Property operations

“We’ll take you fishing, promise!”

When family and friends come to visit usually at some stage they in tend to go fishing,  we have a number of natural water holes so we can generally catch something. (I’ve no idea what breeds, they are fish that’s about all I know).

Mind you there are also crocodiles and other bitey things in the waterholes so fishing is not my favourite thing. I prefer to stand back and admire the scenery.

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Like most people who are on farms or pastoral stations the last thing we really have time for in the dry season particularly when mustering, is fishing. So unsuspecting family and friends tend to get roped into free labour of mustering and general property work before the fishing trip occurs, if it occurs at all.

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Anyway visitors usually bring their paraphernalia of fishing gear and ‘stuff’ because of course we promise them if they come to visit then we’ll take them fishing.

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This time we did take them fishing, of a very different type! The worst type of all, fishing gear out of a bore hole.

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We’re heavily reliant on bore water for our stock and ourselves, so for water we pump from drilled bore holes. While we do live in the semi tropics and have waterholes and plentiful natural water in the wet, bores are absolutely imperative in the dry season. They allow a clean available water source for cattle and are vitally necessary for their optimum long term health and survival. We also use the water troughs and tanks in the dry to enable mineral supplementation. That is a liquid we place in drums with dispensers and the animals obtain the supplement through simply drinking from their troughs.

This is a blog I wrote a while back for Central Station in regards to Drilling for water.

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We went to check a bore one day in late September and it wasn’t pumping. It wasn’t a critical period because the new steel tank we had there to hold water was full and we knew this allowed us at-least 1-2 days grace of fixing the bore and getting it pumping before the cattle would drain the storage and be thirsty. All the same it was important we repair the bore as soon as possible. So we went home and collected the gear we needed to ‘pull’ the bore which is a number of cables, clamps and winches. We set the gear up and got to work.

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We’d had a very good run out of this bore’s gear and knew it was a number of years old, To have not corroded or broken down before this point in time was unusual as water electrolysis corrosion and general wear and tear tends to mean most bore equipment needs some form of maintenance or replacement every few years.

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To understand how bore gear works it is important to envisage what is happening below the ground in regards to bore water. A bore is literally a very deep narrow hole of only 150mm diameter drilled into water bearing rock layers. There the ground water can be sourced from aquifers. For some areas this may mean you have to dig hundreds of metres, in others it may be very shallow. Here we tend to need to drill between 60-130m to hit good supply of water, and then the water is sub artesian. It actually rises closer to ground level above the point it enters the bore hole through slots in the casing. You place a pump down the hole and access the water.
For this particular bore we knew we had a bore that was a total depth of 61m, (that is  reasonably shallow  in the NT). It had pumping gear down to a depth of 42m and we knew the standing water level (SWL) was about 16m.

#2 bore 003_edited-1
A diagram showing the bore hole attributes below the soil surface.

The pumping gear that had failed was the mono gear down the hole. It is a system of 2” column that screws together and is hung down the hole. Inside the casing is rod that runs the length of the column and is joined at the very base to a screw pump that actually draws and lifts the water.

This screw that lifts the water works on the Archimedes screw principle

#2 bore 001_edited-1

Principals of the mono rod and column system used to lift water from a bore.

A motor is at the top of the bore and through a belt system and pulleys spin the internal rods of the mono very fast. The outside column stays stationary. The spin is transferred to the bottom of the rods to the screw pump which is inside a very tight rubber sleeve. As this spins, it sucks in water and forces it up the inside of the column and the flow moves to the ground surface to be used. The mono column and rods are in sections of 3m (10’) and each section has a joiner. On the column these are called collars on the rod they are thimbles.

When ‘pulling’ a bore we use pulley’s, clamps and very specific actions and processes to grab the column and lift it in sections to then hold under the collars and thimbles as we undo and remove lengths. Holding and removing a section at a time we unscrew and repeat the process until we have all the mono gear out of the hole. As you can only pull out 3m (10’) at a time it is a process that must be done very carefully and with considerable care.

We had 42m of gear to lift so that’s about 14 lifts and removals to do. I have no idea what column weighs but guessing 14 lengths of 3m column and rods would be about 1 tonne. Again not a great deal of gear or weight considering some bores can be extremely deep. It can be dangerous but everyone is particularly careful with bore work so things are checked and double checked. My husband and I have a system and we’re very particular about who does what, so it is a very measured process. The concern is to not have any items loose, everything is done slow and steady because if you drop the gear it will go sailing to the bottom of the hole and then you have all sorts of problems.

