"My vision and focus is, through the creation of an awareness within the industry, of how easily cattle can work to a consistent approach or system. The industry as a whole will soon profit from the savings of cost of labour, time, less injuries to both beast and operator, less helicopter hours, and the elimination of stress related weight loss."
A Brief History by John Mackay, Owner/Operator
I grew up on a cattle station In Central Western Queensland, in a region and an era, where your worth was judged largely on whether you were a good ringer. I had the luxury of learning the art of handling cattle and horses over the long time frame of youth with many experienced hands to mentor me in a trade in which they took great pride. I first went to the Northern Territory in the mid 60’s. The lure of big country, feral cattle and wild riding was irresistible. It was before the days of bull catchers and helicopters. My first experiences in this big country was in trapping and breaking brumbies, spear trapped off a natural salt lick in the wet season. These would be brought into the horse plant to make up the numbers, along with the more seasoned horses spelling ahead of our first round of mustering. Our mustering team consisted of 8 or 9 blackfellas, myself, my mate, and Bill Cain. Old Bill was one of the last of the real Bagmen. He knew no other life than being in the saddle working cattle, and not always his own, as he was proud to say. He had one conviction going back to the War years when sprung with some Alexandria bullocks. Our horse plant consisted of 10 packhorses and 60 to 70 plant horses. Typically we would put a mob of coachers together and work our way around the various bronco yards scattered strategically across the country.
I learnt two important things in the first week of camp. Firstly that there was a lot I still had to learn about working cattle, old Bill left me in no doubt about that. I soon realised why he was a legend at working wild bush cattle. Although we tied up plenty of cattle, it was a smarter man that could run in a mob with good cow sense without throwing any. And secondly, to save your horses energy when running in cleanskins, or you wouldn’t have any gas left in the tank when you needed it for the last bend, when we swung a running mob into the coachers.
My interest in training good horses, and working cattle with a rope, cowboy style took me to America in 1973. I had some good contacts and was soon riding and training cow horses daylight until dark along with some great horsemen. I went on to work with a Rodeo Contractor which meant working with two to three hundred bucking bulls at a time. They were certainly different to running in Cleanskins in the NT, but one thing stayed the same. If you didn’t take control of the situation, it would soon revert to no control of the outcome.
Coming back to Western QLD it was the start of the cattle recession which went on for the better part of five years. All through that period I worked more Scrub cattle without any help, other than a team of good dogs, than I did with help. There just wasn’t the money to pay for help, let alone find experienced help. It was also a time when experienced stockmen were leaving the bush for better pay and the security and conditions the Mining Companies offered. Working on your own certainly hones cattle skills. I believe this is probably what has taken me to a level above any I would have ever reached if working with help. The systems I now practise and teach, have evolved from the need to communicate the best bet methods of effectively working cattle. It has taken some considerable time to put together a means of communicating skills, which for so long have been instinctive for myself and other experienced stockmen. We no longer have the luxury of the majority of any given crew being experienced, with little pressure on the inexperienced learning effective cattle handling over time. To this challenge I have put together basic systems that can be communicated effectively to the greenest Novice, as well as those in the industry that consistently, repeatedly, run into trouble handling their cattle, with the resulting weight loss and all else that goes with mishandled cattle.
The early Nineties found me on Mt McMinn Station on the Roper River, a bare block which we developed and later sold. After a stint in the more civilised Goondiwindi area I returned to the North where I do contract cattle work in the season, and break and train cow horses in the off season. I brought home from the US my first Quarter Horse Stallion in 1974, and have been breeding and training cutting horses, camp horses and roping horses ever since. For the last Three years I have been training 20 to 30,000 weaners a year at Brunette Downs, Northern Territory. I get a great deal of satisfaction from training young cattle to work effectively from the outset, and with the systems I have evolved, can train 1200 weaners to work stress free in a day. Last year with the support of management. I worked with the Brunette stock camps coaching and explaining the systems I use to effectively, put together big mobs, walk them, yard them, and have them flow through the yards effectively with the minimum of stress. It was with considerable satisfaction that I watched the crews, jointly and individually “get it”. The hidden costs of badly handled cattle. From weight loss, extra Helicopter hours, injuries to personnel, both in the yard and in the paddock, would be hard to overestimate across the cattle industry. With skills learnt, I see the pride of being a good stockperson coming back, and these issues addressed.