Apart from the lack of dehorners and castrating knife, there’s not much difference between management techniques at Bomber Baillie’s Douglas Park property at Blackall and most other cattle operations in northern Australia.
But there is one major difference – Bomber and his son, Matthew ‘Bear’ Baillie, are breeding their cattle to buck.
The pair are among the best known rough stock breeders in the country, alongside respected bull riding contracters such as Brandenburgs.
You won’t see their bulls in any show ring but the names of Wild Thing, Black Sabbath and Hells Bells are known with respect in rodeo arenas around Australia.
Wild Thing was the 2009 PBR Bull of Australia, while Hell's Bells, on loan to Mitch Russell, was the 2014 Classic champion at Townsville, and another, Firecracker, was the champion bull of the night at Townsville in 2015.
It’s these genetics, plus those of one of the most legendary bucking bulls in the US, Houdini, that are in the paddocks at Douglas Park, being bred with banteng cows from South East Asia, and Texas Longhorns.
“They nearly always throw buckers, and they give you the colour that a lot want,” is how Bomber explained his use of banteng bloodlines.
After a 30-year career as a shearing contractor, he got into the stock contracting business in 1988, starting with horses but expanding into bulls.
He and Bear learnt from hard experience that scrub bulls, while they have a reputation for meanness, don’t necessarily translate into good bull riding material.
“We tried hundreds – we went up to the Territory and caught a mob and finished up with nothing out of them. Breeding to buck is a lot better,” Bomber said.
He went all the way to Victoria to source genetics from Ron Woodall, plus bulls and heifers from Scott Mayne at Gunnedah, NSW, and the rest is history.
They left the PBR circuit three years ago – the travel was demanding and drought was biting – but continue to breed for the industry.
According to Bomber, their management is just the same as for any cattle herd – they have three mobs of cows, split up according to whether they are American bred, Wild Thing’s progeny, or others; Bear undertakes an AI program every second year; they pregnancy test all their cows, and electric fences are used to keep the feisty bulls apart when they’re being joined.
“We're down to half our cow numbers that we usually have. We used to have 60 bulls, now we're back to 17 bulls,” Bomber said. “We’d like to build back up after the drought. We have a mob of young bulls and we’re keen to see how they go, if it rains.”
While all the young bulls are fed grain as weaners, to get them used to that type of feed on the rodeo circuit, they’re supplementing their cow herd with molasses.
As for the price they command, it can be up to $5000, comparable to the averages of many a sale ring last month.
“We sell two-year-old bulls that haven't been anywhere for a couple of thousand dollars – it’s better than bullock money,” Bomber said.
“It's surprising out there how many people just want to buy one bull or two.
“It's a hobby for a lot of people, a lot of bull riders that retire.”
Even heifers bring around $1000 for the Baillies.
Bomber and Bear Baillie might be selecting bulls and cows based on past bucking performances, but they still have to test the progeny for performance.
“We buck them as big weaners,” Bomber explained. “Anything that we reckon will buck we keep, the others we dehorn and sell as steers. We only keep the best of them.”
It’s the same story with their heifers – they are tested, with a dummy box and girth – and send anything that doesn’t come up to standard through the saleyards at Blackall.
While he enjoys the challenge of finding the Australian professional bull riding circuit’s next champion, it isn’t Bomber’s day job.
He manages Arrabury Pastoral Co’s two Blackall properties, Mineeda and Tarves, after a 30-year career as a shearing contractor.
His bulls, explosive as they may be for eight seconds in the ring, are like pets back home.
“The bulls know us – we feed them. We go out in the paddock – we don't muster – I just call them and they'll come up.”
That was especially so for Wild Thing, who Bomber describes as “my old pet”.
“He used to follow me round like a dog. I'd go out there in the paddock with a bucket and he'd come galloping up for a feed.”
And when his hips became too weak, Wild Thing’s favourite camping spot in one of the paddocks at home became his final resting place.
Now he lives on through straws of semen.