Dry Season

Hay & Fodder Suppliers to Live animal export.

For every $1M the NT beef industry generated in 2012/13 it created another $510,000 within the NT economy.

For every 100 jobs held in the NT beef industry another 36 are created in the NT economy alone.

(NT DPIF Outlook 2013)

I began writing this blog about service providers to the Live export industry but then realised I couldn’t really do that without showing the fluctuations in the live export markets and how that impact affected producers and thus the flow on to service providers.

Therefore I have broken the post into 2 sections.
1. NT Live cattle export – Darwin
2. Hay & Fodder Suppliers to Live animal export.

.
I have not addressed animal welfare issues in these posts as I am working on some other blogs to address that.

Some service providers are paid arranged set prices for the goods they may supply such as hay or retail goods. Others  rely on commissions in the form of percentages of the gross dollars earned or rates of pay in regards to volumes of animals handled. e.g stock agents. Transporters are paid on a basis of volume carried and the distances they transport the stock on a kilometre rate travelled. Hay producers can be paid either per tonnage or rate of pay per bale supplied.

This post mainly focus’ on the fodder service providers to the NT live animal export industry.

The NT fodder industry has grown steadily in the last 18 years in line with the export of live cattle from the NT

Darwin LE v's Fodder_edited-1Chart 1. Live export of cattle from the Darwin port and the tonnage production of hay and fodder in the NT.

Fodder production_edited-1Chart 2. Production of hay, fodder and Silage in the NT and their combined value.

The most common pastures grown for hay production in the north of the NT are Jarra  and Cavalcade. Some forage sorghum’s that are suited to the tropics are also used to produce hay, these being Sudan and Sweet Sorghum.

Fodder production in the NT main problems are climate, weed management and nitrogen deficiency in the soils but also experience similar issues to any other cropping enterprise, poor rain seasons, insects, fire and costs of plant and equipment.

Many hay producers were impacted by the ban in June 2011, yet most didn’t produce cattle. Like us, the cattle producers, many hay growers wondered if their business’s were finished in 2011, as some of us thought ours may be. Now in 2014 they simply can’t supply enough hay for the movement of cattle that is now occurring through the NT’s only port Darwin.
Like us fodder suppliers faced difficulties in holding supply and stock in 2011. Now having unexpected market increases and demand for their product due to significant market improvement and influx of other states cattle, 2014 sees NT suppliers purchasing fodder from other states to ensure demands are met.

14.09.2014 055_edited-1Pic 3. Hay production, round bale production on natural pasture. South of Katherine. These are the bales we prefer to use simply for ability to lift and use with the smaller machinery we have, and our requirement to feed different small yardings of animals at any one time.

Hay growers produce round or large square bales. Cattle breeders feed these on their properties when handling weaners, working cattle and also to feed cattle intended for sale prior to transport.
On the one hand producers generally give an indication of how many bales they would like to purchase in pre-set agreements. On the other you can never be really sure how many bales you will go through. With the wet occurring late this year (time of writing November 2014) we were feeding hay for much longer period to young cattle than we had originally intended at the end of the dry season. This is a necessary cost we are willing to wear as these weaners could lose too much condition and possibly die without extra feeding. How much longer we will need to feed it is anyone’s guess and depends on the weather gods. We use round bales that weigh about 200kg and are convenient for us to handle.(Early December 2014 we have received some good early wet season storms). Square bales are much larger and heavier and are preferred by many producers. Economically the square bales are more cost-effective to transport and handle but they can weigh up to 500kg each.

06.06.13 012_weaners _edited-1

Pic 4. Weaners being fed hay. A round bale rolled out. An important practice to teach them handling ability and to learn that hay is food. Feeding hay to animals quietens them and desensitizes them to people.

The NT had a short history of silage production. I haven’t been able to find why this was discontinued.

Hay growers also supply hay to pre-export yards, which process the hay and mix it with other foodstuffs to process into pellets and fed in bunkers similar to feedlots, the cattle also eat the bales directly. Supply numbers to pre-export yards would be very difficult to estimate as some markets and cattle to be processed simply couldn’t be forecast with accuracy more than a few months from when orders are actually realised.
While export yards may have contracts and some degree of idea of numbers they work on, like us they can only store and handle so much hay at any one time, and like us are not likely to know forward export requirements by more than 6 months at best. There is no set pattern of which port a ship or country may obtain cattle from and exporters may rely on regional supply of cattle and the type of animal they require at the time, prior to announcing schedules of shipping.

To illustrate the variance from which port cattle may be exported to the same country I have used Indonesia as the common destination in the 2 following charts.

Northern ports exports._edited-1Chart 5. Cattle exported from the main north Australian ports to Indonesia.

Untitled_edited-1Chart 6. Cattle exported from other Australian ports to Indonesia.

27.11.2013 136_edited-1

Pic.7 Large Square bales being fed to export cattle in a pre-export yard south of Darwin. Square bales are approximately 3 times the weight of round bales. These cattle are also fed shipping pellets to prepare for export transport.

