Jun 18

Clever Kate

Bulls stepping over a wire in the intensive grazing system

Farmers use special language to speak to dogs even though they – the dogs – can work things out themselves and understand conversational English. ‘The farmer’ appears to think dogs understand expletives and he uses terms like “Git away back” and “Git in behind” which I suspect are the farming equivalent of legalese which we all know is designed to make us feel out of the loop.

Rex’s dog Kate recently proved that she knows more than she lets on.

This year’s yearling bulls are in a grazing system that relies on hot wires – electrified tapes. To reach fresh grass, the cattle step over a wire which we drop onto the ground and lift up afterwards.

When young bulls are still figuring out the grazing system, mobs sometimes get mixed up and have to be returned to their mobs. All it takes is a power cut, a stray bull or, on one occasion, low-flying ducks.

While the farmer separates and sorts the bulls, I stand in the make-shift ‘gateway’, i.e. a gap in the fence, stepping aside at crucial moments to let bulls through.

During the last reshuffle I was in a mellow frame of mind and everything went so smoothly, the farmer said afterwards, “Well done. We’ll make a cattle handler of you yet.”

Soon afterwards, while he was way down the paddock, I had to coax some inexperienced bulls to make the daring step over the wire. Kate marked me like a rugby defender, moving as I walked forward, trotting ahead if a bull looked reluctant or threatened to head in the wrong direction.

She hadn’t been asked to do this – I don’t know how to ask a dog to do anything as smart as what Kate was doing – and only when she had overseen the last bull safely into its paddock did she gallop off.

Soon afterwards the farmer asked me to go and open a gate so he could move some sheep and that’s when my dog Floss and I found Kate a few hundred yards away chasing birds (a favourite pastime). She was supposed to be helping her boss.

Armed with the thrilling knowledge that I have potential as a cattle handler, I figured I’d try advanced dog handling. Flapping an arm in the direction of Rex, I said, “Kate, get back there and help Rex with some sheep.”

Kate’s bat ears perked up and, after a second’s indecision, she took off at a gallop. I’d take the credit, but you already know Kate’s the one with the brains.

About the author

Rae Roadley

Rae is a journalist, freelance writer and writing tutor. Soon after returning to her hometown to work for Northland's daily newspaper, she met beef and sheep farmer Rex Roadley. He lived in a historic home at Batley on the Kaipara Harbour and after moving there, Rae reported on farming then wrote a newspaper column, The Country Side. Her wryly amusing tales of country life earned many followers and led her to learn more about the local people, past and present. She tells the story of her new life in 'Love at the End of the Road: Finding my heart in the country'.