RUNNING cattle across the relentless red dirt of Western Australia's outback is a job like no other.
The days can be long and hot, but - despite what some people may think - it ain't all horses and cowboys.
When you live hundreds of kilometres away from the local hardware shop, necessity is the mother of invention.
And in the remote southern Rangelands, east of Wiluna, Prenti Downs station manager Jack Carmody knows this all too well.
Mr Carmody runs Prenti Downs with his wife Jasmine and three daughters Verety, Ysobel and Lyra-Jane.
He is also supported by his brothers Tom and George, who have a strong background in sustainable energy, enterprise and agricultural production.
Through bush ingenuity the 30-year-old is - quite literally - remotely monitoring and managing the 400,000-hectare station's 2700-head Shorthorn cattle herd, 36 water points and feral pest problem.
Mr Carmody, with his father Tim and older brother Tom, designed and set-up self-mustering yards and Mr Carmody added a 24-hour live streaming video system on the station which he is able to check and operate in the palm of his hand.
This means a two-day job now takes about two seconds - maybe a couple more.
The system runs from a local Wi-Fi network with transmitters installed 30km apart to cover longer distances.
Cameras are set-up on strategic points in the yards, troughs, outgates and old windmill towers.
All data is stored in a hard drive on the network.
For Mr Carmody, it means life on the land is more efficient and a hell of a lot easier.
"We have been able to increase productivity," Mr Carmody said.
"Through the video system and our phones, we are able to see inside our cattle yards, check water levels in tanks and troughs and see if there are any feral animals about.
"At the same time, we are also cutting back on those labour intensive jobs and wear-and-tear on equipment and we are burning less fuel."
Mr Carmody developed gates on the self-mustering yards, so they could be opened and closed remotely.
He said he can use the live feed on his phone to check what animals were in the yards and shut the gate accordingly.
"By doing it all remotely the animals walk out of the yards in a very orderly fashion," he said.
"Whereas if you drive up there, they could and often do get spooked by a car or the people.
"In the past, we had issues where if we opened the gates ourselves the animals would rush out and damage the yards.
"So it has been great in low-stress management."
Back to the beginning
It would be fair to say, farming is in Mr Carmody's blood.
The phrase is one we hear often in the agricultural sector, but it could not ring truer than for the Prenti Downs station manager.
While six generations of Carmodys have kept the family tradition alive in WA, Mr Carmody is the first to step into the pastoral game - and he loves it.
"People think life out here is like Yellowstone with horses and cowboying," he said.
"It is absolutely not - I love the variety in day-to-day tasks and the people you engage with."
A long way from home, Mr Carmody was working as an integrated solutions specialist at a Ballarat-based John Deere dealership in 2015.
At the time, Tom, George and Tom's wife Andrea were striving forward with oilseeds and grain production on the farm at Cascade.
A phonecall and a simple question from his "retiring" father Tim and mother Louise changed Mr Carmody's life as he knew it.
"Do you want to help with the station handover?" Tim asked, after purchasing Prenti Downs.
The idea was to expand and diversify the family business, while mitigating resistance issues caused by ryegrass.
By running livestock, the Carmodys could cut fodder, change the time of harvest and use a different spray regime to remove some of the herbicide tolerance.
They could also weather different seasons by moving stock and fodder between properties.
Cattle could be weaned off the station and sent to Esperance to gain condition on the green feed.
For Mr Carmody, the offer was too good to refuse.
"It was a new environment and something different," he said.
"You don't often get the chance to be a pioneer in agriculture - I couldn't turn it down."
Mr Carmody immediately jumped at the opportunity to introduce new technology.
He grew up with computers and spent time building them, so it was what he was used to.
Onboard the first truck to arrive at Prenti Downs was 15 sets of self-mustering yards.
For Mr Carmody, it seemed like the right direction to take, particularly when it came to low-stress stockhandling, maintenance and labour.
And it proved a worthwhile investment with more than double - 36 - yards set up across the station today.
This method has also given Mr Carmody the opportunity to reduce the total grazing pressure on the rangeland through the management of feral animal species.
He was once told, 'if you manage the water, then you can manage the animals' and this is something by which he works.
"There isn't much surface water out here, so we are the ones putting the water out," Mr Carmody said.
"If we look after the water, we can control who gets it.
"The yard design also works to prevent camels from entering the yards and draining the trough and tank of water in less than a few hours."
So how do self-mustering yards and water management work together?
A large round trough is positioned in the middle of the yards - usually at least a roll of poly (100 metres) away from a water tank.
Mr Carmody found when the tank and trough were closer together, cattle were more inclined to congregate at the tank looking for a leak and some shade from the sun.
There is a one-way gate at the yards, which means the animals can only go in and not out from that point.
"Cattle go in, get their water and then they go through the forcing pen," Mr Carmody said.
