88 Days: A Day in the Life of a Cattle Station Cook

For my regional work I am working as a cook on a cattle station just outside of Julia Creek in outback Queensland. I cook three meals a day for seven people, feed animals, and maintain the garden. It’s hard work and I thought it would be helpful to post my daily routine to give anyone considering this kind of work for their 88 days an insight into what might be expected of you. Technically I have it quite easy only cooking for 7 people, as there are stations which have fifty or so people to feed, whether that would be harder than the work I do now I’m not sure, as my work isn’t limited to the kitchen. I have various responsibilities around the property and it takes a lot of organisation to make sure I get everything done. My first month has been particularly hectic as we are currently in the middle of mustering, this means that every other day we have a helicopter pilot come and stay, which in turn adds more jobs.
But Holly, hold up, what do you mean by property? What even is mustering?

Don’t worry if I’ve lost you a bit with all the jargon, here’s a handy basic terminology for station work:

Cattle station – Beef farm, referring to the land comprising of paddocks and yards where the cattle are kept and roam.

Property / Homestead- refers to the house and grounds, the term is used interchangeably with cattle station, but more often is referring to the living areas of the farm.

Mustering – the gathering of cattle, a farmer will use Jackaroos and Jillaroos on quad bikes, horses or motorbikes to gather cattle and move them from a paddock to the yard. Helicopters are also used to locate and push cattle on large properties, the property I work at is 250,000 acres.

Pushing – to steer and move cattle.

Drafting – the sorting of cattle. Cattle are sorted into Bulls, steers, calves, fats, wets, weaners, heifers and strangers, this process involves tagging, hot branding, dehorning and castrating.

Jackaroo – a male farm worker.

Jillaroo – a female farm worker.

Smoko – morning tea.

UHF / Radio – radio / Walkie talkie system used to communicate during mustering, I have the master radio in the kitchen, the other workers communicate via hand held devices.

 And the next question you might be thinking is why am I working a at a cattle station? The Australian Government offers visitors on Working Holiday Visa 417 the chance to extend their visa by a year if they complete three months (88 days) specified regional work, the most popular forms of regional work are fruit picking which mainly involves backpackers going to working hostels, or working on a cattle station. Regional work is not limited to those two though, mining, fishing and pearling and construction also count as specified regional work, the work has to be completed in regions which fall under the specified regional postcodes, and these are usually in the outback.

Roles for female backpackers usually fall into one of three roles: Jillaroo, cook or governess, stations require female workers and the roles are gendered, though Jillaroo is by far the most physically demanding job involving working with the cattle all day, riding a motorbike, quad bike or horse depending on what the station uses. Cook is self explanatory, and governess involves prior experience of childcare, this could be anything from childminding to overseeing long distance education classes.

I’m almost halfway through my 88 days and it’s been a really interesting experience so far, but by no means easy, I’m thankful that I went to Winton first where I got a feel for outback life before committing to working on a station. It’s taken a long time for me to get round to writing this as my work days are long, and the last thing I want to do when I get time to myself is write about work, but here goes anyway!

6am – Breakfast

My day begins with setting up breakfast in the kitchen, lucky for me this is a self service of toast and cereal, before I came here my friend who’d worked as a kitchen assistant at a station had told me the standard was eggs and bacon for brekkie. Thankfully this system makes for a quick tidy up.

6:15/6:30am – Animal work:

First I feed the wallaby Mudgee, he is bottle fed three times a day. After he has finished his bottle, I move him to his daytime pen, clean and refill his water, and then go back to his overnight cage and remove the mat, shake it out and hose it down.

Next I feed the cat.

Then I feed the chickens, on the way to the station my boss had warned me that there was one chicken who would hang back and peck the back of your legs. Little did I know this would be the least of my worries, every morning is a battle with the chickens who wait for me at the gate. Once I am inside the hen house and opening the bin of feed, as I bend over to scoop the feed, one jumps on my back or my head, whilst the others jump on the bin or try and peck my hands. They are psycho chickens.

