the ground to bleat for its mum. It was then that he started asking questions about “where we had come from”. Farmerbf explained the number of sheep we run on the number of acres. Dash paused, thought for a second, took a puff of the rollie hanging out the side of his mouth and says out of the other side of his mouth “No wonder you lot squeal when you get no rain if you’re running ‘em that heavy.”

To make matters worse in Farmerbf’s obsession with getting superior mobile phone reception to all those around him through use of an external aerial and patch lead, we were standing next to the yards marking lambs when my phone suddenly started ringing with “Private number” flashing up on the screen. Everybody stopped and stared as it was the last sound that anybody expected to hear while standing next to a set of yards in the middle of nowhere. The assumption was immediately made that it was an alarm going off before a message tone also went off. It was a very odd thing to happen in the middle of nowhere when there was supposed to be no reception.

We had one “woolly” in with the flock of damaras which turned into a bit of a running joke between Farmersway and Farmerbf. As we run a solely Merino sheep operation Farmerbf believes they are the superior sheep to all other sheep, he also believes that damaras are a poxy headstrong animal that you can’t do anything with. The damaras were being difficult and not wanting to run up the ramp, Farmerbf made a comment of “If these were all merinos we would have ém loaded and we would be halfway back by now!”. Farmersway, in the process of trying to get a damara to go up the ramp so the others would follow, says to Farmerbf “Prove it, we have one there!” On queue the merino turns and walks straight up the ramp with the damaras following along nicely behind it. Farmersway couldn’t quite believe it and called it as a fluke. He then got the merino back off the ute to see if it could do it again.

With the second trailer backed up to the ramp the pressure was on for the merino to perform. Farmersway opened the gate and waved his arms around a little while dancing about to get the sheep to move. There was an early cry of success from Farmersway as a damara started walking up the ramp, followed by the sound of disappointment as it turned and walked back down again into the pen. There was then a shout of success from Farmerbf  as the merino yet again walked up the ramp into the back of the trailer with yet more damaras following. Farmersway admitted defeat to the Farmerbf and then backed the other vehicle back against the ramp for the final load of sheep to be loaded. It was then the realisation was made that the woolly had been left on the last trailer that we had filled. It was with great difficulty we loaded the remaining sheep onto the trailer. Farmersway even made the comment of “We need the Judas sheep back here to get this lot on!” We eventually got the remaining damaras loaded in time for Frenchy and Mrs Farmersway to get back from guiding the mob out into the paddock on their four wheelers.

After we had finished loading the sheep we finished loading the portable yards onto their trailer as Farmersways FIL headed back towards the homestead with the ute and trailer. It was then it was discovered that we had an extra bike then what we had initially when we went out mustering as Farmersways quad had lost it spot on the back of the ute to the sheep that we loaded. It was then that I got a crash course in riding a four wheeler.

It was a little bit new to me as I have never before changed gears with my foot. I can drive a truck with no worries but my first and only experience on a motorcycle was crashing it into the side of a water tank. It took a few minutes for me to learn how to work it and Mrs Farmersway and the Farmerbf decided to ride back to the homestead behind me just incase I got into some trouble.

I’m not going to lie, the ride back to the homestead was very slow for them as I was yet to build up confidence on the four wheeler. The biggest challenge came for me when I came to my first water crossing. I was really quite worried about getting it bogged halfway across the flowing water and having to pull the thing out, Farmerbf would not let me forget getting it bogged for a very long time. I looked to Mrs Farmersway for advice on how to cross it. She told me, put it in first gear and go slowly until you get in there and then go quickly. Now I’m not sure if it was the advice in the back of my head but I know I certainly went in there with caution and when I felt as though I was going a little slippery I put an extreme amount of revs into it and blasted through the other side spraying myself in mud. I would like to say I was cool, calm and collected and purely following the advice of Mrs Farmersway, but being brutally honest it was probably from sheer terror. In fact I later joked to Farmersway when he made a recommendation to a mutual friend about what brand of four wheeler to purchase that the particular ones he has can withstand a beginner hanging on for dear life rather well.

As we were riding back to the homestead we came across B1 sitting on his four wheeler next to the trailer that was supposed to be behind the first ute. We paused to ask him if everything was OK, he replied that it was all good and that he was sitting there waiting as the tyre had blown. He had chosen to stay there just in case somebody came along the road and thought that nabbing a sheep from the trailer for dinner would be a good idea or letting them out into the paddock would be an even better one. We rode on a little further and came across a Landcruiser full of people driving down the road. They were wanting to hunt kangaroo which wasn’t a problem, as traditional owners of the land they are entitled to do so. B1 later told us that he decided to take a brief walk into the bush to check out a mountain that was nearby and heard gun shots. We believe this was the same people who were hunting kangaroo. He later mentioned that he thought that not popping his head up was a good choice, Farmersway said especially not with your hands clasped in front of you.

