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CHAPTER VI.

Bush Cattle— Their interesting Habits—Rapid Increase-Mode of Manage

ment—"Tailing”—Powerful Instinct-A “reudezvous”—Number depastured together-A Muster-Speed of the Half-wild Cattle—Stock-horses

Cutting Out” a Bullock-Bush Riding-Propensity of Cattle to acquire Bad Habits—Loss to the Owner occasioned thereby—AnecdotemA Muster by Moonlight-Interesting Scene--Application of the term “ Quiet” -Habits of the Bulls—An Encounter upon the Plains“ Draughting' Cattle-Scene in a Stockyard-Description of a Cattle Enclosure in the Interior-Branding-Disadvantages in Selling—“ Boiling Down ”Quality of Australian Cattle—Hints to Breeders.

The management of cattle in New South Wales is conducted in a manner so peculiar to the colony, and so widely different from that of almost every other country, that some account of it may be amusing, if only from its novelty ; but to one who is fond of observing animals, and of marking the difference that circumstances create in their habits, those of the bush herds in the interior of Australia are particularly interesting, the more so as many of them are unknown to those who have only been acquainted with cattle in a more domesticated state, and are evidently suggested by an admirable provision of nature, to supply the place of advantages from which they are excluded by the absence of the care of man.

Of the three sorts of stock which compose the principal wealth of Australia, viz., sheep, horses, and horned cattle, the increase of the latter has been in proportion the most rapid, and is truly astonishing if we consider how short a time has elapsed since the earlier days of the colony, when it must have been an easy morning's work to collect their whole number. Already they are countless ; the census of stock, taken annually, must always be considerably under the reality, for few of the large stockowners keep an exact account of what they possess, and as it is next to impossible, owing to the wild habits of the cattle in New South Wales, to collect the whole of a herd at once, the nuinber driven into the enclosures at mustering time is necessarily set down as the total, of which perhaps it falls short by some ten per cent. ; the census, moreover, only takes notice of cattle that are regularly branded and acknowledged by their owners; in addition to these innumerable animals of every kind of brand, and others with no brand at all, and known as “stragglers,” are mixed with the herds in the interior. Of these some are wholly unclaimed, and others are the property of persons who have removed elsewhere, and are never likely to take the trouble of gathering them together, whilst vast quantities, wholly wild, roam at large in many parts of the colony, and occupy the most inaccessible places, being totally distinct in their habits from the half-wild herds, to which they originally belonged.

Cattle seldom get much credit for intellectual capacity, but no one who has seen them in the interior of Australia will deny that they have been undervalued in this respect; in the half-wild state their mental faculties seem to be called into more active play than when they are domesticated, and they exhibit strong powers of memory and combination, which, under many circumstances, are extraordinary: indeed the ox, though he has little more than half the brain of the horse, seems in point of instinct to be scarcely, if at all, his inferior.

The vast herds in the interior of the country graze unconfined throughout the year. With the exception of stock-yards, into which they are driven at certain seasons, there are no enclosures, and it is generally matter of surprise to strangers that without them they can be kept within due bounds. It would, in fact, be impossible to do so were it not for the strong local attachment they invariably possess, of which man avails himself so well, as not only to render them through it subservient to his will, but to be so voluntarily.

When cattle are first brought to a new country they are subjected to a process called “ tailing," which consists in watching them with horsemen by day, and driving them into their enclosures every night: they grow very much out of condition under this treatment, but it must be continued as long as they show any inclination to ramble back to their old pastures, and usually lasts from three to five weeks, according to circumstances.

Cattle that have been brought overland from a great distance soonest lose the recollection of their former haunts; and young stock are more easily managed in this respect, as their memories are less retentive.

The desire of returning to the pastures on which they have been reared, even though of inferior quality, is the most difficult to eradicate of all their bad habits, for they have been known to “make back” through every obstacle, for hundreds of miles; and animals that have escaped from the very slaughter-houses in Sydney have been found again, within a short time, upon their former feeding grounds at a vast distance in the interior.

This instinct has occasionally been still more forcibly exhibited. It has sometimes happened that settlers, when removing their cattle to a new station, have taken the precaution of sending them by a circuitous route to their place of destination, by way of mystifying their troublesome organs of locality ; but it has afterwards been ascertained, both by the track and actual sight, that the stragglers, of which there are always a few, have returned by the direct line, through a country of which they had not the slightest previous knowledge.

