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HOME > Short Stories > Five Years in New Zealand 1859 to 1864 > CHAPTER IX.
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    Cattle Ranching and Stockriding.

While I stayed at Smith\'s Station, we made acquaintance with a young man, by name Hudson, a son of the famous Railway King. He had come to New Zealand a few years previously with slender means and was a pushing, energetic fellow. He settled on the Ashburton and set up business as a carter, investing his money in a couple of drays and bullock teams, with which he contracted to convey wool from the stations to Christchurch, returning with stores, etc., and sometimes carting timber from the forest and such like. My first day\'s experience of driving wild cattle was in his company.

A stockrider\'s life is perhaps of all occupations the most enjoyable, and there is just that element of risk connected with it that increases its fascination, but to make it intelligible to the reader, a sketch of the working and management of a cattle station will be necessary.

Although most sheep farmers feed a certain number of cattle to enable them to utilise the portions of their run which may be unsuitable for grazing, there are some squatters who confine themselves to cattle alone, and the produce derived from such stations includes beef, butter, cheese, hides, horns, and working stock—that is, bullocks destined for use in pulling drays; such entirely taking the places of draught horses up country.

A cattle rancher may have from one to two thousand head of cattle running wild. Of these, one portion is milch cows, which are daily driven in for milking and from which the extensive butter and cheese dairies are supplied; another the fat cattle fed for the market, and a third, young stock for breaking in as working bullocks. As with sheep, the cattle are periodically mustered in the stock yards for branding, selections for various purposes, and for sale.

Mustering a large head of wild cattle is exciting work. Half a dozen men mounted on well-trained horses, each carrying his stockwhip, start for the run. The stockwhip is composed of a lash of plaited raw hide, twelve to fifteen feet long, and about one and half inches thick at the belly, which is close to the handle. The latter is about nine inches long, made of some hard tough wood, usually[Pg 47] weighted at the hand end. The experienced stockman can do powerful execution with these whips, one blow from which is sufficient to cut a slice out of the beast\'s hide, and I have seen an expert cut from top to bottom the side of a nail can with a single blow from his whip.

The cattle are spread over perhaps twenty or thirty thousand acres of unfenced country, and each man follows his portion of the herd, collecting and driving into a common centre. For a time all goes well, until some wary or ill-conditioned brute breaks away, followed possibly by a number of his comrades, who only need a lead to give the stockman trouble. Then commences a chase, and not infrequently it is a chase in vain, and the fagged stockman and his jaded steed are obliged to give them up for that day, and proceed to hold what he has got in hand.

There is sometimes considerable danger in following up too closely these beasts when they begin to show signs of fatigue, as they then often turn to bay under the first scrap of shelter, and if the horseman unwarily or ignorantly approaches too near in his endeavour to dislodge them, they will charge, and the death of the horse or rider may be the result. Both, however, are generally too well aware of these little failings to endeavour to prevail over a jaded or "baked" beast, and prefer to let him rest.

Upon the cattle being yarded, the most exciting operation is the capturing and securing of the young beasts requiring to be broken in to the yoke. An experienced and expert stockman enters the enclosure carrying in his hand a pine sapling, 12 or 15 feet in length, at the end of which is a running noose of raw hide or strong hemp rope, attached to a strong rope which is passed round a capstan outside the stockyard and near to a corner post. With considerable dexterity, not infrequently accompanied by personal danger, the man slips the noose over the horns of the beast he wishes to secure, when he immediately jumps over the rails, and with the assistance of the men outside, winds up the rope till the struggling and infuriated animal is fast held in a corner of the yard. Another noose is then slipped round the hind leg nearest the rails and firmly fastened.

The yard being cleared, a steady old working bullock is now driven alongside our young friend, and the two are yoked together neck and neck, the trained bullock selected being always the more powerful of the two. The ropes are then unfastened and the pair left free to keep company for[Pg 48] a month or so, by which time the old worker will have trained his young charge sufficiently to permit of his being put into the body of a team and submitted to the unmerciful charge of the bullock puncher (driver). There is no escape for the novice then, yoked fast to a powerful beast with others before and behind, and the cruel cutting whip over him, in the hands of a man possessing but little sentiment: he must obey, and after a time becomes as tractable as the rest. Indeed, it is wonderful how intelligent and obedient these animals become under the hands of an experienced driver. There is a code of bullock punching language they soon get to understand; they answer readily to their names, and are, if anything, more sensible, obedient, and manageable than horses.

My ride with Hudson, which I referred to, was as hard a day\'s work as I have experienced of the kind. We started from the Ashburton at daybreak, and after a quiet canter of five miles, reached an open piece of river bed flat, on which were grazing some two hundred head of cattle, amongst which were five young bullocks of Hudson\'s he wished to cut out and drive to Moorhouse\'s station on the Rangitata, about twenty miles further south. The cutting out is more dif............
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