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Sheep droving in Kings Canyon, Utah

Droving is the practice of moving livestock over long distances by walking them "on the hoof".

Droving stock to market, usually on foot and often with the aid of dogs, has a very long history in the Old World. There has been droving since cities found it necessary to source food from distant supplies. Romans are said to have had drovers and their flocks following their armies to feed their soldiers.

Transport to market[edit]

An individual owner of livestock cannot both take stock to market and care for other animals while they make a long journey. So the owner must entrust his stock to an agent, a drover, who will deliver the stock to market and bring back the proceeds. Drovers took their herds and flocks down traditional routes with organised sites for overnight shelter and fodder for men and for animals.

The journey might last from a few days to months. The animals had to be driven so they would be in good condition on arrival. There would have to be prior agreement for payment for stock lost or animals born on the journey and the proceeds of any sales on the way for such as milk and cream. Until provincial banking developed a drover returning to base must be carrying substantial sums of money. Being in a position of great trust the drover might carry to the market town money to be banked and important letters and take with them people not familiar with the road.

Drovers might take the stock no more than a part of their journey because stock might be sold at intervening markets to other drovers. The new drovers would finish the delivery.

The settlement of new land in North America and Australasia led to drives of sheep and cattle over great distances by drovers on horseback, supported by wagons or packhorses. It continued until railways arrived. In some circumstances driving very large mobs long distances remains economic.

Drovers' Road, North Yorkshire

Drovers' roads, drovers' routes or stock routes[edit]

Main articles: Drovers' road and Stock route

Drovers' roads were much wider than those for ordinary traffic and without any form of paving. The droving routes which still exist in Wales avoided settlements in order to save front gardens and consequential expense.


Welsh drover
30,000 cattle and sheep were driven from Wales to London each year[1]

A weekly cattle market was founded midway between North Wales and London in Newent, Gloucestershire in 1253.[1] In an Ordinance for the cleansing of Smythfelde dated 1372 it was agreed by the "dealers and drovers" to pay a charge per head of horse, ox, cow, sheep or swine.[2]

Henry V brought about a lasting boom in droving in the early fifteenth century when he ordered as many cattle as possible be sent to the Cinque Ports to provision his armies in France.[1]

An act passed by Edward VI to safeguard his subject's herds and money required drovers, from the mid-sixteenth century, to be approved and licensed by the district court or Quarter Sessions there proving they were of good character, married, householders and over 30 years of age. Considerable expertise meant that flocks averaging 1,500 to 2,000 head of sheep travelled 20 to 25 days from Wales to London yet lost less than four per cent of their body weight. Obliged to trek much further than from Wales Scottish drovers would buy the cattle outright and drive them to London.[1]

It has been estimated that by the end of the 18th century around 100,000 cattle and 750,000 sheep arrived each year at London's Smithfield market from the surrounding countryside. Railways brought an end to most droving around the middle of the 19th century.[1]

Turkeys and geese for slaughter were also driven to London's market in droves of 300 to 1,000 birds.[1]

Droving feats[edit]

In the 18th century English graziers of Craven Highlands, West Riding of Yorkshire, went as far as Scotland to purchase cattle stock, thence to be brought down the drove roads to their cattle-rearing district. In the summer of 1745 the celebrated Mr Birtwhistle had 20,000 head brought "on the hoof" from the northern Scotland to Great Close near Malham,[3]:53 a distance of over 300 miles (483 km).


William James Browne owned Nilpena Station in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia in 1879. He contracted the drover Giles to take 12,000 sheep from there and overland them all the way to his new properties Newcastle Waters and Delamere Stations in the Northern Territory. Only 8,000 sheep survived the journey.[4]

The Tibbett brothers drove a flock of 30,000 ewes in the early 1890s from Wellshot Station to Roma in Queensland, Australia, a distance of over 700 kilometres (435 mi), in search of grass for the stock. The sheep were all sheared in Roma and lambing started as relieving rains came to Wellshot. The flock was brought back with an additional 3,000 lambs.[5]

In 1900 a drover named Coleman departed from Clermont with 5,000 sheep, the country was drought stricken and he had been instructed to keep the mob alive. Coleman wandered an incredible 5,000 miles (8,047 km) through south-western Queensland finding feed as they went. When he eventually returned he brought back 9,000 sheep, had sold over 5,000, and killed nearly 1,000 for "personal use".[6]

20,000 head of cattle were removed from Wave Hill Station and overlanded to Killarney Station, near Narrabri in New South Wales, in 1904. At the time it was considered a "remarkable" feat of droving and took 18 months to complete.[6]

Another famous drove is by William Philips in 1906 who overlanded 1,260 bullocks from Wave Hill Station some 3,400 kilometres (2,100 mi) to Burrendilla, near Charleville in just 32 weeks.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Verite Ryily Collins, page 33, Drovers' Dogs, 999 and other working dogs, WSN, 2005. ISBN 1858290643
  2. ^ British History Online, Memorials of London and London Life in the 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries accessed 23 September 2015
  3. ^ Hartley, Marie; Ingilby, Joan (1968). Life and Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0-498-07668-7. 
  4. ^ Michael Pearson; Jane Lennon. Pastoral Australia: Fortunes, Failures and Hard Yakka : a Historical Overview 1788-1967. CSIRO publishing. p. 104. ISBN 9780643096998. 
  5. ^ "Epic droving trips". The Charleville Times (Brisbane, Queensland: National Library of Australia). 8 February 1951. p. 10. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Remarkable droving feat". The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (New South Wales: National Library of Australia). 11 July 1922. p. 4. Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  7. ^ "A record droving trip". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 29 November 1906. p. 5. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 

External links[edit]

Video, September 2013, one of the largest Australian cattle drives in 100 years.

18,000 head 1,500 kilometres. Whole mob is 80 kilometres long.