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AustraliaLaverton's nocturnal cow problem and the two men who took matters into their own hands

03:40  20 june  2019
03:40  20 june  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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The two men enjoy a cup of tea at the Laverton hospital with the night shift nurse. (ABC Goldfields: Tom Joyner). By 7am, the townspeople begin to stir and make their way to work for the day. Mr Van Dam and Mr Wasson have duties of their own to attend to on the cattle station. "The reason why I do

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Laverton's nocturnal cow problem and the two men who took matters into their own hands© Supplied: Laverton Post Office One cow, affectionately dubbed Martha, is fond of leaving droppings outside the post office. The cows wait for cover of darkness before making their move.

In the hours before dawn, they make their way through quiet residential streets, clambering through backyard fences and across the school's oval.

In their wake, they leave trampled bushes, upended flowerbeds and a tell-tale trail of enormous, steaming droppings.

Dogs, spooked by the approach of bovine silhouettes, rouse their disgruntled owners in the early hours when temperatures drop to just above freezing.

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Not far away, waiting in the shadows, is Wally Van Dam and his step-son Nathan Wasson: cow herders extraordinaire.

Each morning while the rest of the community sleeps, the pair carefully shepherd the cows away from grassy verges and public areas, toward the town's outskirts.

For some residents of Laverton, a sleepy town of 340 in Western Australia's outback, the cows' nightly ritual is a harmless spectacle.

For others, it is a creeping annoyance.

Locals get to 'have a good cow-free day'

"Apparently people say there is a problem with the cattle out here," local resident Tony Le Masurier said.

"Me personally, I don't have an issue with it."

Cows pass by the gate of the caravan park Mr Le Masurier manages with his wife, to nibble on the bougainvillea bushes that line the entrance.

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Occasionally, he beckons one over with a convincing cow sound made by cupping his hands to his mouth and emitting a long, guttural moan.

"I'd like to call one of them T-bone and bring him in as a pet for a couple weeks and fatten him up," he said.

"I reckon I own half of him because he's eaten half of my plants!"

At the end of each pre-dawn shift, Mr Van Dam fires off a summary of the morning's cow-related activities on Facebook — he calls it his 'cow report'.

"Good moaning all," they sometimes begin. "Have a good cow-free day."

Why are the cattle night-wandering?

Farm properties surround Laverton.

Industry groups say the reason why the cattle are able to escape from them comes down to scale.

Pastoral properties can often stretch across tens of thousands of hectares in remote parts of Western Australia.

"It's very hard to maintain [fences] in remote areas," Ian Randles, from the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA, said.

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"There's that much other stuff going on there."

As to what might explain the cows' street-wandering behaviour, locals saydry conditions brought on by almost no rainfall since January have driven cattle into human territory in search of feed and water.

While not a new phenomenon, this year has been worse than any other as far as Mr Van Dam can recall.

He says the town is still waiting for rain.

Cows in the past have caused deaths on major roads throughout the state where they have wandered into the path of traffic.

Those who are irked by the cows' night-time raids say their gardens are left ruined and the lawns covered in droppings.

But others are less troubled about the phenomenon, arguing the cows are simply doing what cows do.

'Careful of mummy'

From behind the wheel of his beat-up ute with the heating cranked up and a can of Coke resting on the dash, Mr Van Dam cruises slowly, scanning the darkened streets for movement.

At the school oval, almost 20 cows look up from grazing, at the two men in wide-brimmed hats wielding torches making their way toward them.

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"Careful of mummy," Mr Van Dam says in a low voice, gesturing towards an enormous beast near the goal posts.

"She might get a bit toey."

Communicating in brief exchanges over radio handsets, they use their vehicles to gently guide the cows back through alley ways and out from under trees.

Over several hours, the pair work to avoid waking residents in their homes with their bright headlights and sputtering engines.

From time to time, Mr Van Dam spots cow droppings under the light of a lamp post.

"Fresh," he mutters to himself, straining his eyes into the night in the hope of determining their source.

At one point, his phone illuminates with a message from the night shift nurse at the local hospital: Eight cows by the entrance — could he come and move them on?

One cow that the pair have affectionately dubbed Martha is known to hover outside the Laverton post office — a fact corroborated by CCTV.

She often leaves a cluster of droppings by the PO boxes — her "calling card", Mr Van Dam said.

At dawn, Mr Van Dam and Mr Wesson reconvene to assess the scene.

Most cows by this time have been herded home, and the men's thoughts turn to a hot cup of tea.

By 7am, the townspeople begin to stir and make their way to work for the day.

Mr Van Dam and Mr Wasson have duties of their own to attend to on the cattle station.

"The reason why I do it is because I want to," Mr Van Dam says with a grin.

"I love the town and I like the people in it so I just do it."

"The whole area is for cattle," he adds, referring to the stations that surround Laverton.

"And there's a town put in the middle of it."

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This is interesting!