Live Exports

Wild dog management on Pastoral Land #1

Warning some images in this blog may be upsetting to some viewers.
Please keep in mind livestock producers face these images every day!

I am going to try to present to you the impact of wild dogs on our property, why we need to control them and how we go about controlling them in a series of blogs.

This first blog looks at the impact of animal welfare of livestock due to wild dog attacks and wild dog attack occurences across Australia on a broad scale.

The second blog Wild dog management on Pastoral land #2 looks at wild dog problems in relation to our property

The third blog Wild dog management on Pastoral land #3 looks at methods of control using 1080 baiting of wild dogs.

Trauma to the animals – This is what wild dogs will do to some animals. Many do not survive these attacks!

06.05.2015 068_edited-2Picture #1 – This is a calf of approximately 4 months old, her left ear has nearly been torn off by wild dogs. We captured and transported her home where she was kept her in a hospital pen. She survived.

06.05.2015 097_edited-2Picture #2 – This calf was attacked, both her ears were torn off and her tail has also been ripped off. This animal was so distressed from her ordeal that she didn’t even move when we approached her. An animal lying in this prostrate state is an indication of their utter exhaustion, usually followed by death. We shot this animal to prevent any further suffering.

wound cleaning_edited-1Picture #3 – This is a calf that was attacked several days before we found it. I am cleaning the wounds with  water initially and it is coming out of the puncture holes in his skin down his legs. We gave this animal a broad spectrum antibiotic, applied fly repellent and wound sprays for a number of days including regularly cleaning the wound with salt water. Sometimes the dogs may not actually tear the skin but will cause it to disconnect from the muscle internally. Secondary infection is highly likely after survival of an attack. This calf survived but treatment and eventual recovery was slow and would have been extremely painful.

Trauma to the people – These are a series of quotes and comments in relation to Wild dog attacks, some are my own thoughts.
ABARES – Survey 2011 “Trauma experienced by farmers as a result of prolonged wild dog attacks on livestock was similar to that experienced by people who endured life threatening ordeals like car accidents or heart attacks1

In 2015 each landholder spent an average of 26 days and $7200 a year on management of wild dogs1

In 2004 an estimation of livestock losses across Australia, disease transmission and control costs of wild dogs was $66.3M a year1

In 2011/12 NTCA estimated 60,000 calves and young weaners were killed or maimed due to wild dogs, costing $80M2

If half of those animals are females in the previous quote the loss of ongoing production, assuming a conservative 50% calving rate would be another 15,000 calves once those females had reached production age in each following year. If half of those 15,000 calves were steers then that is a loss of direct sale of a further 7,500 males lost for sale and 7,5000 females lost to production for each following year compounded year on year as those animals would have reached production themselves.
At current (2015) prices of $2.60 per kg for a feeder steer of 330kg to Indonesia year this is a conservative loss of an animal worth a gross value of approximately $850 each

NSW estimates losses of $50M per year due to wild dogs.

A 2009 QLD dog survey showed a presence of dogs in all QLD areas with no populations containing 100% dingo, an earlier study conducted in 2008 showed at least 85% of South East QLD dog populations were hybrid3

Animals deemed faulty can be rejected or discounted in price by up to $1/kg through Australian abattoirs4

Animals showing any form of scar or healed tissue damage due to dog attacks are rejected outright for sale into some live export markets5

11.10.2013 017_edited-1Picture 4 – This is a steer that body wise is suitable for the feeder live export markets of Indonesia or Vietnam, he is approximately 350kg. He couldn’t go to those markets because he has no tail and has scar tissue on the lower left hind leg.

We record damage to new brandings (calving’s for that year) by visual inspection of surviving animals of dog attack. Damage recorded has varied between 8-11% every year. This means that 8-11% of the animals that we capture have some form of dog damage on them, we have no idea how many are born or die directly after birth due to attacks before mustering commences. We estimate a further 10% of calves never survive to weaning due solely to dog attacks. Effectively dogs, damage or kill 20% of our calving drop for each year.

11.10.2013 032_edited-1Picture 5 – A Heifer with a healed ear. This animal has had her entire ear ripped off due to wild dogs

 The following blogs are in relation to wild dog impacts on our property and measures we take to control them.

Wild dog management on Pastoral land #2

Wild dog management on Pastoral land #3

SourceS
1. Wild dog management in Australia – AWI ABARES 2015 wp525_wild_dog_management_in_australia
2. NTCA media release
3. QLD Wild dog strategy
4. ABC rural 27/01/2015
5. Personal Experience – Jo Bloomfield.

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Categories: Animal Welfare, cattle stations, Live Exports | Tags: , | Leave a comment

ESCAS; the importance of pre-slaughter stunning of cattle prior to slaughter.

40 years ago in Australia, pre-stunning of cattle prior to slaughter, quite literally was a blow to the head, with a sledge hammer! Specialised equipment is now used to ensure stunning is maximised in effectiveness and safety for both animal and operator. I support continual improvement in animal welfare but this can only be achieved through learning, practice and research. I would prefer all Australian live cattle export markets did stunning prior to slaughter because in my view pre-stunning increases positive animal welfare outcomes, that mainly being minimization of stress and pain for each and every individual animal. There is absolutely no doubt that live export has had poor animal welfare incidents occur but it has also shown a history of significant animal welfare improvements prior to and after the implementation of ESCAS.The most important in my view for improvement in animal welfare in live export is pre-slaughter stunning. Pre-stunning is not an OIE standard but it is encouraged and strongly supported through ESCAS. All cattle slaughtered in Australia are required to be stunned pre-slaughter with provision for ritual slaughter is post-stunned.

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Stunning – What is it? Stunning is striking a very strong and specifically targeted blow to the forehead of an animal with the intention of it either being lethal or the animal loses consciousness. The brain moves back and forth inside the skull so fast and hard it collides with the skull disrupting the electrical function of the brain, like a reactionary shock, the brain reacts by shutting down and is unable to process of the stimulus of pain that it receives from nerves, the animal is unconscious. Stunning causes the animal to lose its sensibility or comprehension of what is going on around it. After being stunned the animal collapses, it is effectively ‘knocked out’. Stunning is done to prevent the feeling of pain or stress when actually slaughtered. After stunning the animals throat is cut to ensure death. Called thoracic sticking (targeting the brachycephalic trunk near the heart) or exsanguination (cut across the throat targeting main arteries and oesophagus). Once dead the animal’s meat is then processed for sale to consumers as beef.

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Where is stunning legally enforceable? Stunning is not a legal requirement in Australia but is required under standards of operation in Australian facilities. Australian Animal welfare cruelty laws are enforceable under the Animal welfare Act. These are statements of enforceable treatment of animals under a person(s) care or responsiblity. Standards and guidelines are established by Industry, they are not legislated or legal in themselves. Standards are ‘must do’ procedures whose intention is to establish clear principles that must be followed to improve and achieve animal welfare outcomes. Guidelines are simply as their name implies guidelines to best practice, they are referencing to specific circumstances and support the standards. While a standard is not law, failure to comply with it can be punishable by law under the Animal welfare Act.
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In regards to animals processed and the way they are slaughtered in Australia the Australian Standard (AS4696:2007) for slaughter of cattle in Australia states that “An animal that is stuck with, first being stunned and is not rendered unconscious as part of its ritual slaughter is stunned without delay after it is stuck to ensure that it is rendered unconscious”. Meaning that if a beast is not stunned immediately prior to having its throat cut then it must be done immediately after.

