Drovers hit stock routes for slow trip south

Drovers hit stock routes for slow trip south

Beef
Drovers like Billy Prow are happy to finally see a good season on parts of Queensland's stock routes. Pictures - Sally Gall.

Drovers like Billy Prow are happy to finally see a good season on parts of Queensland's stock routes. Pictures - Sally Gall.

Aa

Western highways have reverberated to the big road train lift of cattle out of Queensland's north west over the last month, and now mobs are beginning to move onto the stock routes for a slower journey south to markets.

Aa

Western highways have reverberated to the big road train lift of cattle out of Queensland's north west over the last month, and now mobs are beginning to move onto the stock routes for a slower journey south to markets.

They are targeting the feed that's growing south of Barcaldine all the way to Roma and beyond, and hoping that current prices will hold up.

One of those with an early mob on the route is long-time drover Billy Prow, who is in charge of around 2000 mixed-sex composite cattle belonging mainly to Julia Creek's David and Jennifer Heslin.

Mixed in with them are six decks of a predominantly Brahman-based herd belonging to his brother Stephen Heslin and wife Laura, from Mount Surprise.

David Heslin said that with the stock routes carrying as much feed as he'd seen for a number of years, he was trying to buy a bit of time.

He owns three places, Hilton Park south of the railway line at Julia Creek, Baroona north of the line, and Blackbull, between Normanton and Croydon, and said he had been planning to unload a lot of cattle last year for debt reduction purposes.

That was before they lost 3000 head in the 2019 monsoon.

"We turned the flood loss around fairly quickly - we made use of the loan on offer and bought 600 head from Alistair and Jo McClymont," Mr Heslin said. "Four hundred of them were preg tested in calf and they breed similar cattle to us so we're back up and rolling."

That was helped by the fact that the flooding didn't impact their northern country greatly.

Mr Heslin said the cattle on the road, bred from Greg and Katrina Popplewell's bulls, as well as from Geoff and Alison Maynard's 5 Star Senepols at central Queensland, and Jim and Jackie Wedge's Angus and Charolais sires, suited southern markets.

Keeping the mob moving forward.

Keeping the mob moving forward.

"I don't aim for live export at all," he said. "Our heifers are usually in calf at 12 months, and the cattle do extremely well in feedlots."

While he may sell the mob on the road if the right money came along, he was keen for the competition that saleyards afforded. If he doesn't get what he describes as the right money, he was prepared to keep walking.

Related: Long road back to Mungindi

He recalled doing that with a mob Bill Little was in charge of in 2015, which ended up at Dubbo before returning to Surat and eventually breaking the heifer price record at Roma in February 2016.

"I could sell the steers and bring the heifers home too," he said. "Or I could sell the heifers on their PTIC status - a lot of them will be in calf."

Billy Prow settling his mob down for the night midway between Barcaldine and Blackall.

Billy Prow settling his mob down for the night midway between Barcaldine and Blackall.

Mr Prow said the mob had started off in good condition when they were unloaded at Barcaldine a fortnight ago.

"There's only one mob in front of us - Billy Little's got one mob around Tambo - and there's a lot of herbage through the grass, so hopefully we'll be able to put a bit of weight on them, if we don't get too many frosts," he said.

"It's pretty dry up north and the routes are in good shape so I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing some more cattle hit the route and head south."

He expects to take another three months to reach Roma, together with his crew of Blake Arnold and Tobin Aspinall, plus 16 dogs and 17 horses.

"We're getting a good run, no tourists this year - the road's quieter than it normally is because of this virus.

"The cattle are still learning the routine, they haven't rushed at night, yet. I hope they don't."

Settling down in the break.

Settling down in the break.

Mr Prow said he'd been droving for 29 years so he probably knew most of the tricks to keep cattle calm on the routes.

"A lot of people say it's boring but I don't.

"If they come out here and tried to look after 2000 head and keep them happy and contented and keep them together, they'd soon see how boring it is."

Read more: Stock route review expected in final quarter

The story Drovers hit stock routes for slow trip south first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by