« PreviousContinue »
herd is numerous or refractory they must be caught when they may. The roughness of the stockmen's proceedings can be equalled only by its rapidity-hundreds of calves are roped, mutilated, and branded in a day. The stock-owners never seem to apprehend any ill effects from this hasty treatment, or, if they do, they have obviously made up their minds, in the colonial phrase, to “ chance it.”
The fence of the branding-yard is more closely constructed than that of the other divisions, and is provided with what is called a “ branding panel,” which is, in fact, a sort of screen, behind which the men take refuge, if suddenly charged by an infuriated animal.
The markets in Sydney are very fluctuating, and much of the settler's success depends upon his bringing his stock to market at the proper moment.
The detention of a week, or even a day, on the road, has been known to make an important diminution in his profits. The wholesale butchers, who are the principal purchasers, combine to keep down prices, and to oblige the seller to part with his stock on terms which they themselves have fixed. The stock-owner or his agent, when within a day or two's journey from Sydney, and as yet ignorant of the current prices, is met by a butcher, who inspects his stock, and concludes by making him an offer. If he declines it, he is accosted, in due time, by another confederate, who offers him still less; this, of course, he also refuses, when shortly a third comes to him with no higher terms, and so on. By this time he is full of nervous perplexity, and returns to the man who made him the first offer ; but it is then too late - the first bidder will either make no offer at all, or bid still lower than the rest; and thus the settler is bandied about like a shuttlecock, until he is reduced to such a state of anxiety and mortification that he is glad to take anything he can get.
Sometimes, however, it happens that these plots are unsuccessful. I remember a particular occasion on which some cattle were brought to Sydney from the interior in excellent condition, and as there were no others to be procured at the time, they were very much sought after. They were worth about ten pounds each, a large price in Australia, where a fine ox is often sold for thirty shillings, and good beef may be bought for 1d. per pound. The butchers, as usual, combined together, and agreed to offer not more than eight pounds, with which intention three or four of them sought out the owner. He, on his part, took some time to consider the proposal, and while he was doing so, the plot was discovered. Another of the purchasers, in his eagerness, made a higher offer, for which breach of agreement he was summarily knocked down by the first spokesman, to the astonishment of the unsuspecting settler, who, being thus put into possession of the real state of affairs, was enabled to retaliate on the purchasers, and obtain his own price.
In addition to the demand for colonial consumption, and for salting, a new market for the surplus stock has been found within the last few years, by the discovery of the process of “boiling down," or converting the whole carcase into tallow. He who first put this plan into operation deserved the thanks of all the colonists, for had not this method, or some equivalent to it, been invented, cattle and sheep must soon have become almost unsaleable, as the supply had so greatly exceeded the demand, whereas now, though the colonial market should be overstocked, the animal, whether sheep or ox, is at least worth its hide and tallow for exportation.
“ Boiling down” is a very simple and rapid process. The whole carcase, having been cut up into pieces, and thrown into large cast-iron pans, each capable of containing several bullocks, is boiled to rags, during which operation the fat is skimmed off, until no more rises to the surface. The boiled meat is then taken out of the pans, and, after having been squeezed in a wooden press, which forces out the remaining particles of tallow, it is either thrown away, or used as food for pigs, vast numbers of which are sometimes kept in this manner, in the neighbourhood of a boiling establishment.
The proprietors of these places will either boil down the settler's sheep and cattle at so much per head, or purchase them wholly from him in the first instance, and convert them into tallow at their own risk. The value of an animal for this purpose depends of course entirely on his condition, and usually varies from 30s. to 31. 10s.
Horned cattle will reach a high pitch of perfection under the climate of Australia, in the hands of an experienced breeder. Pure animals of several breeds have always been imported from England, and, on the whole, no sort is so popular, or found to combine more of the necessary qualifications, than the improved short horn, of which many colonial bred specimens are to be met with, that might well compete for a prize at some of our most important shows.