Fodder companies utilise hay to process into pellets, which is transported and used in the pre-export yards and on the ships as the animals’ transverse the sea. Supply to the export yards and shipping facilities is a 100% of their business for some fodder suppliers.

Livestock fodder currently loaded onto 5 carriers berthing at the Darwin port through December 2014 are estimated to be worth $1.3M on its own.

27.11.2013 153_edited-1

Pic. 8. Shipper pellets. Pulverized hay with other grain and fodder supplements, mixed with molasses to form pellets are transported in large ton sized bulk bags to ports for loading to ships. These are fed to cattle pre-export and while on the ships in transit.

Those who specialise in hay production have invested often many years in clearing and developing paddocks to suit their crop types, irrigation, machinery and general soil condition to optimise their cropping harvest abilities.
Most cropping for hay production relies on the wet season rainfall. Planting generally happens about November/December, with the pastures growing through the summer wet months, cutting and baling happening from March on wards through the dry season. Natural pasture production areas may be baled later in the year July through to September.
Peak demand for hay is through the dry with the mustering of cattle and the highest activity of the ships loading at the port.
At times hay producers are left with surplus supplies from the dry season of bales for which they still have on property and need to protect over the wet seasons. To maintain the integrity of the nutritional value of the fodder it is important that it is covered to protect it from water logging. Bales kept dry will be suitable for sale at a later date and therefore valuable to the grower as future income. Wet bales are worthless for fodder, In fact even dampness in bales can cause mould which can then be extremely dangerous for animals to consume.

Rainfall averages of Katherine’s 2.4m and Darwin 3.2m combined with high humidity and temperatures of the top end through the wet would soon turn large uncovered haystacks into soggy, hot and rotting piles of worthless gunk. I have left a hay bale in my garden for mulch as a full bale over one wet and actually seen it was fly blown due to it being perfect conditions for the maggots to survive moisture and temperature.

hay 001

Pic 9. Source. NT DPI stacking and storing hay. An example of large square bales stack with a tarpaulin cover to protect the hay from water logging through the wet season.

2008 had been a very low fodder production year, with below average rainfalls and ownership of some properties deciding to discontinue hay production.
2009 saw increased production of fodder but with a surplus of supply, some had to store hay over the 09/10 wet.
09/10 wet was a late finish for rains received which enabled record production, but the following wet 10/11 set in early meaning again some producers had surplus hay to demands and had to store it over the wet. The Indonesian imposed import quotas were also having a negative effect on demand due to the fact that the numbers of cattle being exported were in decline.
The 2010/2011 wet season had been a very good season for hay growers as it was a consistent rainfall event allowing for large tonnage of hay to be produced at 83,230t and valued at $19M. Some producers of natural pastures chose not to bale due to reduced demand because of the live export ban.
When the ban of live export to Indonesia occurred, June 2011. The export yards and ships stopped, many hay producers were left holding thousands of tonnes of bales that had been pre-ordered but suddenly those orders were cancelled or had been post-phoned. 2011/12 values of fodder dropped to $13.9M. Many growers had been left with excess bales from 2011 and didn’t want to bale more hay which they possibly couldn’t sell due to the uncertainty of markets at the time, therefore some pastures were left standing in paddocks.