Prior to beginning to lift the mono we’d diagnosed what we thought was the problem, a broken rod. Not a big deal as we could clamp, hold and lift the column which would lift the rods and allow us to replace them. At the base of the column is a foot valve that should stop any rods slipping through the base of the pump but as a precaution we also have a rod clamp at the top that held the rods in-case that foot value has corroded away. Just because you have hold of the column doesn’t always mean you have hold of the internal rods if that base foot valve or pump has disconnected for some reason. We knew the rods were broken so we knew we didn’t have a clear connection of the rods all the way to the foot valve. We hoped the breaking of the internal rod had not caused so much damage to the external column that it had caused the pipe to completely break away as tends to happen if the internal rod has flogged around inside an already weakened pipe and cause a whipping action, further increasing damage to spilts or holes in the steel pipe walls.

We lifted a couple of lengths, no problem, It felt suitably heavy and we hoped if there was damage to the column they were only pitted holes and not an entire disconnect. Then quiet literally shit happened! Where the column had worn it had caused a tear rusthole to occur in the casing partially around it, when we had moved the column, we had aggrevated it further and the column itself had completely gave way because the thing actually holding it was the rod and its tight fit inside the lower sections of the column and further into the screw pump, with the weight and nothing to hold it up it fell to the bottom of the hole. All we had was what we had clamped at the top of the hole.

Sometimes things occur that when they happen, you can just see the dollar signs, My husband and I knew exactly what had happened when we felt and seen the cable jump, We went from having maybe 700kg of weight to now lucky to have 200kg We’d still had hold of at-least one length of column and rods but we knew we had just heard a gut wrenching sound of a lot of rod and column go sailing to the bottom of the hole. To say we felt sick instantaneously was an understatement. Getting dropped gear out of a hole is no easy feat and usually means the hole is stuffed. Not only would we have to drill a new hole at who knows what expense, it would have been near impossible to get a driller in any short time frame. We had 500 head of cattle needing critical water in less than 2 days and while we could move them to other bores, it wasn’t a good time to be over stocking other waters at the end of the dry. Plus we were still mustering, plus it was drying off, plus to drill a new bore meant we couldn’t do the other improvements we had planned, plus drillers are notoriously difficult to get, often booked out 12 months ahead, plus, plus, plus. All of this and more goes through your head in about 2 seconds, then replays into all the worst scenerios,none good and none cheap! My hubbie just looked up at me and I looked at him and said, shit bugger bum! (Actually I can’t write what we really said or thought, there just aren’t bad enough words).

Our son and family were off-siding for us and actually had no idea what had just happened. They just knew by our expression that something had just gone very, very wrong. We’d been grilling them all morning about being careful near the bore hole not to let spanners and tools sit too close. Our explanation to them now was “we have to go fishing”, it wasn’t exactly conveyed enthusiastically.

As it turned out we actually had hold of still a fair few lengths of column so in some ways that was relief, it meant less weight to lift if we managed to get what was lost. What was now at the bottom of the hole was about 20m of column that is 50mm (2”)in diameter and 30m rod that was 16mm (5/8”). What we needed to do was put a tool down to catch and pull it out. It sounds simple but it’s not.
We had to get this stuff out, but the top of the rods were now 21m from the surface and at-least 6m below water, luckily for us this is not a very long way in ‘bore language’, actually it’s pretty shallow, but it was still very awkward and did mean that any gear lost in the hole would make it very difficult to place another pump due to lack of space. The gear had to come out.
If you were absolutely desperate you can leave dropped gear in holes, if the depth and water levels are Ok, but it’s not a good idea and restricts the use of the bore hole significantly as it usually makes it difficult to pump from. Sometimes gear can fall down a hole but not always to the bottom, if its lodged partway it can stuff the whole thing.

Rob drew on some old experience, we had ‘fished before’. It is a small cars spring welded to the inside of a heavy piece of column, in the hope that what we can do is send the tool down the hole and fluke it sliding over the rod, far enough that the spring would catch under a thimble. It would hold it strong enough to lift everything back up and remove all the gear.

#2 bore 002_edited-1

In theory the fishing tool will slide over the rod and column to allow the spring to jamb up under neath the thimble.