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In overseas countries to which Australian animals are processed, the Australian Standards export of Livestock (ASEL) cover the time an animal is sourced from the property of origin to the unloading at a port of delivery in another country, this is the sourcing, transport and delivery aspects of animals who are sold via live export markets. Breaches of ASEL come under the legislation of the Animal welfare Act, Exporter licensing, maritime and quarantine laws to which Australian laws have jurisdiction and reach. ASEL has been in effect since December 2004. The Exporter supply chain assurance system (ESCAS) framework is unique in that it is Australian standards applicable to Australian livestock within another countries legal capacity but is based on conformity to World Organisation for Animal health (OIE) recommendations. OIE do not stipulate a requirement of stunning in livestock slaughter. ESCAS has been in effect since July 2011 for some markets and January 2013 for all. ESCAS doesn’t stipulate stunning must be conducted but it does support its use.
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Prior to ESCAS in Indonesia 5 abattoirs conducted stunning on Australian cattle, they processed approximately 10-15% of the then animals sent to Indonesia. By the end of 2011 there were 70 abattoirs utilising stunning and accounted for 90% of Australian cattle slaughtered. By June 2013 90% of the abattoirs that processed Australian cattle use stunning, yet ESCAS does not make it mandatory that they do this. The implementation of stunning has led to faster and more efficient processing.

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Is stunning necessary? Stunning at slaughter has a number of purposes, the main one is to minimise stress to the animal. The aim is that an animal doesn’t know or feel any pain when its throat is cut. Stunning makes the animal more manageable and can in many cases increase the speed of death and efficiency of the killing of the animal. Minimising the animal movements and increasing handability significantly increases workers safety  because it is not struggling or panicking due to pain, stress or loss of blood. Handling factors prior to death can also affect meat quality due to hormones and adrenaline, a less stressed animal prior to slaughter has better quality meat cuts when processed, thus stunning can minimise the amount of stress hormones the animal may experience during death and achieve a more efficient death and better meat tenderness.

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Examples of stunning.

This is a short video available off the net in regards to non-penetrative stunning

This is a video released by the live export industry in relation to stunning equipment training and  used in facilities  that receive Australian cattle.

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Types of Stunning procedures. Pre Stunning is stunning of the animal before the throat cut and is most commonly used in Australia and overseas abattoirs receiving Australian cattle. Post stunning is done after the throat cut and is performed in Australia. No stunning at all prior or during slaughter is conducted in some overseas abattoirs receiving Australian cattle.

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In the 1970’s it was common in some Australian abattoirs to use a sledgehammer to pre-stun cattle, crude but effective! One solid wack and the animal was unconscious. Hand held devices or knockers have been used for many years now, they were not reliant on an outside power or generator source and as their name suggests, held with one hand, they were light and manuvable. The first installed knockers were literally modified nail guns, these were found to not have the necessary bolt action speed though and  heavier and stronger versions were developed, specifically built for the intended purpose of stunning stock. Guns were used in some facilities but recoil and OH &S was a significant problem, obviously a long range projectile capable of killing bystanders. Many facilities have a stand by knocker, years ago the gun was the standby, particularly for abattoirs that were remote or the animals unusually wild and difficult to manage. for example large bulls and buffalo.

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Prior to large pneumatic systems most knockers used a cartridge driven captive bolt, it was powered by blank cartridges with gunpowder, but no bullet. Heavier cartridges were used for heavier boned animals such as bulls. As Halal slaughter requires a ‘non-penetrating’ stun most of these devices  that did penetrate and were lethal were not suitable. Halal slaughter cattle in Australia were not pre-stunned until the mid-1980’s when electrical stunning and non-penetrative stunning was developed and implemented.

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There are mainly 2 forms of stunning, mechanical and electrical. In this post I’m looking at overseas markets in which mechanical methods are used. These are in 2 forms, captive bolt or a free projectile. A captive bolt stunner is a steel bolt that moves inside a barrel without being able to leave the barrel, it has a mushroom head that hits the skull. Propulsion is via electricity, gas, pneumatic (high pressure air) and cartridge (gun powder). A free projectile is like a bullet from a gun. Captive bolt in a fraction of a second transfers kinetic energy to the skull of the animal by striking its skull very hard and then retracts.  In some cases the stun can cause instant death, others are purposely ‘recoverable’.

1.1 Captive bolt stunning

Source – Beef Cattle Production and Trade. Cottle, Kahn 2014.

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A penetrative stun is where the bolt enters the skull and effectively brain kills the animal instantly, Non-penetrative doesn’t penetrate through the bone and is meant to be a recoverable concussion. The animal is instantly ‘knocked out’ but could theoretically recover if its throat isn’t cut after some period of time. The non-penetrative bolt system is the most commonly used in abattoirs that require Halal slaughter requirements, such as those in Indonesia.

1.2 Indonesia stunning.

Insert – Indonesian abattoir stunning equipment. The stunning equipment is hanging at the top left of the kill box that has its side door currently open.

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Under OIE standards pre stunning of cattle is not a pre requisite of animal welfare requirements. ESCAS is based on OIE. Irrespective of OIE, ESCAS handling guidelines do encourage pre-stunning of animals. Following the June 2011 live export ban the Australian government offered assistance on a 3:1 basis to fund and implement stunning in many facilities. Exporters had to invest $3 for every $1 that they received in grants. Many exporters invested far greater volumes of funds than the $3 to improve infrastructure, equipment and training of personal.

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Installation of stunning equipment was a significant problem in some Indonesian abattoirs due to lack of numbers of animals that they would process. For many who only processed a small number of animals such as 3-10 head the installation of a $20,000 piece of equipment, which is the value of many individual stunners was a significant cost consideration. The installation of stunning equipment was initiated in many ways by the exporters and through their influence has shown how it can initiate better management of cattle and increased safety of workers. Due to these benefits some exporters are assisting importing countries to install stunners for use in their own abattoirs for use on local cattle.

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I think most people would expect me to do my absolute best to look after the animals I have on our property, but recognise that I can’t give a guarantee that I can achieve good animal welfare 100% in every situation. I have similar expectations of exporters who export my cattle, I expect them to do their utmost best at all times, with animal welfare their paramount concern but realise that there will be times when not all animals will have good welfare experiences. Due sometimes to circumstances out of exporters control. I’m not saying these are acceptable reasons for compliance breach but they are going to occur and we need to have understanding how to minimise those occurrences to maximise the effectiveness of ESCAS. Increasing of stunning of cattle in which Australian sourced cattle are sourced for slaughter is a major step in improving animal welfare obligations of the exporters. I applaud those exporters who have taken the steps to ensure stunning is used in their supply chains.