Numberless well-authenticated anecdotes might be told of the topographical instinct of cattle, but I will only mention an incident of which I was an eye-witness. I was returning from an overland trip, and passed the night at an out-station, the occupants of which were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their supplies. These were always sent by means of pack bullocks, for the road was so mountainous as to be nearly impassable for drays. When on the point of resuming my journey on the following morning, the expected bullock was seen slowly approaching, with his load upon his back, but without any driver. We were now all anxiety for the man's supposed fate; and as my road home was the same as that by which the bullock had arrived, the investigation of the matter was entrusted to me, so I got upon the animal's “ back track," and pushed off as soon as possible.

Sixty miles from the station, as evening was closing in, I found the driver, alive and well, but in great tribulation at the loss of his charge; and deep was his satisfaction when, in answer to his inquiries, I informed him that the animal, more sagacious than himself, had reached his journey's end in safety.

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It appeared that he had missed the bullock on the previous morning, while he was halling for breakfast, and could not regain sight of him. Being a new hand” in the country, he was an indifferent tracker, and had been wandering about in despair near the spot where he first lost sight of his charge, who, having been bred on the station, had pushed on alone, and reached it on the following morning.

I had kept his track all day, and found that he had never once been at fault, or even stopped to feed; and several articles, which had dropped from his load at different times, were all lying in the direct line.

Notwithstanding this strong propensity, cattle are made to forget their old pastures by means of judicious management, and to settle quietly upon any new station intended for them, if it is not wholly unsuited to their habits.

As soon as they seem reconciled to the new ground, and are again trusted wholly at large, they do not long remain in one herd, as during the time of “ tailing,” but separate into several droves, and spread here and there over the whole extent of pasture.

It is remarkable that each of these droves remains perfectly distinct from the others; and so strictly do they adhere to this habit, that, although several of them may chance to mix during mid-day in the dry creeks and open flats, to which they usually resort, and appear inextricably jumbled together, yet each animal well knows his own party; and it is very curious to observe the readiness with which, upon any sudden alarm, the droves detach themselves from each other, and make off towards the forest, each in its own separate direction. The knowledge of this habit is of great service to the stock-keepers or herdsmen of the colony, when they are in quest of any particular animal; for if they have once remarked the drove to which he belongs, they may always know subsequently in what direction he will be found.

The usual feeding times are in the morning and evening, and during the first part of the night; at mid-day they congregate on the low grounds in the vicinity of water, where each drove appropriates one particular spot, apart from the rest, from which it never deviates. Here they bask for many hours, lying closely grouped together until the heat begins to abate, when they draw off towards the forest in all directions, moving leisurely, and

run

grazing as they go. A numerous herd, thus spread out in the evening, and dotting the plain with party-coloured hues, forms a pleasing pastoral sight.

A spot on which cattle are thus in the habit of assembling and basking during the day is called a "rendezvous," and is easily known, for, from the constant pressure of innumerable vast bodies, the surface of the ground becomes smooth and hard, resembling a blighted ring in the midst of verdure; these marks still remain on stations from which the cattle have long been removed, and being seen from a considerable distance, are frequently used as a means of direction to the lonely traveller.

The number of cattle depastured together is regulated by no fixed rate. In the large grazing districts of the interior, herds are to be met with varying from five hundred to as many thousands, the only limit to their further increase being the extent of 66

possessed by their owners. There are settlers who are owners of far more cattle, but 5000 is the largest number that I remember to have met with in one herd.

The breeding of horned cattle in Australia, though perhaps less profitable than sheep-farming, has the advantage, no inconsiderable one at this time, when wages are high, of requiring comparatively little labour. Two men, a stock-man and “hutkeeper,” are all that are needed on a cattle station during the greater part of the year. The hut-keeper, as his name implies, has nothing whatever to do with the out-door work. This devolves wholly on the stock-man, to whose charge the herd is delivered in the first instance, and whose duty it is to be able to muster, or satisfactorily account for, the same number that has been counted out to him, together with their increase, whenever required to do so by his employer.

The muster of a large herd of cattle is a very stirring business, and may be described as a scene characteristic of “ the Bush ” Australia. Preparations are made for a day or two previously, and word sent to the adjoining cattle-stations, as it is customary for neighbours to assist each other; and at such a time as this there can scarcely be too much help, the most indifferent performer on horseback serving at least to “stop a gap.”

Operations commence at an early hour, as soon as the sun has

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