It has been a fair while since I have posted anything and that is largely due to the excessive amount of moving around, lack of internet and working hours. But that doesn’t matter now, what does matter is letting you all know a bit about what you can expect if taking on cattle work in Australia, whether it be to extend your working holiday visa, for the money or even just for the experience.
There are a few variations in this type of work as you may be on a dairy farm, where the primary function is milking, you could be on a ranch, where the cattle are spread over a vast amount of land and need herding or you could end up on the type I am on, a cattle feeders, where the cows are fattened for meat.
This type of work is open to anyone willing to work hard and long hours and although many places may advertise the roles for people with previous experience, they are mainly interested in people who will muck in and get on with it. I had no real previous experience before coming here, but due to persistence and a good attitude, my friend Emily and I were taken on. There is absolutely no distinction made between male and female workers with regards to delegating tasks. The only exceptions may come from heavy manual work, but this is of course the 21st century, so if you can do it, you will be expected too.
The hours can be pretty grueling, ranging from your average day being 10-11 hours, to days upwards of 14 hours. The general rule here seems to be you work from sunrise to sunset. The pay is likely to be somewhat less than you would get in the cities, but really it’s all relative as you will soon find out you are in the ass end of nowhere and subsequently have nothing to spend your money on anyway, making it a much more profitable venture.
The easiest way for me to give you an idea of the work you could be expected to do is to go through a typical day and then subsequently list any additional tasks:
So the day starts at 7am, that’s just as the sun comes up, and consists of a very quick meeting where the farm manager let’s everyone know what they are doing. My first task is to ‘Pen Walk’, this is simply walking through the numerous cattle pens trying to identify the sick and the lame so that they can be removed and either treated or sent to ‘grass’, aka the slaughter house!! This is where you need to realise this job might not be for everyone as already you are kind of playing god here and if you think the cow can’t be treated you are sending it to its death. Probably not a job for vegetarians. Oh it’s worth mentioning that the pens are, as you can guess, full of shit, so it’s no fashion parade here, just wear your scruffiest clothes and some good boots or wellies/gum boots. Once all the cattle have been checked and the sick and the lame have been expertly removed from their pens without losing any of the other cows (I have let my fair share run past me already, but it’s safe to say I am dangerously unfit), they are then rounded up and taken to be sorted. Rounding them up does involve riding a motorbike,
as do most of the tasks dues to the size of the farm. It is beneficial to have experience in riding motorbikes but not essential, as you can either learn or if you are lucky like Emily you can just drive around in a Ute, although his may mean you cannot do some tasks. After this is all sorted we usually ‘draft’ cattle, which involves sorting them between heifers and steers (male and female) and origin, e.g. British or European. Be prepared to seriously strain your voice here as much of the work involving any moving of cattle requires you to make a lot of noise. Whistle, shout, scream or clap, they are all good. I opted to stomp my feet which has swiftly earned me the nickname ‘Stompy’……..so perhaps avoid that one!!! Once the cattle have been sorted they can then be ‘scanned’ and/or ‘treated’. This part is where you get up close and personal with the cows. They will be taken into a race (semicircular thin walkway) and then captured in a small box where the following is done:
- Injected with vitamins and vaccines
- Tail cut (your hand will get covered in crap and if you’re really lucky it will shit on you)
- Sprayed with a worming agent
- Injected in the ear with a hormone (depending on the cow)
- Tagged and marked in the ears. This means cutting a triangle or square out of their ear and putting a number tag through it.
- Dehorning……be prepared to see and get covered in blood. It seems cruel but it is to stop them stabbing and injuring other cattle with them.
Following this the rest of your day will likely be taken up moving cattle to and from various pens and parts of the farm. This can be quite time consuming as you are trying to shift around 150 half ton animals in one go……quick tip- If one runs at you, get out of the way, but don’t worry they are more afraid of you than you are of them and will 99% of the time run the other way.
There are plenty of other jobs ranging from feeding out hay, treating sheep, making lick blocks (a personal favourite of mine) and general cleaning and tidying. You will get the opportunity to drive all sort of machinery, from tractors to front end loaders, all good fun.
I am aware that the above writing by no means glamorises the job. It’s key to remember that it is a means to an end to get a second year visa and believe me there are much worse jobs than this one. Saying that though, it is not for everyone. In my 5 weeks here I have seen two people come and go, one sadly being our friend Emily, aka Donny, who just didn’t feel at home with it all. For me this is just another character building life experience, that is not only teaching me new skills but gives me a sneak peek behind the source of my food………yeah that’s right people, I am educating myself!
Love Scotty x