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Training and education is the key to all ESCAS compliance. As animal welfare improvements have evolved and increased within Australia to the high standards we now expect, so will ESCAS. It is pro-active in the improvement and implementation of animal welfare for Australian cattle overseas. I support improvements to ESCAS which includes ability of exporters to be compliant to it by efficiency and cost reduction that will not affect animal welfare outcomes. There is absolutely no point in having a system so overly regulated that it is unable to be compliant in the paper-trial reporting if improvements can be made in these areas.

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Everyone needs money, I make mine producing cattle for their beef production, We choose to sell to live export because fundamentally, that is a financially better proposition than selling to Australian processors and has been the case for many northern producers over the 100 years of live export from Australia. We make the conscientious decision to  sell our cattle to supply chains that have stunning. This is not saying that those who supply lines that don’t use stunning are not ESCAS compliant, it is simply a personal preference of my husband and myself that we prefer our cattle to be stunned prior to slaughter.

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Can I prove that this occurs unequivocally to you? No!

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Have I followed my own cattle through an overseas abattoir? No!

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Therefore you simply have to take my word that every time we sell cattle I try to establish who is buying them, where they are going and ask about their destinations procedures. I then follow that with my own research and as best I can stay up to date on developments and issues surrounding live export of cattle. I do hope to travel overseas and see where our animals are processed for myself; but family and business commitments mean this is very difficult for me to do.

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Some Indonesian abattoirs were not killing efficiently or well that were filmed in late 2010 early 2011, the methods of roping and throat cutting that was conducted prior too, and up to that point were not acceptable. Those incidents highlighted then fell well short of acceptable animal welfare practices. There is no doubt that some animals I have sent in previous years to Indonesia would have had their throats cut without pre-stunning and suffered pain and stress because of poor handling and lack of skills prior to and during slaughter as they died. That saddens me as I know how quiet and well behaved most of our cattle are. My husband and I rate the manageability of our animals as one of our greatest assets, to know our animals were so poorly treated was and still is distressing.

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I aim to provide the future cattle we sell as assured of pre stunning before slaughter as a self imposed animal welfare requirement. Selling to Australian meat processors isn’t financially viable for us for the majority of our cattle sales; I will not destroy our business and families future over issues in live export based on past experiences which are fixable and controllable. I continue to supply cattle to live export because the exporter(s) we deal through strive to meet their obligations and requirements under the ESCAS system. While I see the short comings of the fact that one country (us) can’t regulate legislatively another due to sovereign rights, I believe ESCAS has proven that we can and do initate and promote then direct by implementation high animal welfare standards in other countries.

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There is absolutely no doubt we had to improve the welfare of Australian cattle slaughter processes in some supply chains in importing countries. ESCAS as implemented by the exporters has achieved those improvements. An animal has to die to be eaten, the process of the slaughter is what is significantly important, it must be efficient, effective and most of all induces minimal stress on the animal though obviously causing death.

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Improvements in animal welfare overseas has been by way of co-operation, learning and assistance, we have to keep persevering to improve animal welfare, we’ve lost markets, we’ve upset international relations, and we still have those in the industry that don’t think animal welfare is paramount all the way through a supply chain. Commendably most exporters have significantly improved animal welfare and proved it can be done consistently with long term and on-going results. Animal welfare processes were always adequate in some supply chains in others they were not. Point of slaughter was the main problem with most animal welfare issues, the shipping, transport, feedlotting and handling have always been of a high standard, slaughter through stunning has  significantly increased animal welfare for the animals now sent to live export.

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There are some within the industry that still don’t support ESCAS, they do see the animal as only a legal entity and at point of sale we no longer have responsibility for it in its entirety. That is wrong! While personally I may not be legally responsible for the animal in Australia once I have sold it. I expect that the people I sell to, will adhere to animal welfare standards and guidelines that are best practice for that animal through it entire life. In Live export I have the same expectation by the overarching standards is ASEL and ESCAS. I like the fact that there are now standards in place for exporters from the port of delivery to slaughter, there are guidelines, they know exactly what is required of them and as a producer I expect those requirements to be met. I support ESCAS, I support exporters who abide by ESCAS and believe those that do it well should receive recognition and congratulations for it. I support ESCAS improvements in both efficiency and report capability. ESCAS has to be useable to be most effective, that is a flowing cycle of planning, implementation and monitoring.

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I support significant and severe repercussions to be enforced on those who make repetitive critical breaches of compliance in the one supply chain in regards to ASEL and ESCAS. I believe ESCAS has moved beyond the learning initial implementation stage now, it is well understood and what its requirements are. I support the authorities to significantly fine and withdraw the licences of those exporters who do not show complete commitment to adherence and compliance. If they are given the chance to correct problems and don’t then they should be forcibly removed from that supply line.

I believe stunning has increased animal welfare outcomes for Australian animals even though it has not been a compulsory part of ESCAS, I don’t think it should be made compulsory but do believe it should be encouraged and supported.

Categories: Agriculture laws, Beef Industry, Indonesian abattoirs, Live Exports, pre slaughter stunning, stunning in slaughter | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Animals Australia Financials ending 2014

These financial documents were obtained through the Victorian consumer commision.

AA financials ending 2014.

Info page._edited-1Image #1 – Summary of Animals Australia Financials 2013-14

Income 13_14_edited-1

Image #2 Animals Australia Income 2013-14

Expenses 13_14_edited-1

Image #3. Animals Australia Expenses 2013-14

Categories: AA Financials, Animals Australia, Live Exports | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Northern Territory Live Cattle export – Darwin

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 this topic into 2.
1. NT Live cattle export – Darwin
2. Hay & Fodder Suppliers to Live animal export.

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

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Service providers to the Northern Territory live cattle export industry may not directly own cattle, but they fulfil a very important role to enable cattle production. They are many and varied, including fodder producers who grow and provide hay. Transporters , fuel providers or they supply goods and direct services, like stock agents or veterinarians. Without these service providers direct cattle producers simply wouldn’t have the capabilities to operate and conduct, our business of cattle breeding.

Ripple effect June 2011_edited-1

Chart 1. Ripple map illustrating the effects that the income of a live export producer has on the service industries and suppliers, in turn the cattle producers heavily rely on these other industries.

 As livestock numbers and the value of cattle fluctuate by direct income to producers, that in turn affects the direct supply and demand requirements of supplies.

Within the Northern Territory cattle industry there were, according to ABARES at the end of 2013, approximately 2 million cattle located in the NT. This is about 15% of the total Australian Beef herd.

NT Herd_edited-1

Chart 2. The NT Beef herd showing the long-term increase of the Mature female component and the total beef herd in the NT. Gradual increases have occurred since the mid 90’s due to better management and productivity practices and stronger influence of the Bos Indicus breeds.

600,000 sale animals are turned off annually from the NT; on average half go to live export and the other half to slaughter processors, or other producers in Australia.

NT Cattle Production_edited-2Chart 3. Source DPI & F overview Outlook 2013
Northern Territory Cattle – Value of production 2000-01 to 2017-18

2012 /13 Output cattle value of production for only NT origin cattle was $307.4M , including live exports and slaughter. 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). The beef industry dominates agricultural and fisheries production in the NT.