When we got back to the homestead all the working dogs had been let out for their evening run. They were very excited when we got back. Farmersway and Mrs Farmersway told us that for entertainment when they used to have the farm in Walkaway they used to tell the dogs to “go on back” and watch them run around the house in a clockwise direction before giving them another instruction and watch them run back around in a counter-clockwise direction. If you tell them to go on back at Gabyon they run towards the solar panels barking and wrestling among themselves, even the fluffies and the house lab.

As Mrs Farmersway had provided the pre-dinner nibbles the previous evening Farmerbf and I provided the pre-dinner nibbles this evening. Before we left our farm I happened to grab about four different cheeses that I had sitting in our fridge that I didn’t want to go to waste and put them on a cutting board. Farmerbf did his usual trick of hoe into the Jarlesberg as quick as he could, with everybody else nibbling away as they chatted. Frenchy came up from the quarters and spotted the cheese “Ooh cheese! I haven’t had cheese since Christmas!” We told her to bog in and help herself. The look on a French girls face as she tastes cheese after around five months without it is a look of pure bliss as she savours every bight.

Dinner was Mexican food. I love Mexican food. It was like they had planned this dinner with me in mind. It was burritos family style where you helped yourself to whatever you like on the table. Awesome. During dinner we sat and chatted about drivers licenses. B2 initially brought up the subject by saying that he was going to get his HR truck license in Darwin with a lot of confidence. I was surprised and asked him if he had ever driven a truck before and why wouldn’t he have got it in his home state. He said he had one lesson while at home in Victoria but had heard it was easier to get the truck license in Darwin and that he was wanting to get work driving trucks while up north. I then asked him if he was going to try and get his full license with the roadranger gearbox, it was that point in time that Farmersway started giggling knowing where I was going with this line of questioning. B2 looked at me a little funny and answered the question, it was then Farmerbf jumped in and provided the information that I actually hold a full HR truck license and he holds a full MC truck license. B2 was a little bit shocked and then learnt that almost everybody around the table held a higher class of license

After dinner we went and enjoyed lovely hot showers. Now on Gabyon where we were staying they have what is called a “Donkey”. Anybody who grew up in country Western Australia before the hot water systems became common place would know what a donkey is. It’s essentially a 44 gallon drum on stilts with a clay/mud structure around it to put a fire in with the water running through in the 44 gallon drum. It works on the principle that hot water rises to the top to go through to the showers. They had told the Wwoofers that it was their job, if they wanted a hot shower first, to light the donkey. It almost seemed an evening ritual that they would go and light the donkey and sit around it and chat while the water warmed up.

The next morning saw us back mustering again. Farmersway resisted the urge to complete his J5, prestart stretches and prestart vehicle inspection which was fortunate as B1 and B2 had left that morning to head up to Marble Bar so we were left two musterers shorter then the day before. Farmersways MIL got the call up to muster on the ground so she rode out with the other riders after getting lunch ready to go for when Farmersways FIL and myself got back out of the plane.

There had been noises the previous day about a thing called “feral goats” and mustering them. There were further noises made about this on this particular morning. It almost seemed to be a “station myth” this mustering goats thing as Farmerbf and I had yet to see evidence of these goats being in a group of more then about three.

Farmersways FIL and myself went up in the plane again when the call came through the two way. Farmerbf later told me that when they got to the paddock Mrs Farmersway told him that you hoped that the plane didn’t call you for about a half hour which would mean the sheep were closer to the yards. Seemed intelligent to him.

We mapped the paddock the same as the day before by doing the outline and then started gridding. We found one mob of what looked like about fifty sheep. I had asked Farmersways FIL how to tell the difference between goats and sheep. When you’re spotting in a plane you have to look to see if the tails are up or down. The sheep have their tails hanging down and goats keep their tails pointing up. Believe it or not you can spot from a plane this difference, being in the plane is like seeing the world in scaled miniature. You can even see kangaroos relaxing and the odd wild dog when they are around.

We sent the riders to the first lot of sheep, but we knew there were still plenty more sheep to muster in the paddock. We continued gridding before spotting another mob of sheep. We again radioed down and let them know there was another mob of about a hundred sheep with possibly a couple of goats in there too. Farmersway and Frenchy set off after the sheep/goat mob while we flew circles around them to get them to mob up and to give the riders a spot to aim for when they were riding. We got a call over the radio from Farmersway “How many goats did you say was in this lot?” Farmersways FIL replied with “Maybe a few.” 

“They’re all goats” came the reply from Farmersway.

Farmersways FIL and myself exchanged a quick glance, Farmersways FIL because he knew how difficult mustering goats was and me because I had thought that talk of goat mustering was something that they used to scare visitors with.

Farmerbf later joined the group goat mustering when the first lot of sheep were mobbed up and behaving themselves and reckons that it was the most nerve racking mustering that he had ever done in his life. He had heard they were flighty little buggers and that when they broke they broke in fifty different directions (in fact Farmersway has written a little ditty to this affect on his own blog)

Farmersways FIL and myself continued gridding and found the mother load of sheep, what looked like a few hundred sheep on top of the hill. Mrs Farmersway and Farmersways MIL set off after them and brought them down the hill. A short while later all the riders brought the mobs of goats and sheep together as one and started working them towards the yards. It was then I got an opportunity to take a good photo of the riders bringing them all together. Farmersways FIL radioed this down to the riders and we got the rather swift reply from Dash of “Who gives a shit about the bloody photo, lets get these things in!”  Surprisingly the goats behaved themselves the rest of the way into the yards.