So back home we go to make the fishing tool. Back out to the bore we go to start fishing. It’s a simple idea but involves reconfiguration of the entire cable system and a lot of hands on touch and feel of the cable gently lifting the weight and trying to catch the rod. Remember we can’t see bugger all down the hole, it’s all by touch and the mind’s eye.
With the rod sticking so far out of the column it may have actually been leaning up against the wall of the bore. We needed to be careful not to the jam the ‘fishing tool’ down and actually push the rod into the wall of the PVC casing, that would have made it impossible to get it out.

So it’s not just a case of sending a heavy piece of metal down at a rate of knots and hoping it will grab, if we bent the top of the rods even if we did grab them it may mean we then have the rods jam into the bore casing and then we’d have the rods, column and fishing tool jammed down the hole with the cable. If we caught the bore hole wall casing there is the chance you can move it and then damage it thus again wrecking the bore as the casing is what holds the walls of the bore in place and breaking it can cause soil and rock to eventually cave the bore damaging the integrity of the whole thing.

We spent a full day trying to catch that gear with no luck, we decided that the cable we had wasn’t flexible enough so we sent an SOS to our neighbours to beg, borrow and plead if they may have any suitable cable. Luckily they did and so we drove over to borrow it, discussed all sorts of methods of bore recovery war stories, came home, set up and tried again.

By this time we did have thirsty cattle, thirsty cattle get destructive. It’s not a good thing. A thirsty animal will persist at any little point of moisture through licking or simply brute strength to get to what they think will be a water supply.
We tried again for another half day and just couldn’t get a grab to hold, we thought we had it but it slipped and went to the bottom again. By this time we were getting very worried. We had an audience of cattle who were simply watching and waiting and wondering what the heck was taking us so long.

We needed to move these cattle so we did, not an easy task as the other bores were not their normal bores and cattle being creatures of habit will return to the ‘home bore’ almost immediately.

The fishing tool was modified and refined and again we went fishing, we got it again, or I should say Rob caught it again and it was with very careful and extreme trepidation we lifted it out. It was such a relief to see rods emerge from that bore hole, even better when we had clamps locked on. Quick smart we pulled that mono gear out and we replaced the heavy stuff with new solar pump. Nice light poly pipe with a steel safety cable. If needed Rob, our son and I often pull these up and down by hand.

Most of the cattle we had walked away from the bore came back immediately when there was water available. We spent nearly 4 days fishing for that gear, through ingenuity and plain stubbornness my husband got it out. We were thanking our lucky stars that day. There are some horrid stories of gear dropped down bores and expensive redrills, we hoped we weren’t to add to them.

That fishing trip, we really did take the family fishing later, to be honest we needed an R&R day following the stress of that bore.

22.12.12 063

Fishes. They tasted good.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, bores, Cattle station, Cattle station operations, Property operations, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

“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

Best laid plans of mice and men can go astray!

This phrase basically means no matter who or what you are the best laid plans can and will go astray. Operating a business in Agriculture is a bit like that, there are some circumstances when no matter how well you plan financially for example there will always be a curve ball in there somewhere, drought, live export bans, market crashes to name only a few,sometimes things work in your favour, sometimes not.

I don’t have the answers for Australia’s current rural debt problems, I’m not comfortable with debt and it worries my husband and I from day to day the debt we owe to ensure it is serviced and able to be repaid in the longterm. There is always the balancing act of how to improve and increase productivity with out bogging yourself in what I call caustic debt. That being the rock solid debt that you can never get off your books and you can’t trade out of.

Caustic, crippling debt is of very real concern in the community at present. It is the focus of a senate inquiry to consider ways to implement policy that can assist agricultural businesses to combat the root causes of it, costs of production, profitability and long term sustainability.

I encourage people to write a submission to this enquiry to voice your opinion on the establishment of  the Reserve bank Amendment (Australian reconstruction and development board)Bill 2013. Presented by Senator Nick Xenophon and Senator John Madigan in December 2013.

Part of the explanatory background states that the “aim of this bill is to create a specific entity tasked with examining, reconstructing and improving the financial status of the Australian agricultural sector and its associated industries and infrastructure”

If you would like to voice support or opposition to this bill, or have ideas on how agriculture policies can be improved in regards to circumstances that affect it then use this link to submit your ideas. Senate Inquiry – Reserve bank amendment Bill 2013 inquiry

You don’t have much time submissions are due by 10th February 2014. They don’t need to be great long essays, just your view.