NT beef production operates on mostly natural open rangeland land systems dependent on natural rainfall occurrences. The Simpson and Great Sandy Deserts are located in the south, with very hot and dry climates and rainfall averages of 150mm per annum but very fertile soils. Contrastively the northern high rainfall tropics experience a distinctive high rainfall period and dry season with rainfall measurements of over 3m per annum with generally lower fertility soils.

Nt rainfall_edited-1Chart 4. The rainfall averages for the NT

NT map_edited-1Chart 5. NT map of Agriculture land uses.

 To illustrate how live export markets have fluctuated over the last several years the following statistics are based on predominantly the live export of cattle from the Northern Territories only port, Darwin.

Darwin total cattle_edited-1Chart 5. The tally of only cattle that have been exported through the Darwin Port 2009 – 2014 (Nov) to all destinations.

Darwin exports 09_11_edited-1Darwin exports 12_14_edited-1

Charts 6 & 7. All cattle exported from Darwin. This is the exact same data as chart 5

Darwin other animals._edited-1Chart 8. Other animals live exported from the Darwin Port. 2009-2014

High cattle numbers exported don’t necessarily mean more money earned per individual animal, producers are paid on a kilogram live basis on delivery of the animals, the price is dependent on current market situations.

Livelink 001Chart 9. Source LiveCorp. Livelink November 2014. Australian saleyard and live cattle prices. At $1.50/kg in 2013 a 330kg animal was gross value of $495, in 2014 at $2.60 that same weighted animal is now worth $858, 73% more than just 12 months previously.

In reference to the above chart  NT DPI quoted no prices for records for live animals. In May of 2011 the market was approximately $1.65/kg. When the Indonesian live export ban was implemented June 6, 2011 only the cattle already on the water (2713 hd) were recorded, nil export occurred to Indonesia in July 2011. Prior to June 2011 at least 21,000 head were transported to Indonesia every single month for the previous 4 years. Many of the cattle exported immediately after the lifting of the ban in July 2011 were already pre-contracted prior to June and therefore not relevant to pricing after.. Personally, with difficulty to even find space on ships. ABARES predicted at July 2011 there were 365,000 unsold export cattle unsold (QLD CL 28/07/2011). we were able to sell some cattle to Indonesian markets in late 2011 and the price was again $1.65/kg late in the year. It  was near impossible to sell cattle during the period of July to September. So many cattle were already in the ports supply region that stock agents weren’t even able to give producers prices because the exporters were simply not requiring more cattle to fill orders.

High livestock numbers does mean an increase in demand of goods such as hay and transport from service providers. These numbers have to be moving though. Many producers simply didn’t sell cattle and some didn’t even muster if they knew they couldn’t find markets.

Fluctuations, stoppages, increases and decreases in live cattle market demand has been impacted by many factors, some in conjunction and others significant in their own right. The following are not in any particular order and should not be considered as stand alone pressures that work independently to affect markets.

Import and live weight quotas by Indonesia were introduced in 2010 to attempt to obtain self sufficiency in beef production and consumption in that country. By the end of 2013  local Indonesian wet market prices increases had resulted in the significant easing of the policies as their government realised that 100% beef self sufficiency wasn’t possible in the short-term. A different quota system was introduced in 2014 dependent on pricing of secondary meat cuts in the wet markets. The trigger price is 76,000 Rp/kg ($7.43 AUS). If the local wet markets fall below this price, reductions will be made to limit import cattle and beef  into Indonesia. This is hoped to protect their own beef producers from oversupply by Australia and yet enable surety of beef supply for their nation’s consumption.

Indonesia. Import quotas_edited-1Chart 10. All  cattle exported to Indonesia from all Australian ports. Indonesian import quotas for live cattle were predominantly for feeder types >350kg. In 2014 part of the allocation was for heavier slaughter  and breeder cattle.

The Darwin port has handled approximately 40% of all Australian cattle exports for the last several years and exported 60% of those destined for South east Asia in 2013. While some say the export quotas were the most restrictive of live export numbers, at least in 2011 a quota is still a quota and some degree of market. The ban was a complete stoppage. On going effects of the Australian decisions did untold damage to relations at the time and are only now being significantly rebuilt. Prior to 2011 market analysts have assessed that the Indonesian self sufficiency targets were unobtainable for years, proven by the fact that the target dates themselves were often extended. Report opinions were that it was a matter of time before demand from local Indonesians would pressure their government to allow increased imports of beef and live animals.

Following the Indonesian live export ban it was significant that other markets were able to be increased to Vietnam that accepted heavier types of cattle than what Indonesia preferred.

Darwin major destinations._edited-1Chart 11. Major Destinations for Cattle from the Darwin Port.

Other factors impacting on markets are currency fluctuations, weather patterns, economies within Australia and other countries, currency exchange rates, animal type requirement in breed, weight and sex, animal values, ESCAS implementation and cost, competition from other countries and the Australian meat processing sector, health protocols and change in requirements of the importing countries for both type and volume of animals.

Darwin is the only live animal export facility for the NT, some of the service providers in the NT may service other states like QLD and WA.

2014 cattle that have been moved through the Darwin port have regularly been double of the average for the combined preceding 5 years. This is significant because previously most cattle from Darwin were NT sourced, in 2014 that was not the case.

Darwin 5 yr averages_edited-1
Chart 12. Darwin live cattle export numbers for 2014 compared to averages of the previous 5 years.

What I’m trying to show in these charts is that live cattle exports have been highly variable through the years with 2014 exploding.

A very broad estimate of about 80-90% of all Darwin cattle exported for the previous 5 years (Not including 2014) were sourced from  NT properties. 2014 has seen the NT supply portion drop to about 65%, as the Darwin port has received significant influx of cattle transported from SA, NSW and QLD. A news article in regarding October exports stated that of the previous few months cattle exports over half had been supplied from QLD.

The flow of cattle coming from other states will be assisting service providers to the industry but it takes time to grow and produce fodder and meet the demand requirements.

How predictable are future live cattle export markets? Goodness, how long is a piece of string!
Indonesia’s issuing of import permits will depend on the new system which they have developed with the base price of 76,000Rp. At the moment Indonesian import permits for 2015 have not been released and meat prices are trading over Rp 100,000 per kg. It is expected that Indonesia will increase its cattle and beef imports above 2014 figures.
In the MLA Beef Industry forecasts, Cattle industry projections mid year 2014 the live export markets are expected to remain relatively stable in overall numbers as to what was then forecast to be exported in 2014. Markets in Vietnam, Israel and now possibly Thailand and China are looking promising for requiring significant numbers of live cattle.

Forecasts 2015_edited-2

The main restriction on the numbers to export may will sourcing cattle, given the huge turnoff in Australian slaughter and live export for 2013 and throughout 2014.
For cattle producers this gives us some degree of confidence that markets will be relatively good in 2015, with forecasts of good prices to go with it. Production wise we don’t change quickly as it takes time to build up numbers to take advantage of market access. What it does mean is that we focus on making sure the cattle we do have, meet the required specifications of what the markets demand.
If the cattle producers have confidence that markets are going to be consistent and improve then we will also be buying up on the goods and services that we need to place our animals in the best health production and presentation wise to ensure we can receive the optimum prices we can for the immediate future and going into the coming years.
So where has this led our service providers such as the hay and fodder production people?

http://wp.me/p2Rd5Y-eG

Categories: Beef Industry, Cattle station, Darwin live cattle export, Live Exports, Northern Territory. | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In support of Live animal Export.

