MUSTER DOGS, New series. Sunday January 23, 7.40pm, ABC
Aticia Grey runs a half-a-million acre (200,000+ hectare) property in the Pilbara, – “That’s about average size for this area” – a cattle station that’s been in the family for generations. But by 2019 the drought was biting so hard that they had to start to de-stock. And although a little rain fell in 2020, Grey and her brother had already decided that they needed to start farming differently.
“We went: Right, this is a reset button. We’re going to take this chance now to adjust our management systems, look after the country better.”
That involved a host of initiatives, including letting the property regenerate before restocking. It also meant using teams of dogs to work their cattle, rather than the helicopters, bikes and bull wagons that had become the normal way of doing business.
Grey is one of the graziers we meet in the new ABC factual series, Muster Dogs. It’s sort of a competition to see who can best train a working dog pup in just 12 months, but the more interesting face of the show is the insight into the dogs themselves, the people who breed and train them, and the farmers who work them.
Grey says the benefits of working with dogs rather than machinery are many. They are obviously lighter on the land. “There’s the cost,” she says. “It is not cheap when you’re having to get in contract helicopters.” Dogs are also so much more fun, she says.
Grey actually started working with dogs back in 2013 when she heard about a bloke called Neil McDonald who trained working dogs, and trained people to work with working dogs. “I knew nothing about dogs. I didn’t even go there with a dog. But at the end of that first school, I thought, this is what I want to do.” So Grey got a dog. Then another, and another. “I was as green as they come,” she says of that first year. “My dogs had to do a lot of training of me. So full points to them!”
Perhaps most crucially, the dogs play a vital role in animal welfare. “It’s the education of the livestock that’s important,” Grey says. “The right dogs just have so much natural feel and understanding of the animals, it takes the stress out of the stock.”
It’s difficult to describe until you see it, but essentially the cattle learn to read the dogs’ behaviour and choose to work with them. It’s a totally different dynamic to a bloke on a motorbike or a swooping helicopter.