As I have been looking at this bill for some time and I tend to look at ABARES statistics for information of a long term nature I have put these charts together from the excel downloads that are available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Agricultural Commodity statistics 2013.

Now I’m not a statistician and I don’t claim to understand what index factors mean or how some of these figures are achieved by mathmatical geniuses in Canberra but I don’t think there can be any denial that Australian agriculture debt is an increasing problem and costs of production and lack of return on goods we produce is its leading cause.

1. What are we producing and whats is it really worth?

I’m  happy to be corrected on anything I have given as my view of these charts. Particularly this first one. This chart says to me 40 years ago we were producing a heck of alot less but it was worth nearly 4 times its value at todays index, yet now in 2012 we are producing 5 times as much but realistically worth half of what it was 40 years ago. Clear as mud!!!!! Gee I hope I have that wrong!

net value production #1_edited-1Chart 1. Net Value Production index of that value as per ABARES ACS 2013. Table 13.

Notes accompanying this chart by ABARES

  • The Net value is obtained by the subtracting the farm costs for the year from the Gross value of farm production for that same year.
  • The Index of the net Value of farm production is obtained by deflating the net value of farm production by the consumer price index.

2.Costs of production.

Did you ever think Diesel wouldn’t go over the $2 a litre. I remember my parents having a great debate when a kid because my old man wanted a diesel ute, diesel was 30c/lt, petrol was 60c, I remember him saying diesel will never cost as much as petrol. He bought the ute  because it was going to save heaps in running costs, so mum was pleased. I just thought the ute was cool because it was bright orange.

Diesel._edited-1Chart 2. Off Road Diesel Prices as per ABARES ACS Table 90 – Australian Farm Fuel prices.

3. Extreme Interest.

Remember when interest rates hit 20%, I can’t help but think some of the debt now is because we think interest rates are cheap, and therefore easy money, This is Australia’s track record in regards to the rural lenders interest rates.

Indicative interest rates. _edited-1Chart 3. Indicative interest rates for the Australian Farm sector ABARES ACS 2013. Table 75

4. Whats the damage?

Now this is one scary graph!

Rural Indebtness_edited-1Chart 4. Rural Indebtedness to financial institutions ABARES ACS 2013. Table 76.

Notes accompanying this chart by ABARES

  • All banks – derived from all banks lending to agriculture, fishing and forestry
  • Government agencies includes state banks and advances made under war service land settlement. Before 1996, Includes loans from the QLD Industry development corporation. From 1996 these loans included in bank lending.

Consider on a shorter time frame since 2000, the exact same information from above in chart 4. I hope it seems to have plateaued.

rural indebtness 13yrs_edited-1

Chart 5. Rural Indebtedness to financial institutions ABARES ACS 2013. Table 76.

In 2000 / 2001 Australian agriculture had a collective large institutional debt of $28,514 Million, by 2012/13 this had increased by 125% ($35,789 Million) to be $64, 303 Million.

If we go back to the first chart – Net farm production our net value of farm production in 2000/2001 was $8,121 Million, at last count in 2012/2013 this had only increased by 32% to $10,774 Million.

So does this mean for every dollar of debt we only earned only 30c in adding to our production? Again, I’m happy to be corrected on these comments. But to earn only 30c for every $1 spent sounds very much what my current business plan of spending to income is and it’s not a good scenerio!

5. Does anyone save for anything anymore?

I wish there was more incentive for people to put a deposit down, lay by, have some cash reserves, unfortunately there only seems to be tax incentives to spend money, to borrow to lease. Here is where I think a shift in peoples thinking needs to occur. We need methods of finanicial structure where we can help ourselves, to put away for the bad periods, to keep that wheel turning. Of course saving money depends entirely on people haveing reserves to put away and that comes back to what are we being paid for in the products we produce?

This chart is for ATO – Farm management deposits that only individuals are eligible for, I think something the new reserve board should consider is to allow FMD’s applicable to companies and entities that could benefit by also putting money away. The problem being, the government don’t really like savers, as that affects retail etc by keeping money out of circulation. Personally I think people saving and being rewarded for reduction in debt would have much better long term effects than encourging spending.