"At the end of the forcing pen, which is where we connect our mobile race for muster, they exit through another one-way gate.
"This means that when we muster the natural flow for the animals is to walk out of the gate, meaning you don't have to push the cattle to process them."
Mr Carmody has found having the animals flow naturally meant less people are used at mustering and costs were significantly reduced.
At the same time, processing speed was higher than his team used to experience with larger teams.
He said it was a brilliant leap in productivity and efficiency.
Self-mustering yards have also proved useful in capturing feral pests, including camels and horses.
In the time the Carmodys have owned Prenti Downs they have removed more than 9000 camels and 3000 wild horses.
Despite being bigger, Mr Carmody found camels to be the lesser of two evils.
"Wild horses are brutal - they aren't nice animals," he said.
"They will chase cattle half a kilometre off water just for fun.
"They can go twice the distance, eat three times as much as cattle and gain less muscle."
Mr Carmody believes using the remote-controlled video system and yards have helped in preventative control.
Beyond the farmgate, he said the system could collect data and better educate people on the animals' movements.
"The video system could help government-funded shoots, if it was placed at different watering holes across the outback," he said.
"For example, instead of flying around for nine hours to shoot two camels, they could look back on footage, fly to one spot and shoot, say, 100 camels."
Since controlling camel and wild horse numbers, Mr Carmody has noticed improvements on the rangelands, particularly in the height of the saltbush country.
Over the past six years, saltbush has grown from shin to waist height and native grasses now cover what was bare dirt.
Not only that, but the cows are much happier and healthier.
"In an earlier muster we had one set of yards, which caught 38 wild horses and 12 cows," Mr Carmody said.
"There was a shallow sheep trough in the yards, so the horses were keeping the cattle away from that point and as a result they were suffering.
"They looked like they were starving, but really it was because the horses were bullying them out.
"Since reducing numbers we have seen a change in cattle condition and health."
Mr Carmody is pursuing partnerships with companies which have existing technology to identify and classify animal species.
He wants to integrate the technology into his management plans by machine learning and artificial intelligence.
His goal is to create a program which would send an alert to a farmer's phone when a feral animal had been identified.
"The text message could tell them, 'heads up, there are camels at this point' and then the manager/operator can take action," he said.
"We aren't too far off, but it is coming down to a factor of costs and funding.
"We need the funding to tie it together."
Farming for future
Prenti Downs successfully registered a carbon project with Australian Integrated Carbon in February.
This allowed the Carmodys to start implementing the live video system on the station.
Mr Carmody said carbon projects had offered an alternative income stream for producers and de-risked the investment required to develop a system, as well as improve their management of the rangelands.
He is negotiating with native title bodies to get the go-ahead.
"I want farmers to be able to access the live feed anywhere in the world and see how many animals are in the area," he said.
"Satellite data could also be overlaid to tell us how much food is on offer.
"It could tell farmers if they are overgrazing or if there is a threat of degrading the landscape.
"Then they could visibly move their cattle off a water point to an area that's not overgrazed and start rotational grazing."
By summertime, Mr Carmody hopes the entire southern half of the station will be covered by the live feed video system.
He said it would have huge benefits for his mental health, as it would make farm management less stressful.
"You aren't having to worry about whether or not the cattle have water and running yourself ragged in 45 degree heat," he said.
"You could be down at the beach or away on holiday knowing your water is safe.
"Or you could drop a camera out on your fuel tank at harvest, which would give you that added sense of security."
In the peak of Prenti Downs' drought, Mr Carmody was carting water every second day to two water points, which were 130km apart.
Not having to spend time on such jobs has freed up Prenti Downs to tackle larger projects, including soil rehydration.
So how much time and money could the system save a farmer each year?
That obviously depends on the size of a property, but Mr Carmody estimated they had saved $125,000 in operating costs, including labour, diesel and wear-and-tear of equipment.
He invested significant time in developing and testing the system, ensuring it was as cost-effective as possible.
"We want it to be affordable for everyone," Mr Carmody said.
"So we can realise the value of our time, the time we spend with our family, the time we spend repairing machinery and the time we spend sharing our knowledge with others."
Mr Carmody has worked with trainees, including from the Christian aboriginal, Esperance-based boarding school, Wongutha CAPS.
The program is in its infancy, but he offers the students a taste of station life - from mustering cattle to working with onfarm machinery.
They also help make the remote monitoring units.
"It is kind of funny to think that they are being exposed to next-level technology on an outback station," Mr Carmody said.
"It shows them what they are capable of."
Furthermore, Mr Carmody was passing on his knowledge as vice-chairman of the Southern Rangelands Pastoral Alliance.
Last year, he even ran in the State election as a candidate for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party in Kalgoorlie.
"I do think about being involved politically in the future and having a remote-controlled station would certainly help with that," he said.
"Once the girls are in high school, that is, I don't want to miss out on these early years."