A cubing plant located in Katherine, who had just finished substantial multimillion dollar upgrades, had operational and commitment costs to purchase hay of $500,000 per month when the ban occurred in 2011. They had two full road trains loaded and ready to leave the facility to transport the fodder to ships waiting to load cattle the very day the ban was invoked. Those truck orders were immediately cancelled and the fodder never even left the cubing plant. They had over 8,000 tonnes of hay on site ready to be processed for the coming season’s activity and yet they then had no orders.
The plant had to prepare for what they would do with the hay over the wet if it wasn’t processed. They didn’t have enough tarps to cover the stacks if it wasn’t utilised. Therefore to be prepared for the wet and allow manufacture time they had to order tarps in June, at a cost of over $8,000 each, they needed 10 of them. Some growers didn’t have the cash funds for tarps and simply left the bales to rot.
The cubing plant estimated it lost 90% of its sales within days of the ban being invoked, including subsequent price drops. Then they had to endure undercutting from interstate fodder suppliers when the cattle started to move in late 2011, everyone was desperate to shift their produce!
The plant had expected to use 2,000 tonnes of hay a month to process, but actually only processed 300 tonnes a month for several months following the ban. After the ban was lifted they supplied 3-4 boats a month, prior to the ban they had budgeted supplying 4 a week.
A contract hay baler who would travel with his equipment to properties around Katherine went from producing 30,000 large square bales in the 2010 season to only 10,000 in 2011 due to cancelled work. This cost his business, immediately! Over half a million dollars in lost income. People didn’t want to go to the expense of baling hay which probably couldn’t be sold, if they didn’t have tarp coverage for the hay it would deteriorate over the wet season and be of little value the following year.
Many hay producers immediately felt the financial strain of lost income when the ban occurred; they now had few outlets to sell too. This was increased when the 2011/12 wet season approached and large stands of hay stacks remained uncovered in paddocks or yards. Most didn’t have tarps.
As producers, like ourselves we were extremely wary of market improvements in the coming 2012 and 2013 years. We had been abandoned by the government when they had implemented the ban and the mood in general of market improvement was one of scepticism and wariness. Add to that the phone tapping scandals and poor intergovernmental relations between Indonesia and Australia. It appeared the Australian government wasn’t too concerned about re-establishment of good trade relations. It was hoped markets would improve but it wasn’t going to be quick, relationships were being rebuilt but it was a slow process, Cattle producers realised ESCAS would take time to develop and implement. So we waited. When Indonesia and other markets did open up late in 2011 and throughout 2012 the specifications of requirements for cattle were stringent and this also limited export numbers.
We slashed our budgets accordingly, which meant we curtailed any spending to only what was absolutely necessary. Hay orders were kept to the minimum as we simply didn’t handle many selling animals and they were returned to paddocks if markets weren’t available. We simply didn’t buy our normal levels of orders for steel, animal health, fencing equipment and machinery repairs.
The hay producers followed suit, they didn’t plant much when the planting period of November / December came and went over the 12/13 wet. and they knew if we were not going to shift cattle then they also would have limited markets to sell too and thus income. A few years previously the 12/13 year had been forecast to have fodder value at $14.8M, in reality it achieved only $12.4M.
We were all highly stressed and we were in self-preservation mode.
If we were going to go broke, we were taking a lot of others with us, not intentionally, but we were all linked. The thing was, we had to hold off going broke as best we could because we couldn’t sell our property on a sliding property market with poor prospects of live export for trade. So we did hope that markets come back because there’s really nothing else we could do but simply ride it out.
The hay producers in 12/13 wet again limited the planted areas to hay production. The wet season was below average with rainfall occurring in deluges then with long periods of dry spells in between. This caused poor germination and affected plant viability, some crops failed all together. Production was down for the coming 2013 dry season as the fodder was simply not as dense as usual and proteins levels had been affected. Fodder shortages did occur late in the dry season of 2013.
Cattle markets steadily improved in 2013 for live export cattle producers and there were murmurs of easing of the import quotas from Indonesia and substantial orders to Vietnam, but they hadn’t come on-line at that stage and prices while increasing were still only at break even. People were optimistically cautious.
2013 saw Indonesia presidency elections in full swing, with quiet acknowledgement that their self-efficiency would not be attainable in the short-term. In fact people were demanding meat and the governments needed to increase imports to meet their people’s demands. They implemented quotas based on the pricing of secondary cuts on their own wet meat markets late 2013 and into 2014. Vietnam was giving strong indications of not only surpassing their previous year’s cattle purchases but tripling them in 2014. We were optimistic, but the proof is only when the orders are called.
Hay producers again held back extensive planting for the 13/14 period. Cattle producers viewed reports of massive market number requirements with healthy scepticism, the growers wanted to actually see numbers shipped before they would commit themselves to large plantings.
2014 was a turnaround for live export for the cattle producers. The majority of Australia was in severe drought, cattle turnoff, including females was exceeding previous records dating back many years, cattle producers weren’t only selling normal stock they were selling breeders because of feed shortages. QLD and northern NSW was processing 11% higher than in 2013, southern states processing 23% higher(Weekly times 29/10/2014). The Australian processors were flooded with cattle and dropped their prices accordingly.

We finally had some serious competition in markets for cattle, Vietnam orders had materialised and Indonesia was importing near record numbers. Prices were above $2.00/kg and remaining stable. Other states producers were sending cattle to live export who had never live exported in their lives, the ability to sell feeder animals in a light weight of less than 350kg was a god send to some for income, otherwise they had no where else to sell. some meat processors were taking bookings months ahead with no quotation of prices. Live export was enabling many producers an income that was paramount to their financial survival, half of the 415,000 exported from the Darwin port at the end of October 2014 were from QLD.

This has placed un-prepared for demand for hay and fodder in the areas that supply the export yards, ships and general spelling of cattle, No only Darwin but spelling yards such as Cloncurry where animals were transited all needed hay.
2014 has seen such a massive demand for fodder that the hay producers in the north have been cleaned out and have received good prices. This is good for them and hopefully means many of them can regain some serious income going into 2015 as they conduct plantings now with the live export markets positive for the coming year.
The interesting things is, that Katherine cubing plant has had to truck in so much hay from down south to keep up with demand, they have dedicated 3-4 full road trains a week only for hay cartage. This has meant the cost of production has actually kept their profit margins down. They have seen producers leave the industry and the whole landscape and changed since the ban. After the ban the plant had so much hay in storage they didn’t buy any fodder off local suppliers in 2011 or 2012. This affected locals badly whose income was hay production, some sold up and left the industry entirely.
Recent articles concerning hay  looks positive for good market supply of hay for the coming year. Ironically I hope the increased demand for hay doesn’t mean that cattle producers can’t afford to buy it. Quiet simply we can’t operate without hay. As my husband would say “ hay is worth a couple of good men”. We need to have market accessibility and competition to achieve sustainable beef production. We also need our service providers.