Farmersways FIL and myself then went back to the homestead and grabbed the two vehicles to take the lunch things out to the mustering yards. I had to drive a vehicle this time as there wasn’t anybody else to do it. I thought I did remarkably well for somebody who is usually plonked in the passenger seat by Farmerbf to open gates. When we got there Farmersways MIL started the billy heating as well as the cook top to cook lunch and I got my first look at the feral goats up close and personal.

The goats were still mixed in with the sheep but rather interestingly they had naturally divided the themselves into two with goats on one side and sheep on the other and nothing inbetween them. Farmersway informed me rather humorously that goats are in fact “specieist” and refuse to associate with sheep.

We had another lunch of delicious barbeque meat, potato and onions with Ned taking up position in the centre of the circle to maximise nabbing of the left overs. He had seemed to cotton on the Farmerbf was the weak link when it come to people holding out on the left overs so parked himself squarely in front of him and tried to make eye contact as much as possible to the point where he was ordered out of the circle by Farmersways MIL.

After lunch we then had to mark the lambs and draft the sheep out that were to be taken back to the holding yards near the homestead. As the goats were still mixed in with the sheep they also had to be drafted separately.

Farmersway and Frenchy went into one of the mixed pens to try and draft out the goats from the sheep by foot. They skilfully moved themselves around blocking the goats from leaving the pen as the sheep did. After they had all of the sheep out of the pen Farmersway let up a triumphant cry of “How do you like them apples!?” Mrs Farmersway merely replied with “Yeah, yeah, let’s see you do it again” with good humour. We marked and ran through the race the sheep that were in the middle pen before Frenchy and Farmersway then went to the second pen of mixed sheep and goats and managed to do a repeat performance drafting the goats from the sheep by foot using a pressure and release method. Farmersway let out another triumphant cry. He also commented that Frenchy had done quite a good job cutting out the goats as well, it was then they learnt that she had mustered on a goat station and was already quite skilled at dealing with goats. There were several comments made from the rest of the crew about how Frenchy was the reason why the drafting had gone so well, Farmersway was having none of it though, strongly advocating that him and Frenchy had done a good team effort in cutting the goats out from the sheep.

When we had finished the drafting and marking and the mob of sheep that were to be released had been let out and started roaming back into the bush we then packed up the portable yards, with Frenchy putting the boys present to shame by lifting the portable fences almost one handed over a fence from Farmersway and Farmerbf to stack on the trailer, and started to load the sheep into the vehicles that were there to carry them home. We managed to get all the sheep into the vehicles but made the realisation that the goats would have to stay in the yards overnight. By this time the goats were relatively calm standing by themselves in the yards. The previous day the trailer had proven that it didn’t cope well with the damaged roads so the decision was made to leave it at home. As we weren’t expecting to get so many goats in at the one time this seemed logical, however with that many goats in the yards another trip was planned the next day to come back and pick them up.

Again I got to ride the four wheeler back, however Farmerbf had to stop along the way and help Frenchy and Dash load his motorcycle back onto his trailer. Dash might be quick on the motorbike, but he wasn’t superman when it came to lifting his motorbike back onto the trailer. After Farmerbf and Frenchy had loaded the motorbike back onto the trailer they raced each other back to the homestead, or at least Farmerbf decided to race Frenchy. Unfortunately for him she left him in her dust and he didn’t catch her until they were nearly at the homestead, in other words until she slowed down to come into the homestead yards.

When we got back to the homestead Mrs Farmersway took me to meet the two poddy lambs and their little pet goat that lived in the yards. While Mrs Farmersway and I fed the two poddy lambs the little goat pranced about head butting the lambs in the side and trying to pinch their bottles. When the lambs had enough the little goat got his turn sucking the dregs out of the bottles.
After our stop at Gabyon we headed for the coast and north towards Miss Grey’s station in the West Pilbara. Next up: 

"Have you for a four wheel drive and a spare two hours?": Our stay on a West Pilbara station, eight puppies and meeting Ratty White, esq.

***** As a note if you haven't already come across his blog yet, check out Farmersways blog at:

 Also if you're not on twitter, get on it and follow @farmersway and @thekelpiened to get first hand up to date info on Gabyon station and all the lovely people that I have mentioned in the last two blogs*****


  1. Are you still blogging? Would love to see more recent posts if so - loved this post!

  2. Dear farmers wife in training Admin , thank you for your excellent article you put the title "Farmerswayoflife, Ned the Kelpie and Mustering Goats.". By the way, I am very impressed by your excellent farm photography specially the long focused photography. Keep it up. Waiting for your presence on Agricultural Blogs

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