I then go and clean and refill their water trough.

Finally I go and feed the Poddies and the calves. Poddies are orphaned or abandoned cows who are picked up during muster. If a mother cow believes her calf is weak she will abandon it. I have 9 Poddies who are not bottle fed, and to begin with I had five calves. I now have three, two who are given milk and one who is fed dry food.

8:00/8:15am – Kitchen Work

After feeding the animals I change my shirt and begin prepping food for the day, meals are planned the night before so I have a rough idea of what I’m doing and then I have until 9:30am to prepare all three meals of the day before smoko.

Smoko is a coffee break. The workers come back for a drink and something to eat before going back to work. I prepare something sweet and something savoury, I have made pizza scrolls, orange drizzle cake, even doughnut balls. My most popular smoko treat to date is my white chocolate and raspberry cake which everyone loves.

Then I prepare lunch, this can be pasta bake, pasties, pizza or quiche, as mustering is intensely physical work and the boys are gone for most of the day, I have had to make each meal heartier and more substantial or else they tell me it is not enough!

Dinner more often than not is beef, unsurprisingly, it’s very good quality and I enjoy working with it, every couple of days we have chicken or pork. I have to make sure as much of dinner is prepared beforehand so I can come back in the afternoon and set it up in time for dinner.

9am- Set up the Fernhouse, this is a little outhouse where we eat smoko. Before everyone comes back I have to wipe the tables, sweep the floor, check under the tables for red backs, fill the water eskie and put ice in it, and fill and heat the tea urn.

9:30am – Smoko

If everyone is back on time I have to have all the food I’ve prepared, plus a fruit bowl, the milk and cordial set out for everyone. I can then sit down and eat and chat with everyone.

10:00am After smoko I clear away the plates, wash up and stack the dishwasher. At this point in the day I begin turning on sprinklers around the property, placing them on dry spots and setting a timer on my phone for 20 minutes after that I go back and check the ground and if it’s wet enough I move them, if not I leave them for another twenty minutes.

10:20-12:30 The rest of my time spent in between rotations is to do cleaning tasks around the property, this is usually setting up the helicopter pilots room and bathroom, hoovering up cobwebs around the house, putting away groceries or anything I’ve been asked to do.

12:30- Final lunch time prep, I return to the house and put lunch in the oven and set up the dining area.

1pm – Lunch after showering the workers come in and we eat lunch together.

1:30pm I begin washing up and clearing away lunch.

1:45/2pm – Depending on how the day has gone everyone gets a break until 3pm or we work through the rest of the afternoon.

2/3pm – I go and give Mudgee his lunch time bottle, which he fights me for when I refill it, and then I brace myself for the Chickens’ lunch time feed and egg collection.

3pm – Watering

Throughout the day I have been rotating sprinklers around the dry spots in the garden, if it’s a pop up day the pop ups go on for 45minutes three times a week, they are electric sprinklers which water areas of the inside and outside garden that are hard to reach or require a lot of watering. Twice a week the sprinklers in the chicken pen go on, and once a week trees are watered by the dripper system, small sprinklers which are left at the base of the tree for four to five hours.

At 3pm I begin hand watering the edges, these are areas of the front garden that require watering everyday. It’s hard the explain but I basically have to water the grass surrounding the driveway, I use a hose and create a fan of water with my thumb and water the grass until I can see water on the surface then I move on, each section takes me around 20minutes depending on how dry the area is.

5pm – Animal work

I drive to the pig pen and turn the water hose on there to top up their mud bath, then I drive to sliding door shed which has the pig and horse feed in it and collect their feed. I then drive to top shed which has the hay bales, where I collect a bale and drive back to pig and sheep.

I feed pig and sheep, the sheep scatter when I toss their hay slabs at them, the pigs screech and try and climb the fence. I pour their feed over the fence to them, aiming for he food troughs.