Categories: Beef Industry, Cattle station, Darwin live cattle export, Dry Season, Hay and fodder production, Live Exports, Northern Territory., Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Come on, give us a hand!”

I thought I’d walk you through todays muster, so I took my notebook and jotted down what happened as I puttered along.

.
We muster through the dry season,  that means we capture the cattle from each individual paddock, process them and return them to their paddock.

.
We need to muster to remove the young unbranded animals from their mothers, vaccinate all animals and generally manage the herds overall health and quality. We remove the young animals to wean them, allowing the cows to maintain body condition by not feeding an animal that will sap its reserves.  Good body health and condition improves the cows ability to become pregnant again. We remove unwanted bulls, introduce new ones with preferable genetics, we cull animals that we don’t like for body type, fertility or temperament. We vaccinate for Botulism and jump the animals through a dip to control tick. We sort animals into various groups that may need to be placed in other paddocks, ie steers that will be sold the following year are grouped together for easier access to sell.

.
Prior to the days muster the four wheeler bikes are prepped and readied, there will be 5 of us on the ground, my husband, myself, our son and teenage daughter and a worker. Today our worker is a German female backpacker who has never worked cattle in her life. She made the comment only the day or so ago that the animals looked nice in real life, that about sums up her experience with cattle, zilch.

.
The paddock is a shade over 40 square kilometres shaped into a sort of rectangle with a significant creek system right through its centre. The main creek itself has a number of water holes that are permanent or very nearly permanent with an untold number of small creeks that feed into it. The topography of the paddock is dominated by the creek system being the lowest point and the areas north and south being the highest, with a significant hill region in the south.

Map 2. 1 - 10_edited-1

Figure 1. Diagram of the paddock. Mustering will start from the left and work the cattle to laneways which move around the paddock, to then lead to the processing stock yard at point 11.

The land system is made up of undulating bedded sandstones which tend to have shallow soil, native grasses and soft spinifix. Some areas have moderate tree coverage of  gumtrees and small woody acacias. Moderate meaning that you can drive a four wheeler bike comfortably at a pace of 20 km an hour among the trees without having to smash and crash through scrub and over large rocks. Termite mounds dot the area but they are not covered densely by vegetation, In other words you can see them. You can see some distance of about 300m comfortably and can generally move in a straight line if you need too over that distance  without climbing or descending hills or crossing gullies.

12.08.2014 015_edited-1Figure 2. Good open going for four wheeler riding. The dangerous termite mounds are small and hidden by grass. Most will break at the tops if you run into them but are solid at the base and can easily roll a four wheeler if your wheels ride up onto them

Unfortunately most of the paddock is simply not this accessible and other parts are rocks, gullies, thick scrub and densely covered grass areas. Spear grass makes riding a bike extremely dangerous because you simply can’t see more than a few metres in front of you, other times due to thick small woody trees or the topography is too rugged for bike access. If we can’t move a bike freely across the ground then we haven’t got a hope of chasing cattle across it.

12.08.2014 056_edited-1Figure 3. Speargrass coverage over a black soil area. There is a creek about 1m wide and 1 m deep just before the tree line, you won’t know until your in it. Then if you get across that you can’t get through the scrub.

 

12.08.2014 046_edited-1Figure 4. Part of the creek system, while easy to often get into sometimes you can’t get back out. 

Due to difficulty in moving across the terrain on bikes we hire an experienced helicopter operator. It would be simply impossible to achieve a reasonable muster without helicopters in this area. They may seem expensive to use but operated well they  make cattlework efficient. They catch cattle you would never catch on bikes or horses irrespective of how many people you could afford to have on the ground.

04.06.12 018_edited-1Figure 4. The chopper is hovering over cattle that are only 100m away from us but we can’t even see them.

Honestly the figures we put back in a paddock have no real resemblance to what we will get back out 12 months later.
We had a particularly ferocious wet season downpour that took out the floodgate fencing on both sides of this paddock of the main creek and a number of other smaller creeks that are also along the fences. We know bulls fighting damaged a gate and allowed steers and other animals to enter, as well as the paddocks herd to vacate.
We have no real idea of what calving percentage occurs, survival or mortality of animals born, or how many are killed by wild dogs. Death rates of cows or adult animals who may have died due to injury, disease or natural causes is a guess.

.
Between musters we pump water, supply supplement, provide dog control and maintain fences as best we can, we have no contact with the cattle unless we happen to see them coming in for a drink while checking a water.