All of the following statistics have been obtained from

Australian livestock export industry statistical review_2013-14

This report contains information in relation to cattle, sheep and goats dating back to 2008/2009.

I have chartered only a few of the statistics it has correlated.

Cattle exports 13_14_edited-1Chart 1. 2013/2014 Australian live cattle exports.

Cattle types exported 13_14_edited-1Chart 2. 2013/2014 Australian live cattle export types.

Sheep Exports 13_14_edited-1Chart 3. 2013/2014 Australian Live Sheep exports.

Goat Exports 13_14_edited-1

Chart 4. 2013/2014 Australian Live Goat Exports.

Categories: #hadagutful campaign support, Advocacy, Beef Industry, Live Exports | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MLA Voting Entitlements close 2nd October 2014

In regards to the MLA restructure, my main concern is fairness of allocation for voting rights.

After reading the submissions to the Industry structures and systems governing levies on grass-fed cattle that has been held in 2014, I was under the impression that most, if not all of the private submissions were of the same opinion as me, the voting system is not equitable for the majority of producers.

Submissions can be viewed here, there are only 188 submissions published. According to the Australian Beef Association 530 submissions were received but many not published as they were deemed as repeats or bulk entries.

Quiet simply a levy is paid for a beast at point of sale from one entity to another. If a processor purchases cattle and holds them for a period of 60 days or more they are required to pay a levy on that animal and thus allowed voting entitlements at MLA General meetings. Producers on the other hand often have animals for life or at least much longer than 60 days, and handle much smaller numbers. It is the law that we pay levies.

In 2014 there were 41,334 Grass fed Cattle members of MLA. In 2008 the top 50 entitled vote holders held nearly 6 million of the votes eligible for that years voting. The top 20 of that group of 50 held 67.2% of those 6M votes. As far as I can make out 9 of them were processors. Nearly 22% of the top 50 were foreign-owned. I obtained these figures from the submission  sub184_AMPG&CCP_attch1. Keep in mind that this article quotes figures from 2008, some processors have amalgamated since then

MLA put their resolutions forward over the last few days for consideration at the coming AGM. There was no mention of changing the allocation of voting rights and I think there should be.

Under the current system  of MLA voting entitlements, entities who sells up to about the 5,750 head mark receive a full 1 vote entitlement to every $1 in levy they have paid

  • 100 adult cattle per year $500 levy would have 500 voting rights
  • 300 adult cattle per year $1,500 – 1,500 votes
  • 5,000 adult cattle sold – $25,00 – 25,000 votes

After $29,088 of levies paid the entitlement is reduced from $1 per levy paid to $0.75 above the $29,088.

  • 6,000 cattle sold, $30,000 levies paid – the entity would receive 28,750 votes
  • 8,000 cattle sold – $40,000 – 37,272 votes
  • 10,000 cattle sold $50,000 – 44,772 votes.

According to the #184 submission only 50 MLA voters in 2008 were above this threshold of 10,000 head.

To place this in some degree of visual perspective I made the following chart which shows the entitlement ratios of different production systems, they levies paid and their relevant voting entitlements according to those levies.

For instance if an organisation that sold 100 cattle wanted to vote in a resolution their vote would squarely match another producer who also sold 100 head and had 500 voting rights as a 1:1 ratio.

If the same 100 head producer (500 voting rights) wanted to vote against an entity who sold 1,000 head, then it would take the equivalent of 10 of the smaller producers to outvote the larger entity. Fair enough, producer against producer vote is OK.

I don’t have a problem with the current scale of voting being used, it is there for a reason. That being it simply wouldn’t be fair if a producer who sold 5 head as a hobby sideline had the same voting rights as a person who sold 10,000 as their only income and asset base.

My problem is when the entities are above the 10,000 head voting entitlement they can literally outvote anyone and everyone with little or no hinderance. Especially as so few people actually register to vote, not because they are lazy in my opinion but they feel their vote is so overpowered and useless then why bother to register if they are not being listened too.

For instance if a resolution is supported by a seller who has the equivalent of 100,000 cattle, If a processor, after ownership of 60 days in one year their voting entitlement would be 279,088 votes ($500,000 in levies paid). If a producer of 500 sale cattle wanted to vote against them, they would need the equivalent of 112 other like-minded, similar sized or larger entities to also agree. Not only to be in agreement to vote the resolution but to actually register to be allowed to vote.

My idea is to keep the current scaling system but  to implement a ceiling, in which once a maximum number of vote entitlements are reached then irrespective of how many animals are sold the entitlements to more votes do not increase for that holder.

I have used the ceiling in the chart as purely an example, the shaded purple area, that being 10,000 head. It is simply a figure I felt that would enable larger producers to have strong voting rights which they should have, and also where I think the majority of the cattle producers would be production wise within Australia.

Chart 30.09.2014_edited-2Chart 1. Voting entitlement ratios within the current MLA voting system.

If you are a producer and you do want more say in MLA then first things first you have to register to vote, it is not automatic. This must be done by the 2nd of October to receive your voting entitlements.

You can submit you registration on-line at MLA voting registrations

Categories: Advocacy, Agriculture laws, Beef Industry, Legislation, Live Exports, 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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Day of Muster.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Agriculture Protection Laws

There has been a significant amount of media debate concerning the possible introduction into Australia of Agriculture protection laws (APL’s), or as opponents refer to, ‘Ag –gag laws’. Those opposed, view these laws in particular as targeting and restrictive of people who choose to undertake actions that most notably involve illegal entry of property to expose alleged animal cruelty.

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Increasingly what is currently happening in Australia is that Animal Activists (AA’s) target a site they feel is not meeting animal welfare standards. They enter a property, sometimes under false pretences, usually as break and enter. Search, record and on occasion cause malicious damage to infrastructure including intentional spread of disease. Animals are then filmed in various situations involving housing, slaughter and treatment. Some filmed in poor visibility at night and by people with flash lights. Obtained film is then distributed as video, film, stills or information as they see fit, when they want and with information that they see as suited to the situation they wish to portray. Most notably footage release may be targeted at a high consumption point of the year but long after the film was made.

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What AA’s think the APL’s will do is completely stop the ability of them to release footage of what they regard as animal cruelty which is basically what the American rulings have done.  I think the US versions are too stringent but I do think adaption could be used in Australia.

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An Australian friend has looked at the US laws extensively and I think has come up with a more relevant version to Australia that doesn’t prevent the use of the footage but certainly makes the AA’s more accountable for their actions in regards to authenticity, accuracy and release of footage. I have added my own take on  disclosure to the owners property that was filmed including ability of owner to refute information.