FMD_edited-1Chart 6 – Farm management deposits. ABARES ACS 2013. Table 76.

Farm management deposits at 2012/2013 were valued at $3,721 Million, about 6% of what the total value of debt was at $64,303 Million.

6. Now, why on earth do I look at this stuff?

One of my biggest gripes is the producer doesn’t get paid for what they produce, we’ve all heard the term price takers, not makers. We sell cattle and get less than $1 liveweight per kg and then walk down a retail isle and see absolutely nothing under $10 a kg and certainly not a decent steak but it’d be sausages or some rubbish. Dare I look at steak it’d be up around $20/kg.

We see wage earners demanding wage increases equal to CPI and getting it, well its kicking them now because Australian employers can’t afford to pay them.

The live exports boats are paying up around the $2 live at the moment, we’re all going “that’s great, gee wish i had a 1000 head to put in”. The thing is this is the price we should be getting all the time, we should be viewing this as the norm. I don’t sell much to abattoirs but when I hear of people getting less than $1/kg I just have to wonder, someone is taking advantage of those people and that shits me.

A report released in 2009, the Northern Beef situation analysis had conducted a study of North Australian properties across WA, NT and QLD and came to the conclusion that

“The major issues facing the industry include inadequate scale in the more closely settled areas, significant cost escalations in both overheads and direct costs, doubling of debt per livestock unit (LSU) over the last decade while return on assets (ROA) has declined to very low levels of 0.3% up to 2% on average” (Page 2)

I dispute that every one needs massive scale to be profitable, with scale comes staff the biggest profit killers of all. But I agree completely with the escalations of costs and poor returns.

So first I thought the processors were making the money. I’m not sure how these companies sell to other companies which sell to their overseas owned companies and I suspect many are making a lot more than they let on but these are some figures I found to their earnings.

meat processing margins jpg_edited-1Chart 7. Industry costs of the meat processing sector. Source IBIS world. Meat processing in Australia. January 2014.
The column on the right indicates that the meat processors are making an average profit margin of 3.8%.

Teys Australia-A Cargill who process 12.7% (JBS process 16.8%, Nippon 4%, Midfield 3.2%, Fletcher 2.7%)of Australias read meat production claim their processing plant at Beenleigh abattoir (QLD)  site in 2013 operated on a 1% ROA over the last 4 years.
The red meat processing is made up of 65.8% beef, 23.4% lamb and Mutton and 7.9% pork, others are mainly goat.
68.1% is exported, the rest is to wholesalers (8.4%), retailers (7.2%), food service industries (11.4%) and food manufacturers (4.9%).

So I wondered how much the retailers were making as I happened to come across this graph.

retail margins in Australia_edited-1Chart 8. Food retail Margins – ABARES – Australian food statistics 2011/12. Pg 12

Woolworths alone sell 30% of the red meat in Australia (2012/13) (IBIS Oct 2013). Woolworths have the largest retail margin in the world (2010/11)  in Australia at 7.4%, yet rank 17th in world sales turnover and number of stores held world wide.

I made this chart up from ABARES to look at the difference in what the producer gets for a live animal to what retail of meat is sold for.

retail beef, 1990-2013jpg_edited-1Chart 9. Comparing producer saleyard earnings to retail of meat prices. Source ABARES ACS. 2013 Table 131 & 132.

Notes accomanying ABARES table

  • Weighted saleyard price is a weighted average saleyard price for yearlings, ox and cows.
  • Saleyard prices are for quality stock of monthly average of fat stock prices in each major state market.

From the year 2000, retail increased its prices by  51.1% to 2010, Saleyard weighted average increased by 28.6% over the same period. Considering both made gains I still think the retail margin is too high. Please keep in mind these saleyard prices are not what producers were getting for low condition cows or stock during the current sales.

To display this information in a different format I did the following chart

Beef % retail_edited-1Chart 10. Comparing saleyard earnings to live animal differences in prices. Source ABARES ACS 2013,2012,2011,2010 & 2009.

While I thought 460% increase on mark up of saleyard price was steep, I considered costs of processing, at about $300 per head currently forecast and cost of refrigeration, transport and storage would be hugely expensive. So I’m not in a position to say if retail prices are way above where they should be, though I think they seem high. Remember they only sell 7.2% of production.