.
The paddock currently has two bores, one in the north west corner, Bull, and another to the east, Tank, both have cattle traps, barbed wire holding yards and lanes which connect them and allow us to walk cattle through scrub with some semblance of control and prevents cattle escaping.
Laneways make walking stock efficient, over the years labour has become increasingly expensive. Years ago 10-12 people once did a muster on horses now 4-5 do it on bikes. Where the 10-12 would have all been extremely experienced and knowledgable of the lay of the land with no communication between them now we have 3  plus the chopper who know what they are doing. Mustering years ago was genuinely  people rounding up cattle on horses now we rely heavily on the chopper to bring the cattle and we sit behind the tailenders. The chopper captures and does 99% of the real rounding up, we keep them together and moving in the right direction.

.
The basis of the direction of the cattle mustering will be to start at the furtherest area from the bores and work back to their watering points, they tend to move along pads and to these areas when herded.

.
Its isn’t an early start and we’re not expecting a long day.

.
Day of Muster.

.
6am
• Generally a cooked breakfast, any excuse to have bacon and eggs, but also because you’re never quiet sure when lunch may be.
• Organise water bottles to be carried on the bikes and lunch to be stored in the car with the trailer that will cart one bike.

.
7am
• Chopper arrives and the usual chin wag and general plan of attack is agreed on. Our chopper pilot has flown this area for many years and while the basics of the paddock haven’t changed we may have added fences or altered some aspects he needs to know about.
• Chopper refuels and takes off to make a start mustering in the paddock 20km from the house
• We ride our bikes with someone driving the car that towing the trailer. The car carries extra water, tools,fuel, tucker box, lunch and stuff!
• Car and trailer are left at point 6, the bike is unloaded.
• There’s a general discussion on the UHF radio’s of where it would be best to place the bikes to keep the tail enders moving and we go to sit where the pilot wants us. (read that a mostly out of his way for now)

.
8am
• Husband, daughter and myself are sitting at point 1
• Son and back packer are waiting at point 2.
• Chopper is starting generally far west (bottom left) and sweeps the paddock in sections heading north east (top right) not unlike a broom sweeping a floor so that in generally everything ends up in the same place. Depending on where he spots cattle will determine where and how he moves. In general the chopper will move back and forth in a large arc progressively working different areas so the cattle are continually walking and moving in the direction towards the water points (3 & 6).
• The importance of a pilot with skill, patience and knowledge can’t be underestimated. They need to pressure the cattle firm enough to make sure they move in the right direction and keep moving,. The pilot also needs to be knowledgeable of how their movement in the air sounds to other animals as they fly about, approaching and moving away to work different mobs. If they push too hard the cattle will trot and soon become stressed and often sulky, they’ll start to hide in the scrub, duck back into gullies. The chopper needs to maintain the cattle at a walking pace. When the cattle walk they are rewarded by the pressure being released by the chopper moving away, they learn to keep walking away from the chopper. They go the wrong way or stop, the angry little bee in the sky will pressure them until they do it right, sometimes just with changing noise through rotar pitch, sometimes by using the air wash downdraught to create dust and disturbance. Sometimes if the scrub allows the pilot will get down to ground level and literally eyeball the animal. The animals learn the chopper means business and generally will walk together in groups to the waters.

.
9am
• Chopper has been busily going back and forth
• We’ve done absolutely nothing.
• I sit back, look at the scenery, admire the trees, wonder if I’ll ever figure how the heck I’m going to learn any grass names when I can only remember one or two.
• My husband and I scheme, or he plans building infrastructure and I tell him what it will cost. Our daughter sits expectantly on her new bike, at the ready, bright pink helmet, waiting for the command, hoping today will be the day she’s given the responsibility to round up a few. She listens for the chopper and will tell us exactly where he is, stuffed I can see it.

.
9.15am
• A small mob of cattle have been moved into the holding pen at Bull yard (3), we move there with the bikes to take them along the laneway, we’re the tailenders. These cattle are the slower ones who may have some smaller calves, older cows or just cows that are cunningly slow and drag their hooves every chance they get.
• Walking is one of the greatest animal welfare practices a producer can do, it calms cattle, it teaches them to respond to a bike without being paniced. It is an extremely important educational tool for cattle handling.
• I have trouble with a 1st year heifer that is determined to go the wrong way, maybe she last saw her mates at some point behind and has now lost them in the movement of coming in. I have an arugment with her, including physically to try to force her to join the mob. I loose, she beats me to a fence and I curse (I do that a lot). It is a fine line between working hard enough to get the animal back against how much risk you take. At what point do you smash gear, including yourself to get her back. I tried a few times to wheel her (turn her) but it wasn’t enough to bring her back so then I try to physically push her using my bikes bullbar to force her around to the mob, this is done while also dodging trees and termite mounds. Some I can run straight over others I have to go around. I wasn’t good enough to turn her, simple as that, there’ll be another time. She has gone into the paddock which we need to muster next week anyway.

