Cattle mustered before bushfires

Cattle return from mountains ahead of fires

Beef
Muster: Smoke haze is visible through the bush as the McCormack family steadily bring their cattle back out of the mountains earlier than usual. Normally the cows and calves would stay until the cool autumn months when they would start to move off the mountains. Photo: Rhyll McCormack

Muster: Smoke haze is visible through the bush as the McCormack family steadily bring their cattle back out of the mountains earlier than usual. Normally the cows and calves would stay until the cool autumn months when they would start to move off the mountains. Photo: Rhyll McCormack

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Rather than risk their valuable Angus cows, the McCormack family have brought them back out of the mountains earlier than usual.

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Less than two months after droving their Angus cows into the High Country above the head waters of the King River, the McCormack family from Merrijig, Victoria, brought their cattle out early in the face of bushfires burning through the mountain valleys of the north east.

Allowing their cows to spend the summer on mountain grazing leases has been a long standing tradition for Bruce McCormack and his family but this year they decided the cows with their calves should return early.

"Six weeks ago we were warned to prepare for snow storms and torrential rain," Mr McCormack said.

"But with the fires threatening farmers across the north-east, we decided it best for the cattle to come back home and especially with the Alpine and State Forests evacuating all campers and visitors."

Mr McCormack said they quickly loaded their horses and within two hours were mustering the cows and calves and moving them down the mountain tracks.

At the beginning of November, Bruce McCormack from Mansfield, Victoria, led his family as they droved their cows to the high country above Chesunt. But due to fires their cattle were brought back earlier than usual. Photo: Ryhll McCormack

At the beginning of November, Bruce McCormack from Mansfield, Victoria, led his family as they droved their cows to the high country above Chesunt. But due to fires their cattle were brought back earlier than usual. Photo: Ryhll McCormack

"Six weeks ago we had our grandkids on their ponies laughing delightedly as the snow flakes caught in their oilskins," he recalled.

"But last week, no one spoke.

"With the smoke hanging thickly on the valley floor, we could hear the cows bellowing for their calves but were unable to see them for the haze."

When he took the cattle up to the high country Mr McCormack could not have predicted that in less than two months the grazing situation for the Victorian high country would change so dramatically.

At the time when he spoke to The Land, he was optimistic about the grazing afforded during the summer season and confident in his family's tradition.

READ MORE: Grazing cattle in the Victoria bush a family tradition

"It's all about spending time with the family, and doing that while we are out in the bush together," he said when referring to their annual High Country muster.

"Showing the kids where the cattle need to go, helping find them again and in the early morning on day two and three."

Early in January, the risk of destruction by fire was too great and the cows were taken back to the home paddocks at Merrijig. Photo: Rhyll McCormack

Early in January, the risk of destruction by fire was too great and the cows were taken back to the home paddocks at Merrijig. Photo: Rhyll McCormack

At the time Mr McCormack also talked of keeping fire fuel loads under control, but he could not have known fires would not only threaten his own farm and livestock in a matter of weeks, but also decimate other mountain cattlemen as well.

He is the president of the Mountain Cattlemen's Association and said he has no interest in pursuing the 'blame game'

"I don't know what to say or what to do," he said in response to the devastation.

"People have lost everything ... how do you even begin to comprehend that?"

Mr McCormack said grazing cattle in the High Country assists in reducing the risk of intense fires, a point he has made in the past. But despite public support for the practice to be broadened he does not wish to dwell on the subject.

"Right now, cattle in or out of the High Country doesn't matter, what matters is helping those who have lost everything," he said.

"There are cattlemen from Wangaratta, the High Country near Cobungra and Omeo, the Upper Murray and in the Gippsland who have spent weeks battling fires, trying to save stock and homes."

President of the Mountain Cattleman's Associtaion of Victoria, Bruce McCormack will not be drawn into playing the 'blame game' over the bushfires and instead asks that all Australians come together in mutul support. Photo: Rhyll McCormack

President of the Mountain Cattleman's Associtaion of Victoria, Bruce McCormack will not be drawn into playing the 'blame game' over the bushfires and instead asks that all Australians come together in mutul support. Photo: Rhyll McCormack

Mr McCormack said the ash has not yet settled to allow producers the time to evaluate exact losses.

"All we know is that cattle and sheep have perished and the grazier's livelihoods have gone in an instant," he said.

"I don't want to get into the blame game ... everyone knows what we believe but now is not the time for recrimination but help each other to come through this tragedy with dignity."

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