What did surprise me was the following graph where I tried to compare the same saleyard and retail price graphs of beef to lamb and pork. What concerns me is beef is consistently 40% higher in difference to lamb and pork.

comparing retail %_edited-1Chart 11. Comparing differences of saleyard to retail prices. Source ABARES ACS 2013 Table 131 & 132.

Back to my original introduction of the reserve board I hope it is discrepancies in the retail of meat products like the differences in beef prices to others that I hope they take into consideration when looking at profitability of the meat industry.

If it was possible to get retailers to drop their mark ups on beef products and enable more sales I would hope the extra sales would make up for the loss of their profit margin and more money would filter to the producer. I suspect our problem still lies squarely at the feet of the processors as to what they are paying for the produce when the majority and I suspect prime is exported. Without profitability across the whole meat supply chain as a fairer distribution of that profit then eventually it will be a house of domino’s and the lot comes down.

Making production properties bigger is not necessarily always better because the only ones able to afford to operate soon will be overseas operatives, if something isn’t done about Australian agricultures finanicial stability and longevity now then many producers are going to go to the wall. I don’t want to see that happen.

Categories: Australian abattoirs, Beef Industry, Legislation, Live Exports, Politicians, Property operations, Sheep industry, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Funeral Pyres of the Dry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04.11.13 138_edited-1

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

001_edited-1

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

04.11.13 064_edited-1

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

04.11.13 065_edited-1

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

04.11.13 067_edited-1

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

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

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

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

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

Hope, Pray & Drill.

We made the decision to expand the area of which our cattle can forage for feed, to do this they need water, while in abundant with rain during the wet season, it isn’t during the dry.

With the cattle selling markets as they were earlier in the year (2013) we made the decision to keep our cattle on property rather than sell at ‘give away prices’, We also decided that economically in the future we needed to sell heavier steers aiming to above 320kg rather than lighter which we had done in recent years to maintain cash flow. The effect of holding cattle is that the herd numbers increase as we’ve held onto steers, yet they are located on the same available waters as was used as the breeder herd. The solution is to create more watering points to carry the cattle to ensure sustainability of the land grazing and herd health is maintained. We do this by water point development.

To ensure the supply of fresh clean water to our animals we drill bores to obtain the water we need. A bore is a 150mm hole drilled into the ground that taps into deep water storage aquifers and water bearing sandstones. We use equipment to draw the water to the surface to supply to the animals through pipes, tanks and troughs.

The establishment of new watering points is needed for a number of reasons;

  1. Supply of clean and adequate water through the dry season is paramount to the health of animals and good animal welfare.
  2. Watering points allow a greater range of area over which a herd can graze, this spreads grazing pressure and ensures the capability of the grasses to regenerate.
  3. New watering points will allow us to spread our herd from existing points and thus reduce some numbers at these areas and utilise land that is currently not being used.
  4. Cattle will tend to forage in a 5km radius around a watering point, some cattle can and do walk out further than this, but most will stay within the 5km range. Due to the need to drink each day the areas outside of the 5km range tends to be underutilised and the areas within over utilised. Over utilisation can lead to over grazing and degradation of the land. Creating new watering point’s spreads these grazing pressures out which not only minimises animal impact but improves the health of the herd as there is less competition for the available feed.

It is quiet nerve racking drilling for new waters as there is no guarantee that you will actually get the volume and quality you want, in fact there is no guarantee you will get any water at all. Due to the rock fractures and land systems all estimates of drilling depth are only educated guesses. Irrespective if you hit water or not the driller still has to be paid. Depending on the driller this could cost anywhere from $150 to $200 per metre of bore drilled and developed.

Location of a watering point is based on experience in knowing the area and requirements of what is actually needed for your purposes. This is Robbie’s speciality. He will study maps, consider other bores in the area and speak with other locals. He also will divine using wires. We’ve never had a dud bore yet, as in a dry one but drilling depth is always a best guess!

The bore in this article was established as the cattle in the area were reliant on natural waters and springs, some from which we can pump and store for cattle use. We try not to allow direct access by the cattle to these springs as many are very rugged to access and cattle walking in them destroy the ecosystem and water quality. Being springs though, pigs  wallow in them and the water late in the dry becomes murky and unhealthy. The last wet we had was an unusually dry one and we noticing some springs going dry that have not been dry in the 5 years we have been here.