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Social media has become the court house and  AA’s have proclaimed themselves as judge jury and executioner of the producer in the public arena. Using footage to  incite outrage and reaction from mostly the general public, who in turn are asked to pressure government and law makers to act against the animal property owner by implementation of supposed better animal welfare laws or abolition of the animal use all together. The footage’s usual intention is to incite hate and repulsion and thus detrimentally affect market sales of that properties or related industry animal product. Through repulsion, emotion and often outright mis-information by the AA’s, the industry targeted then suffers as a consequence either through direct loss of income or the problems directly caused by the AA’s.

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It is sometimes many months after the event of a media wave that the facts of the film in regards to what was happening, why, where and who were involved actually comes to light and sometimes, I’m not saying all but definitely sometimes is shown to be intentionally misleading and outright propaganda.

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From the producers point of view a major concern is bio security, but it is also control of information and image and a chance to have a fair say when directly attacked. The right to know when they are being slandered and the right of reply. In my view the APL’s could make it legally equitable in disputes of animal cruelty that the producer at least has a chance to explain their situation and reasoning of what the film depicts at the same time as it is released because it will be illegal to withhold it longer than 48 hours without notification to the owner and authorities.

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Currently it is quiet legal to openly place photographic images advertised as animal cruelty, poor animal welfare, poor animal standards or outright neglect and mis treatment. These images need no details of who, when or where they were taken and many times these aren’t provided even when investigated further by a viewer on social media. The intended purpose of the visual, is to lead the audience to always assume they are viewing Australian animals and think what they see is a fair representation of how Australian animals are treated overall.

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Many images provided by AA’s are undated, without source names, often not even proving that they have been filmed at a site. Usually the recorder is anonymous. Some blatantly promote their business as animal expose and earn money  through their escapades. So the attacks on the producer come from many and varied sources but the initial antagonist, the trespass person or persons generally remain completely anonymous.

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More often than not the animal producer faces intense hostile assault from other AA’s including large organisations most notably on social media as to their business attributes and again the images are used as if that is what the whole of that industry represents. Personal attacks are very common against the producer and their families including children through social media and many sites allow these comments to remain visible as it feeds the hate and outrage. This is how things get so out of hand and beyond control.

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The interesting thing about some of the claims attackers of the producer make is that ‘the consumer has a right to know or they as the consumer have the right to dictate animal husbandry practices’. Ironically most of these people conducting trespass invasions are vegetarian or vegan and don’t actually consume or use the products from the industry they attack, so they aren’t consumers.

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Some AA’s may own or produce livestock for their economic survival, usually not though as many are fundamentally against animal production for food. Many actively work in and solicit donations for animal shelters they are involved with. Most are definitely concerned members of the public but how informed, representative or even knowledgeable of animal welfare practices and their purposes would vary from very informed and experienced in animal care to absolutely not having any idea of animal behaviour or practices at all.

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I am very wary of the phrase ‘social licence’ when used as description of the supposed general public view of animal production. When given a choice based on economics many of the buying public won’t actually pay extra for the improved animal welfare standards that they perceive are required. Instead buying imported products that don’t come even close to Australian welfare standards. Therefore at what point as a producer do I take their social licence prejudices seriously when they don’t practice what they preach when it comes to the act of actually paying at the checkout!

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As a producer we can explain, if people don’t accept that some practices are absolutely necessary, then that’s just the way it is, don’t eat our product. But if people don’t accept our business operations it doesn’t give them the right to invade and destroy our business because they don’t agree with consumption of animals.

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I have no doubt it is only a matter of time before an activist or producer is killed due to a property invasion. At the least massive disease across some animal industries will occur. If some tighter regulations are not put in place soon the AA’s will simply become more brazen and the producers more angry. Something will give.

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The APL’s in the US currently do and could be moulded to suit Australia, not to stifle animal activities but to filter those who have genuine intent animal welfare improvement from those who are simply economic terrorists with criminal malicious intent. APL’s are a possible way to hold AA’s legally accountable by ensuring that if an event of animal cruelty is recorded it is a recognised obligation by the recorder, for that information to be passed to relevant authorities quickly and unedited in a set time frame of 48 hours. With the provision that footage be not allowed on any public media format until at the least handed to authorities and the animal producer targeted allowed first viewing and 24 hours to consider it and mount a defence.

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Once footage is handed to authorities it is then the responsibility of  them to  act in a responsible and legal way. Once viewed by the accused then the AA’s can do what ever they like with their film and if so choosing could splash animal images of alleged cruelty where ever they liked. The point being that the producer has a fair and equitable chance of also instigating their own media commentary on the footage and saying what they think is relevant.

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If  footage is not backed up by a declaration by a real person as the recorder, as named and verified then the footage would be illegal to use on any media at all.

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Let the general public decide who they wish to listen too, but at least allow the opportunity to the public decide to investigate the other side of a story to be able make an informed decision. If the producers view is available then they may just see two sides of the story and not only the one as they are most commonly presented with at the moment.

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Where the American’s differ in their aspect of APL’s is they are saying any footage is never allowed to be publicly aired. I’m, not saying that at all. I don’t think all animal producers are good but then I don’t think all AA’s work with best intentions of improving animal welfare either.

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Under APL’s if an act is deemed as maliciously cruel as opposed to husbandry practice, determined by experts in the field, then the person or people who presented the original unedited footage would not face prosecution under law rulings irrespective if the initial property invasion was normally deemed illegal.

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Importantly those who withhold footage, and promote without handing to authorities including those that support that promotion, should face the full force of the law for their trespass and intentional damages actions. For organisations this should be harsh monetary fines, for individuals with little or no assets this should be restraining orders and jail time.

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If AA’s get it wrong and they make wrongful accusations that have been publically displayed as animal cruelty then they must personally face and be prepared to accept serious remedy consequences payable to the producer they wrongly accused. They have responsibility of duty when entering animal properties and at the moment AA’s rarely acknowledge this, particularly in respect of bio security including ironically animal welfare itself through the stress their actions may cause

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The APL’s are intended to enforce the witnessing of malicious cruelty as an obligation to report the recorded activity, so that animal cruelty can be stopped for the purpose of improving animal welfare. Not for the footage to be used for the gain of an Animal activists ego and advertising of campaigns for financial donation collection.
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Another aspect of the legislation is that groups opposed to animal farming or other aspects of agriculture can’t impose legislation or regulations that are not scientifically based on fact and significant research. This is the right to conduct Agriculture it is about protecting agriculture as the right to conduct animal breeding, raising and use of animals as acknowledged in any legitimate business.

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APL’s as could be adapted to Australian laws are not intended to stop genuine animal cruelty exposes or provide coverage to poorly operated animal producers they are meant to make the AA’s more accountable. If AA’s wants to make serious accusations of malicious cruelty to animals then they better be sure they are accurate and genuine in their revelations of it and not as what is happening at the moment where many are just economic terrorists on ego trips.

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Agricultural protection laws are about recognition of responsibility of animal activists and fairness for production owners including the health safety of their animals they are not about hiding practices and diminishing animal welfare.

Categories: Advocacy, Agriculture laws, Animal Welfare, Animals Australia, Beef Industry, Cattle work, Indonesian abattoirs, Legislation, Live Exports, Politicians, Property operations, Sheep industry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

AACo Beef Processing facility.