Next I drive to the horse pen where I feed Blaze, a wild horse, I give her her pellets and then tie two hay bags on the fence of her pen.

5:45pm Return to property, go to kitchen and begin final prep for dinner, to make sure it’s ready for 7:30pm.

5:55pm

Poddies and calves are fed again.

I feed the cat again.

I put Mudgee back in his house.

6:30-7:00/7:15pm Free time to shower.

7:15pm – final dinner prep and set up.

7:30pm Dinner

8pm begin clearing away and washing up, which usually takes a long time because I get to use the wifi.

8:30/8:45pm finish clean up, meal plan for the following day.

8:50pm Mudgee’s night time feed.

9:00pm I either sit it in the staff room using the Internet, go back to my room and read or go to bed.

9:30pm sleep.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past six weeks, so if you haven’t heard from me for a while or have been wondering what I’ve been up to, that’s it! On Sunday’s my boss offers to do the kitchen work which means I get some time to myself in the morning, I use that time to clean my room and the staff shower and toilet block, usually leaning myself an hour to do what I want.

Occasionally I’ve been asked to go up to the yard, where I get to work with cattle, moving them which is a skill in itself, and not just running at them shouting “woo” as I have learned. Mustering takes place twice a year and is an intense period in the farming calendar, moving and cattle is tough. My job requires a lot of organisation and an ability to deal with unexpected and the inconsistent, in the beginning when I was learning the ropes I’d get stressed over stupid things like meals being late or a job running over by ten minutes, because if one thing was late then the next job was late and the next and the next, creating a chaotic chain reaction. Now that I’ve got the hang of it I’m gaining time, and as mustering is coming to an end my schedule will ease up.

Here I’d like to point out that the girl before me lasted three days, and the girl before that lasted a month, they both had their reasons for leaving, and I can understand why some people couldn’t cope. Possibly one of the toughest elements of my job is the fact that I spend most of it alone, I’ve found I don’t mind it as much as I’ve spent a lot of time by myself as a solo traveller and I can be by myself. Sometimes when the workers come back from the yard or mustering, they’ll discuss their morning and have a laugh and I can’t join in, unless something interesting happens, my mornings aren’t that interesting. I’ve found that now I’ve somewhat mastered most of my jobs, I’m able to enjoy myself more and get on with the day. For some people the isolation would be difficult, being over 100km from the nearest town may be daunting for some people. For those who think they might struggle with life on a station I suggest going to an outback town like Winton or Longreach to get an idea of outback life before committing to a station job. I’m very lucky working here as my boss did my job when she first arrived and so understands how long it takes to settle in and get on top of things, even though I’ve been here over a month I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough, but I’m hoping to fit more in soon.

So if you’re considering working for a cattle station for your 88 days this what your day could look like. Yes the work is hard, it’s a lifestyle not a job, but if you’re considering working on a cattle station for your regional work you should expect to work hard. Honestly even though I’ve found it really tough at times, the more I learn about the outback and the way of life out here, the more fascinated I become by it, I also like being challenged, even if I do get in a massive flap about it at first, I’ll come back again and try harder tomorrow.

I will be writing another post giving advice on how to get a job at a cattle station, and it will come whenever I get the time to write it. I hope this helps anyone considering s cattle station job, and please don’t let it scare you, once you get the hang of it, it’s nothing.

Thanks for reading!

Hx

6 thoughts on “88 Days: A Day in the Life of a Cattle Station Cook

      • Emily Jane says:

        I worked on a cattle station for three months at the start of our visa and now on a feed lot for five months for the end of my visa 🙂
        I also worked on a dairy farm and a sheep farm – never work with sheep, ever. They are so frustrating.
        Farm work is real easy to get out here and it’s good if you want to save up. It’s just a bit dull!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. expandingatlas says:

    Sounds demanding! I’ll be venturing to Australia in a couple of weeks also, to find some work and fool around for a year. I will post about it on my blog as well 🙂 what would you recommend as your number one favorite for me to go visit once in Australia? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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