Though to capitalists now visiting the colony for the purpose of engaging in pastoral pursuits, a speculation in cattle does not hold out such advantages as sheep farming, yet there is less risk connected with it, and it may be particularly recommended under certain circumstances. The profits of a cattle station very far inland must always be much lessened by the expense and loss of condition of the stock, attending long overland journeys to the capital. But if, on the other hand, a good and tolerably quiet herd can be purchased, together with a station which has been ascertained to be capable of fattening readily, in the vicinity of the coast, so as to command facilities for shipping live stock to the various colonial markets, and also for salting beef, most favourable results are attainable, without calculating on any unreasonable share of good fortune.
CHAP. VII.] HALF-WILD HORSES OF THE INTERIOR.
The Half-wild Horses of the Interior-Roving Mode of Life-Local At
tachments—Appearance of a large Herd on the Plains—Entire Horses The Vicious Habits they occasionally acquire—Anecdote—A Bush Incident-Value of a good Saddle Horse—“Buckjumping”—Mode of Breaking Young Horses—Roping a Coit—Horse-hunting-Irreclaimable Herds -A rash Speculation—Quality of Australian Horses-Advice to Breeders.
The half-wild, or bush horses, bred on the large grazing districts in the interior of Australia, differ greatly in their habits from those in a state of domestication, and their treatment, which is similar to that of the horned cattle, produces similar results. The natural grasses of the country being sufficient to keep them in condition both in summer and winter, they never require any additional food from their owners, but are suffered to roam at large within certain limits, and are brought back to the enclosures 66
en masse," whenever they are wanted, either for the purpose of branding the foals, or taking out colts and fillies for breaking or for sale. They are driven in more or less frequently according to circumstances; those herds that show symptoms of running riot and getting out of control, by rambling beyond the bounds of their owner's pastures, require to be ridden in constantly, while those that remain contented upon their feedinggrounds are often left undisturbed for many months ; the stockkeepers to whose charge they are entrusted, use their own judgment in this matter, and treat them accordingly.
Nothing can be more congenial to their natural disposition than the wandering life they lead in New South Wales ; at one time revelling upon a bank of wild oats, at another trooping off to a patch of “burnt feed” (as the young herbage is called which springs up on the spots where the old grass has been set on fire), to-day resorting to some well-known haunt, “to-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new ;” now slaking their thirst ad libitum in some cool stream or gushing spring, or shunning the noonday heat beneath the shady honeysuckle or feathery mimosa. As they roam across the boundless plains there is a freedom and elasticity in all their motions which domesticated animals seldom exhibit;
and yet, in the midst of one's admiration of such a scene, it is painful to mark the contrast between the fine promising colt, as yet “by spur and bridle undefiled,” and some brokenkneed and wind-galled stock-horse, who has for a time rejoined but finds it difficult to keep pace with his old associates.
Their rambling propensities are, however, as in the case of cattle, counteracted by the strong attachment they acquire to any spots on which they have been depastured for a time, but especially to the places where they have been bred: were it not for this, the trouble in keeping them within reasonable bounds would be endless, and even as it is, when horses are removed from pastures on which they have been reared, they must be closely watched for some time subsequently, or they will ramble back again from incredibly long distances, having been known to make their way home, through every obstacle, for 300 miles.
From the mode of life they lead, restrained in their wanderings by no bounds, unaccustomed to the hand of man, and not dependent upon him for food, they learn to look upon him with alarm and suspicion, and it requires some manquvring to approach them without creating a premature panic. A stock-keeper would be able to go through the midst of a herd without causing much disturbance, while a stranger to their habits would disperse them at once by his approach. It requires a kind of craft to make them imagine you have come among them accidentally, and not for any ulterior purpose, as they have a most feminine instinct in guessing " what your intentions are ;" and if they suspect you are come for the purpose of driving them into the enclosures, they make off at once, thereby defeating your first object, which is to make sure, before you start, that the animal you are in quest of is amongst them.
On the approach of a horseman, one or two on the outside sound an alarm, and make off towards the rest, who thereupon rush together, and a general concentration takes place. It is a fine sight to see a large herd of these horses, of every size, age, and colour, mustering in this manner from hill and valley, as if by common consent. Though physically very powerful, thev