In late March of this year I had the chance to visit the site of the new abattoir being constructed by Australian Agriculture Company (AACo) 50 km south of Darwin, at Livingstone, Northern Territory. By my reckoning the only brand new abattoir built-in Australia from scratch for at least the last 60 years.

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The site when I visited represented a crazy meccano set of construction, with lots of big boy toys, plenty of activity, people everywhere and skeleton shapes of the large buildings which will make up the process and facilities of the plant.

 

B.Cooper. 28.03.14_edited-2

Source – Photo AACo. Article – ‘AACo abattoir set for spring start’ The Land. 28/03/2014
I have labelled some of the infrastructure in place in March 2014. Animals will enter the facility at the slaughter point to be processed as they move up the photograph. I have the ‘packing’ label position slightly wrong, it should be to the right. Storage is the Freezer areas.

Once the main buildings are finished much of the internal work has been pre-fabricated at other sites, it will be transported in and installed. Stock yards and cattle holding facilities are yet to be built and the actual slaughter box site was only just begun. Completion of construction and beginning of processing of cattle is planned for September 2014.

 

14.04.14 089_edited-1Source. Jo Bloomfield. March 2014.
Where the bobcat is working is where the slaughter box will be built with its surrounding building yet to be constructed. The building in the centre is where the main processing of the carcasses will occur.

Obviously AACo and the Sunbuild construction people know that pastoralists are a bunch of sticky beaks and veritable excited children around new sheds. We do tend to go all gooey eyed at steel bundles, shiny new engines and large machinery. We were allowed access on very strict OH & S requirements. Tightly corralled behind flimsy hazard tape like a too small holding pen. More than once I heard the promise of future tours once the plant is functioning, the interest in this facility is very high and AACo are keen to have producer involvement and observation of the processing of  cattle occur when the plant is in operation.

 

14.04.14 100_edited-1
Source Jo Bloomfield March 2014

The AAco beef processing facility will have a co-generation plant, powered by gas that will supply the plants electricity needs.

To give a brief history of the AACo organisation, it was established in 1824, not only is it one of Australia’s oldest Agricultural companies but also now likely the biggest. AACo own about 682,000 head of cattle, about 2% of Australia’s whole current cattle herd. Their operations include extensive breeding operations throughout the NT and QLD covering 7.2M hectares (1% of Australia’s whole landmass). They sold approximately 250,000 cattle in the 2011/12 financial year (ending March) and currently employ over 450 people.

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Utilising a variety of cattle breeds AACo target a large cross-section of markets, grain-fed production, grass-fed and the live export markets.

 

AAco cattle sales #2_edited-1Source – AAco Financials ending 2012.
Types of cattle markets AACo supply.

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Horizontally integrated, meaning they have similar properties or facilities at different sites that perform similar tasks, such as animal breeding and raising happens on 23 cattle stations. They also operate procedures vertically , meaning AACo control various stages of the supply chain from production of fodder, stud animals and the retail of a meat product from another 4 farms and 3 different feedlots in conjunction with the stations.  Soon they will have their own abattoir for processing animals from their north Australia operations once the Livingstone abattoir is finished to further enhance their scalability and asset utilisation. Currently AACo have a number of branded beef products which are processed at plants in mainly QLD which are operated by rivals in the meat industry.

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The AACo beef processing facility proposal was announced to the public in early 2010 with site location not then decided on. Initially the plant was expected to cost $47.5M (Including Government contribution of $12.5M) and capable of processing 140,000 head with the intention always to operate 12 months of the year and not seasonally as most abattoirs in the north were forced previously to do. Initial plans were it was to be operating by mid 2013.

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The plant has never been intended as a replacement to live export targeted animals. The majority of animals to be processed will originate from AACo properties, cull cows and bulls and thus not animals they have bought in but already own. This enhances their own supply chain capabilities and is also a very different aspect of previous NT abattoir operations in that operations at Katherine, Batchelor , Tennant Creek and Alice Springs  needed to purchase all stock to supply their processing requirements.

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By late 2010 early 2011 AACo had raised capital from institutional investors with hopes of raising more to construct the facility. Overseas investors had been sought with the intention that AACo never relinquish majority ownership equity of more than 50%.

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The live export ban of 2011 resulted in a reduction of over $50M of the AACo asset base over the next 2 years, including $11m immediately attributable to the loss of markets and the ban implementation. This severely hampered AACo’s efforts to fund the abattoir. The suspension and subsequent devaluation of properties was negatively compounded due to loss of direct cattle income. This caused some skeptics of the project to predict the abattoir plan at Livingstone would be abandoned, they were wrong!

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In mid 2012 AACo announced they had purchased a site for the abattoir at Livingstone, the budget now estimated at a finished operational cost of $90M with a capacity increase to process 185,000 head and depending on operational performance further development ability to 225,000. AACo making the decision to increase the facility throughput size to strategically capitalise on the locations proximity to Asia and demand for meat, supported by supply of animals in the north of NT and WA of an approximate herd of 2M head.

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AACo cattle sales suffered a drop of 30% in gross values  per head for animals sold from a June 2012, over a 3 month period to a comparative period in 2013. This was pretty much in line with what was happening all over Australia. Cattle markets had generally plummeted due to oversupply of animals because of 2 main factors. The flow on effects of the Live export ban from 2011 and drought. Like most other Australian producers they had also been held hostage to the domestic market and its volatility. Drought and the ongoing effects of the ban exasperated the natural climatic problems, as cattle held from 2011 period which should have gone to live export as smaller feeder animals were now hitting the domestics processing facilities as heavier and older animals. AACo cattle held back 185,000 of their own animals from sale in 2011/12 to be sold in 2013.

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The benefit of the Darwin abattoir will be in its ability to process cull animals that aren’t worth a great deal of money in comparison to steers or other preferred younger animals yet are expensive to sell due to high freight costs and lower yields when processed. Due to costs of sale these animals tend to remain on property, eat grass and yet do nothing, costing money to maintain they actually give no return. For producers like myself located several thousand kilometres from any current processor, the costs of transport could easily be more than the realised sale value of the animal. Add to that market and quotation variances, we may transport cattle without a known set price or even gauranteed recovery of costs of sale and transport once the animal is landed at the destination.

 

distance to abs.This is a very rough indication of the distances our cattle would have to travel by road to specific abattoirs located in the other states. It doesn’t take into account extra time or expense for spelling, unloading, weight loss, costs or losses.

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Ability to cull non-productive females from our herd and removal of unwanted others could be of significant benefit in improving the reproductive efficiency and return on asset of our herds simply by their removal and some realisation of value. Their removal would allow fodder for reproductive and earning capacity animals.

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The real test of the AACo abattoir will be, can and will they match the processor prices in eastern states to attract the suppliers to make it profitabile to process the animals closer to where they are bred and raised. Due to freight cost savings I suspect some processors are very concerned at AACo’s ability to do exactly that. Keep in mind a smaller but still significant facility is being constructed in WA near Broome with similar views of processing non-export orientated cattle. This would affect current processors animal supply chains which they have previously comfortably sourced from literally across Australia. I also suspect that when AACo begins to purchase volumes of cull animals located in the WA and NT areas this may help to bump up the prices offered to producers in other states for their cull animals as demand for them increases. Well I hope so!