.
9.30am
• Cattle, only a handful of about 20 head are in the laneway now moving from Bull yard along the laneway (4) to an intersection of another laneway and then onto Tank (6).
• Our son and backpacker are walking cattle along a fenceline on the eastern side, they sat and waited at point 2. As they move along the fence heading north the chopper will feed them cattle to add to their mob and any others inbetween us and them will be walked directly to tank bore by the chopper’s sweeping motion.
• This lane is only about 3km, its warm, even a bit humid, temperature 25 degrees and very still, with no cloud the sun is feeling good, it’s a really a lovely day to be outside.

.
10.30am
• Usually there’s a bit of talk on the UHF radio, as the pilot communicates where cattle are, what or where he needs a bike, it’s very quiet today. That can either mean the cattle are behaving really well and walking where they should or there’s no bloody cattle, now that’s a worry!
• So I spend the next hour worrying about where have the cattle gone and extremely worried they have all disappeared.
• While your mainly looking at the wrong end of a cow walking , you look at the other animals, you look for dog bites on calves, torn ears, try to figure which calf belongs to which cow if they are a little calf and should you take the calf off when drafting if the cow looks like her body condition is low. You look at bulls, are they walking ok, are they damaged in any way, are they behaving, if they are giving you a hard time you remember them to be removed to be sold.

.
11am
• Slight breeze has come up, drink of tea would go down well, I chew gum and basically every one bludges my stash of lollies they know I carry when ever on the bikes.
• See that a smoke plume has started up again on our far eastern boundary, an environmental vandal has haphazardly lit a fire and just let it rip. No way to control it way out there and unless it crosses a main river and heads west isn’t of any real concern. Fires are so hard to pinpoint, we use internet to track to some degree but the accuracy of location of hot spots is fairly unreliable. I guess this one is burning hard because it is crossing heavily grassed black soil flats and burning along the edges of significant creek systems with lots of woody growth to fuel it.

.
11.30am
• We’re within radio contact of the other bikes they are at the tank bore and have a good mob of cattle, we move our little mob along towards them which is only another couple of kilometres ahead. By this time the animals have become very docile and are content to walk steadily in single file. Daughter has sole responsibility of keeping them walking, a job she takes very seriously. Dad has to cough up and pay for ipod music as way of wages today.
• We are moving at a good steady walking pace.
• We’re starting to look like lounge lizards on our bikes, both legs one side, one with a leg up on the rail, one sits cross legged

.
12am
• We put our cattle with the main mob in the tank holding paddock which has a pain in the arse creek through it and lots of small scrub. Knowing we always have trouble moving the cattle towards another laneway gate we decide to not have lunch and move into the next lane, we intend to pull up a little latter at another dinner camp.
• Daughter really needs a ‘snack’ which Dad says is Ok, so we go off and start to move the cattle while she eats.
• The mob of now about the 400 head isn’t compacted together in the yard which is about 2 square kilomtres in size so we have no real control in moving the mob as a whole until we do get them together. The gate we need to get the cattle too is not their usual gate, they use another one to  feed out when leaving the water so they are always reluctant to move to the laneway gate. As the bikes now do the sweeping to move cattle the leaders have turned and coming back, their natural inclination is to head to the trap gate which is opposite to where we need them to go. Some pretty serious back and forth of the bikes is occuring as we work as a team to keep the animals going to where we want and back each other to stop the animals who are turning in the wrong direction going that way.
• Daughter has pulled up for a 3 course meal I think. When called to assist she tells us she can’t remember how to start the new bike, she’s told to wait, we’re busy. She must have figured it out as she turns up in a few minutes, more likely she can hear us zooming around and doesn’t want to miss out on the action.

.
12.30pm
• Moving well down another laneway now (7), the backpacker is having an absolute hout of a time. Usually after a chase some either collapse as nervous wrecks or can’t wait to do it again. She has good sense and is doing really well, she’s not afraid of the cattle but not out to destroy the bike either. It can be very hard to know what to tell someone when they have never worked cattle. We give a basic introduction of how to move animals on foot but often you don’t want to flood them with information or circumstances, because they simply need to learn sometimes while doing the job. We give a lot of instructions on the wireless, not unlike training a dog stop, go left, go right. Stay at the back. Our main advice is stay away from fighting bulls and stay with us.

07.08.2014 011Figure 5. Walking cattle along a laneway which  has fences either side about 70m apart. This allows better control of large mobs walking through paddocks and thick scrub.

1pm
• One of the bikes starts to play up, can’t find reverse, hubbie has to fiddle and fix stuff only men seem to be able to fix.
• I go back to tank bore, load my bike, drive car to where cattle are in the lane.

07.08.2014 007_edited-1Figure 6. Bike is loaded. Car carries tucker box with gear in it to make a drink of tea and lunch.

1.30pm
• No sooner we get one bike going and another one throws 7’s. The old Polaris, prior EFI, fuel blockage. We dismantle most of the plastic to get to the carbi, use the ageless if nothing else works tap the carbi and stuff me dead the bloody thing went.
• I’m getting hungry and I don’t run well when caffeine levels drop, hubbie asks do you want lunch at the intersection, ‘about time’, soon he says.

