Mustering made easy with clever dog tricks

Mustering made easy with clever dog tricks

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Dogs form a wall to direct weaner heifers during the weaner education process at Shane and Claire Harris' Harris Farms beef operation at Leongatha, Victoria. Photo by Claire Harris.

Dogs form a wall to direct weaner heifers during the weaner education process at Shane and Claire Harris' Harris Farms beef operation at Leongatha, Victoria. Photo by Claire Harris.


Introducing dogs to heifers at weaning can educate the whole herd to be easy handling.


WORKING dogs aren’t necessarily the first tool that comes to mind for quietening stock.

However, Victorian beef producers Shane and Claire Harris have revolutionised their stock handling through some tips they picked up in a Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) producer demonstration trial.

The trial was co-funded by MLA and Agriculture Victoria and involved six beef producers, each testing different weaning methods. Participants allowed dogs to come onto their property, as well have their cattle weighed and flight-speed recorded at regular intervals (ie. the speed at which they leave the crush).

The Harris’ were among these participants. They run Harris Farms at Leongatha, in Victoria’s south Gippsland, a beef and sheep operation on 810 hectares of owned and leased country. They produce for a range of markets, but the reason they’ve introduced dogs is they sell 65 Angus bulls a year and their buyers want easy-to-handle cattle, including with dogs.

The dogs were part of an advanced training method, which was additional to handling otherwise typical of yard weaning. They were shown how to use the dogs by handler Neil McDonald, from Keith, South Australia.

Their interest was also driven by a need to change. They buy about 800 cattle a year and found if they arrived wild, they stayed wild, but not under this method. Mr Harris had seen this method of training cattle to dogs some time ago, and thought it was time consuming.

“But now my wife’s taken it on with a number of dogs and it’s been hugely successful,” he said.

“The dogs round them up and basically set a fence (like a wall) around the cattle and bring the cattle towards you.”

The aim was to get the cattle to follow the handler around the paddock or yard.

“The nuts and bolts of it is, the cattle see you as relief from the dogs, so when they come to you, then you sit the dogs,” he said.

This encouraged the cattle to move towards gates when drafting, or along the race, without balking at the handler. This technique was just one part of a whole system of practical handling of cattle, he said.

“A lot of people are in a rush and bring their cattle in on bikes flat chat, revving and chasing them. An animal’s not going to be settled if it’s chased into the yard,” Mr Harris said.

“Our bikes are no longer used for chasing cattle – our bikes just cart the dogs to the paddock to shift the cattle, that’s all.”

New tricks for old hand with cattle

IN A Meat and Livestock Australia producer demonstration trial, six Victorian beef producers put a range of weaning methods to the test. 

Farming systems demonstration project leader at Agriculture Victoria, Martin Dunstan, said they identified at the outset that yard weaning meant different things to different people.

Therefore, when buying yard-weaned cattle, handling ability and temperament varied considerably.

Across the six producers, three methods were compared: paddock weaning; yard weaning with minimal handling, and yard weaning with advanced training. 

Temperament was measured upon entry to the yards with a flight-speed recorder, then again a week later and once more at six weeks.

Mr Dunstan said producer feedback suggested yard weaning with advanced training was the best option.

One of the producers, Shane Harris, Leongatha, Vic, included dog handling as part of the trial. This included a method taught by Neil McDonald, Keith, South Australia, which “sowed the seed of co-operation in the weaners’ minds”, Mr McDonald said.

 The advantages included stock which started and stopped easily, depending on how the dogs were directed, and which moved with natural mob structure, mimicking the way a herd might move onto water.

Mr Harris said when he musters now, the cattle walk to the yards of their own accord. The dogs have been a small cost per animal given the benefits of easier-to-handle, more productive cattle.

  • Weaner education will be discussed at the Border Beef Conference in Albury, held Wednesday, July 20.

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