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In the future if AACo choose to develop the plant further to a production line processing heavier prime cattle they will need to invest a further $30M+ for cold boning processes. Domestic and live export heavy markets will be what they will be in direct competition against and required to beat to ensure animal supply. Producers can’t be expected to give their cattle away simply because a processor is located in Australia but with the vast improvement in herd quality and improved control now, compared to many years ago I think many producers will be supportive of the plant.

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Lack of supply in northern abattoirs declined in past years as the processors wouldn’t pay the prices of which live export consitently did. The processing facility operations were not competitive due to high costs of operation and transport of product of meat. Many believe and mislead others that live export closed abattoirs across north Australia because it created competition for the product of animals. What many people don’t realise is that some processors were only paying producers $50-$100 for a beast prior to Live export cattle development, that was not sustainable for producers. There are many reasons abattoirs closed across Australia to the present day, massive rationalisation in the early 80’s (costing 10,500 jobs by 1981)1, sheep wool crash, beef crash, meat substitution scandals, illegal, corrupt and poor management, drought, inability to meet hygiene standards, lack of markets, costs of production. To name only a few these  were significant factors that sometimes singularly sometimes combined caused abattoir closures throughout Australia. ( I will get to that blog one day!) Bloody hell I nearly forgot the unions, in my opinion they caused more closures than any other individual factor!

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As time marched on to the current period of 2014, government funding for the Darwin abattoir was becoming increasingly unlikely, to eventually only be for $2.5M for alignment of road entry at the site and improvement of the crossing access of the railway line that was required for access from the Stuart Highway. At one stage $9M had been promised but it never eventuated.

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Very raw figures of a plant with a capacity to kill 185,000 head requires over 1,200 full 6 deck road trains just to deliver the animals. Not taking into account transport of other input goods and services and then transport out of full containers with animal product. Include also the general traffic of 350 workers and their vehicles most days of the week.
Some port improvements for container handling and transfer of containers between ships, trucks and the wharf have occurred with replacement of a crane and other infrastructure.

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AACo had allocated funding for the finalisation of the abattoir beyond the initial stages of construction but then undertook a further capital raising venture, deciding in late 2013 to sell some of its own assets as well as to raise fresh equity through capital share offers. This had a two fold effect it assisted AACo to reduce overall company debt and to secure funding for the purchase of two other properties in the NT,  Labelle Downs and Welltree station. These properties are located approximately 180km from the abattoir and will allow holding and transfer of cattle through wetter periods of the year when direct access from other producers or properties would not be able due to the rainy season, thus enabling better continuity of all year supply of animals.

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Supply and consistency of supply of animals in north Australia was the thorn in the side of all previous abattoirs in existence in the north, the dry season would allow supply of cattle for 5-6 months of the year and then depending on the wet possibly no cattle for long periods due to mustering issues, road access and the general infrastructure of the times.

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Present construction of the Livingstone abattoir is being undertaken by an Australian based company Sunbuild, utilising equipment and expertise from New Zealand and Denmark. The refrigeration and food processing equipment alone is worth $21.5M.

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Employment requirements are now forecast to be about 350 people, with the current expectations to begin operations in September 2014 on a five day processing week, for 12 months of the year.

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AACo have a number of employment alternatives they’re preparing to try

  • Locals, including aboriginal. With the location of the site being about an hour out of Darwin AACo have received significant inquiry from potential employees who wish to avoid the traveling to work in the city area and work closer to their home bases.
  • Shared work to encourage employment of people with school children
  • Sentence to job programs for low security prisoners and
  • 457 visas employing overseas people

AACo are currently calling for employment applications now for pre training and preparation for when the site is operational.

AACo Employment information.

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Initially AACo will process only their own animals to make sure operations and protocols are fully working, it is hoped they will begin to process other people’s cattle towards the end of 2014.

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Animals sourced by AACo will be mostly un-suitable for the live export markets. Live export has specific parameters of breed types, horn, pregnancy and injury protocol that mean many animals perfectly healthy to travel and slaughter aren’t allowed to be exported. For instance in our circumstance we have a massive wild dog problem in which up to 6-8% of our weaners show light to major damage of their hides, ears and muscle through dog attacks. Some of these injuries may be well healed but leave large unsightly indentations and are generally culled from live export lines.

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Another problem here is missing tails, commonly called ‘tail rot’ the cause isn’t fully known but is thought to be one of bacterial, fungal or a parasite that enters the tail mainly due to an injury, especially after a dog attack. It generally stops in the tail and often heals but leaves the animal with a stumpy tail about 10cm long. Live export will deduct the value of an animal by atleast 10c per kg of the whole beast if the tail is missing. These animals may be perfectly fine otherwise and would be suitable candidates for the abattoir.
Bulls, as silly as it sounds often stand on their own pisals, or others do when they are sitting and will permanently damage it, making them worthless for reproduction, they must be culled immediately. Cull cows that may not be right breed type, or requirements of the boats may be suitable to sell to AACo.

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It may develope that supplying cattle to AACo may be less troublesome to producers, especially small ones like my family than supplying the boats, due to bookings and ship space and lots of issues of stock handling. It must be economically viable to AACo and those they buy from, Only time will tell how it all pans out.

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Animals delivered for slaughter are generally expected to be processed within 24 hours of arrival, All animals will be pre-slaughter electrically stunned with the time period from stunning to the meat and products entering freezers to be 45 minutes. Once in the freezers the cartons will be reduced to a minus 15 degrees over a 24 hour period. Red and Green offal and other body parts including the hide will be processed in various areas depending on market requirements. By products such as blood will also be collected for rendering.

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There is absolutely no doubt AACo have had their skeptics right from the start of building this abattoir, many thinking they wouldn’t even get this far. I sincerely hope they do succeed in this venture and have it develop into a profitable long term operation. I definitely hope that I’m able to sell them cattle, but the real proof will be, can they pay a competitive price to producers to enable the continuity of supply. They will face tough competition from other processors already established in other states and the live export markets.

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I hope the beef processing facility at Livingstone is a great success and I wish AACo the best of luck, for not only having the guts to take this on but the vision to plan it and fortitude to stay with it.

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As a final note I have written this article with the intention that it explains facts and real happenings in respect to the beef cattle industry in north Australia from only my perspective. I receive no payment or commission or are otherwise employed by AACo or any other party, I have never been employed by AACo. The only vested interest I have in this abattoir is I hope to sell cattle to it, those being animals not suited to live export and mainly cull cows and bulls. Realistically the small number of animals I could sell to it will have minimal impact on their operations but could be of substantial benefit to my own.

Further information on the timeline of events of the AACO beef processing facility are here – Livingstone abattoir (NT)

Source

  1. John Kerin, Parlimentary website Hansard 20.08.1981.
Categories: Advocacy, Animal Welfare, Australian abattoirs, Beef Industry, Live Exports, Livingstone (Darwin) abattoir, Northern Territory., Property operations, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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