.
2pm
• Get to an intersection of laneways. 4 Bulls pick just this time to have an all out blue and push each other over a fence into another paddock, Son and hubbie go through and bring them through a gate with no dramas.
• We yard up into the intersection and do a 90 degree turn into another lane, only a few more kilometres to the final yard.
• We pull up for lunch. I carry tinned meat and bread, lots of biscuits and we boil a billy can for tea.
• The distant fire is really billowing and looks bad, we see our mail plane fly over. They deliver our mail once a week, Every one teases dad about all the stuff he buys on ebay and how many presents he’ll have this week.
• We swap war stories on the one that got away, rocks or close calls and especially how mum seems to have lost another cow.
• We let the cattle meander along at any pace they want while we have lunch, some keep going all the way to the end gate some will sit and rest like us, feed around or just generally have a doze in the sun.
• Its come up really windy and gusty, no doubt fanning the fire.

.

3pm
• the laneways are only about 100m wide, we all ride abreast so we move any cattle along as we find them, It is important to keep an eye out for any laying down asleep that can be easily missed in spear grass and look out particularly for any calves. The cattle can’t get out of the laneway so it’s a pretty casual, easy job.
• The animals will tend to follow the pads they make, tracks in which they comotosly follow each other, nose to tail.
• Last gate, we don’t open until the mob are bunched up, we need to move them through efficently to keep them together for when we yard up into the stock yard.

07.08.2014 019_edited-1Figure 7. Cattle in the last laneway heading for the last gate before yarding up.

3.30pm
• Last section of lane, it is rocky and has a few small creeks, it’s rough to ride, we have about  200m of good going clearance from the stockyard gate. We start to get nervous and make sure everyone is in a line across the whole of the lane, the cattle have been fine but yard ups can go to crap very quickly and it only takes a cheeky bull or irate cow to mess the whole thing up. Cattle aren’t good at maths they never seem to figure theres 400 of them and only 5 of you but look out when they do. Trying to turn or even hold a mob that doesn’t want to turn back is not fun. Stay on your bike and make plenty of noise is about the only rule at this point in time as we keep the tailenders moving.
• We don’t open the yard gate until the mob is relatively close, that way the leaders will be filing into the yard and going to get a drink , the idea being the whole mob will flow and we close the gates before many know they are even captured.. If we let them straggle in the leaders will get a drink and then double back out, blocking the way for those trying to get in or even worse a few will realise they are in the stockyard and try to come back out. This causes chaos at the gates and is usually bulls who don’t like to be jammed in too tight with other bulls because of aggressive ones.
• Everyone is in a line across the lane, making noise but not forcing too hard, keeping the mob moving. I have my tin rattle dog I shake the jeepers out of, it drives hubbie nuts but it’s a great bluff for cattle, I can’t use a whip to save myself. I most certainly can’t use a whip and ride a bike at the same time.
• We yard up with no problems and close the gates.
• Its just past 4pm.

It has been a really good day, mainly because it looks like we’ve got a reasonable mob of cattle, no major problems, no one got hurt. The cattle are looking to be in good to fair condition with a few old girls looking a bit skinny. Odd cleanskin bull amongst them but nothing too bad, one in fact that we know gave us a really hard time a year and got away but we have him now.
Its been a good day. I hope you had a nice time,  hey thanks for your help.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, Cattle work, Dry Season, Life on a property, Live Exports, Property operations, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Funeral Pyres of the Dry

WARNING – SOME PHOTOGRAPHS AND DESCRIPTIONS IN THIS POST MAY CAUSE DISTRESS.

I write this article for those I know are doing it much harder than me at the moment and face the following situations on a much larger scale, my heart goes out to you and I hope you receive rains soon.

As the dry season progresses to its hopefully final stages before rain is received, there is a period which is difficult for the animals to combat. It is most lethal at the time from about October to December prior to normally seasonal rains in the semi tropics which are usually received late in the year.

The final stages of the dry season means natural pastures have hayed off to the point of having little nutritional value and most palatable feed has already been consumed. The animals have declined on a nutritional plane which means they are either losing body condition or have lost so much body condition it is critical to their health, some are dying.

As a producer it is our responsibility to balance the amount of animals we graze on an area so that the fodder load is able to sustain them through the whole dry season. We always ensure clean, fresh drinking water. So we have a balancing act of what we can sustainably carry environmentally pasture wise from season to season. This is how many animals are in the paddock at any given time. The long term stocking rate of what the paddock can hold, is what the paddock can provide in fodder as long term grazing over many years. This allows its grasses to regenerate and not have the land degrade to a point it can’t recover and allow the palatable grasses regrow.

While we are able to sustain the majority of the herd and keep loss of animals to a minimum it is inevitable that some animals die. This can be due to a number of reasons, old age, sickness, injury, and attack by other animals and sometimes from starvation.

As try as we might not all climatic circumstances can be foreseen and while most producers are generally well prepared and plan for normal seasonal fluctuations, severe droughts and floods are not able to be prepared for by anyone. Deliberately lit fires for us are a huge issue of grog runners going through our property, often lighting long distances of many kilometres along our access roads.

We are in the ‘hard’ period of the dry season, it’s relatively normal this time of year. It’s the build-up, personally I love it as there’s the promise of storms to come, the rain thunder heads are beginning to build and the humidity increases.  The animals though face a battle, their fodder is diminishing, and it’s constantly hot, often over 36°C. It’s tiring, the humidity drains you as it fluctuates between 60% – 80%, and it can be unrelenting. You can’t seem to drink enough and when you sweat in the build-up, it literally pours off you. You are constantly thirsty and you will drink 5-6 litres of water a day, easy, and that’s without any physical work.

The cattle become lethargic, they don’t walk out from water as much or as far, they stay around the waters all day, seeking shade, drinking and then feed out at night. This is good, they are smart, rest when it’s hot; exert themselves at night when it’s cooler. Due to the diminishing nutrient availability they are also becoming weaker as they eat less sustaining fodder.

Brahman cattle and their genetic crosses are climatically adapted to heat as they originated from India. They sweat through their skins better than European breeds, they have more sweat glands and sweat freely through it, other breeds rely on panting like a dog to disperse body heat. Brahman skin being so loose and abundant gives a greater surface area, even their short thick shiny coats are thought to reflect radiated heat better than other breeds.

Even with these adaptions the greatest threat late in the dry is to the older cattle. The ‘old girls’ the mature breeders who have worked for you all their lives, reared a calf probably every second year since the age of three and are now 10-12 maybe older. They may have had a calf weaned, which we do in the muster so to not have the calf draw down the mothers’ resources. They may have had all their inoculations but they are losing condition. It has all just become too much and they lay down and can’t get up. Other females of all ages are having a calf now, which is not ideally desirable due to the lack of feed but as we run bulls all year, not something we can always control. Best management is to have calves born when it fodder is plentiful, in the wet, this can’t always be timed.

04.11.13 138_edited-1

Figure 1. This cow is at least 7 years old, she’s in fair condition by my estimate what is called a 4 score, the lower the number the worse their condition. She’s strong and has had a new calf, her ribs aren’t quiet visible so she still has some condition and will withstand the dry period continuing for a while yet. For this time of year (November) this is a suitable condition. The mother is able to provide for herself and the calf. These animals of around the 5-8 year age are our greatest asset. The old hands who know the country, and have proved they can thrive in it.

001_edited-1

Figure 2. This poor cow is a ‘downer, see her feet marks, she hasn’t even been able to lever herself up to sit up to get up. She can’t even lift her head off the ground. Once an animal gets to this stage they are beyond the point of return. Sometimes you can sit them up and once they have absorbed some of their full belly of water they will stand and survive. We know this is an old cow; she is still alive when I took this photo. My husband put her out of her misery and shot her. If we had left her and she didn’t get up the likely chance of wild dogs attacking her would be very high, they don’t attack the head though they kill by eating and tearing at their rear. If we’d sat her up it was likely she would have simply fallen on her side again and there she would have stayed until she died.

04.11.13 064_edited-1

Figure 3. She hasn’t made it, and has died a few days ago. Already animals such as pigs and dogs, even other cattle have started to tear at her. We had this animal at a bore with adequate feed and water. For some reason she just hasn’t been able to make it through. It’s possible she was ill, snake or even a bull tried to mate her and injured her. We don’t know. It is difficult to tell what body condition she was in when she died. Reason of death would likely be current conditions of feed and heat. She just hasn’t been able to go on, so has died.

04.11.13 065_edited-1

Figure 4 – This is the dead cows’ teeth, I know she was an old cow of at least 10 years by her brand, but teeth are also an indication of age in a cow and this old girl has what’s called a full mouth, 4 pair or 8 tooth. Her teeth are very worn, indicating she is quiet old.

04.11.13 067_edited-1

Figure 5 – The funeral pyres of the dry. We try to burn carcases because the other cattle due to phosphorus deficiency will try to eat the bones and could spread Botulism to unvaccinated animals.

Many of the cows in these photos we would have unlikely sold as they are good types of cattle and we would have let them live out their lives on the property. It is not feasible to cart hay to all these animals to feed them as you would have to isolate the weaker ones and keep the stonger, much healthier cattle from hogging the feed given. We supply phospherus all year round.

These fires or burial holes which some use will be happening across North Australia at the moment and paricularly in areas of severe drought. Please show compassion for the producers who are enduring these circumstances because most have done everything in their capacity to provide for the welfare of their animals. No-one sets out to see their animals suffer but death is as much a part of livestock production as life. I would estimate in any one year we have an attrition rate of 6-10% across the herd depending on the seasons and the problems they may encounter.

It is difficult to shoot your animals, it is even more so when you have to do it repeatedly. Here’s hoping for rain soon for everyone.

Categories: Advocacy, Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, Cattle work, Dry Season, Northern Territory., Property operations, Wet Season | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.