17.10.13 023_edited-1Figure 1 – A spring that has receeded more than normal due to the poor wet seasons of 2010/11 & 2011/2012.

This is not clean water and becomes stagnant and murky late in the dry season.

The bores on this property tend not to fluctuate in supply and therefore as long as we only pump what their supply is tested at will be unlikely to recede in supply over the long term.

The replenishment of springs and shallow aquifers in this area is from natural rainfall and can vary as the rainfall does. Deeper aquifers from which most of our bores source water are more abundant and dependable. Their source of water is over a much larger recharge area from other formations and soil structures that allow movement of water through them over huge distances.

So Robbie has decided he wants a new bore, and as minister of all things war and finance I gave the go ahead.

The first step is to make sure access is available for the drilling rig to get in. This road will then become the main road to the bore site.

27.08.13 012 - Copy_edited-1Figure 2 – Establishing access to the intended bore site.

Next is the drilling rig.

27.08.13 061_edited-1Figure 3 – The Drilling rig

This rig is smaller than most as it uses only 3m drill rods. The rotary drill head uses a large drill bit to cut in to the ground and the drill rods follow. These rods are hollow but very, very strong. The driller will use air to push any soil, pulverised rock and sediment from the hole by blowing air into the base of the drill down through the centre of the drill rods, then push the sediment up the outside of the rods and out the top of the hole. The driller’s use a mixture of water and a special soap with the air to keep things moving and keep the dust down, it also assists to lift the lighter debris out. The large grey mass of sediment is actually drilled basalt rock from the hole.

27.08.13 034_edited-1Figure 4 – Drilling. The air is lifting all the drilling tailings out of the hole as the rods move deeper. The bucket is collecting samples of tailings to be used to analysis rock stratas and record the bore details.

27.08.13 071_edited-1Figure 5 – Drill samples, the top is at the far lower left and progresses in 3m stages to the top of the picture. The lower middle sample is at 33m with the final at about 70m. The darker samples are basalt, the lighter are sandstone with the water bearing layer at about 65m, the very pink one at the lower right.

27.08.13 162_edited-1Figure 6 – Another bore being tested at 8 litres a second, a great supply.

Bore naming is quiet frustrating, in some ways is like naming a child; you have to live with the name of a bore for a long time. This bore eventually was called Cockatoo simply from the red tailed black cockies that live in the area. It started as Big Dog, Burnt balls, and then Red nuts because the drillers had a dog with them who got very sunburnt and you guessed it his nuts got sunburnt. Our daughter thought these names were rude so we thought we’d better call it something a little nicer. So Cockatoo stuck.

27.08.13 070_edited-1Figure 7 – Beautiful Big Dog.

We were pretty nervous drilling this bore as it was in an area where we didn’t have others in close proximity and also an area of heavy basalt. Generally where basalt is here you have to drill deep, ideally we were looking for 1.5 litres a second at hopefully only 60m full drill. For many cattle producers that wouldn’t be adequate supply, but we only intend to run 200-300 head on this water, for that 1-1.5lt/s is adequate.

We drilled to 60m, got nothing, so by this time we are thinking we have just spent $10,000 on a toilet long drop or we keep drilling and hope we hit an aquifer. We decided as another bore in a similar topographical area had water at slightly deeper we kept the drillers going.

Fortunately at 65m we got 1 litre a second. Not quite as much as we would have liked but enough to have a small solar pump draw from and supply water to several hundred head. Due to the pressures of the underground water supply the standing water level of this bore rose to 15m.

With great relief we have a bore. To ensure the bore hole sides don’t cave in the driller’s insert large steel casing and clean the bore out, they test it again and finish it off with a cement base at ground level. These final stages are called bore development. Once the drillers are finished it’s our turn to step in.

09.10.13 109_edited-1Figure 8. The bore hole developed, Not much to show for $10,000.

First rule of equipping bores – Do nothing else until you make sure it will pump water and can get it to the surface. Robbie had made a solar system frame up in his workshop and some of the infrastructure such as troughing.

We bring all this to the bore site and set up the solar system with a pump and pipe that go down the bore hole.

09.10.13 113_edited-1Figure 9 – Bore equipped and checking to make sure it can hold the supply. This is a 500W solar system pumping at just under 1lt per second, or about 800gal an hour in old scale.

Infrastructure takes a few days to put up, it includes troughing, fencing, earth pad for the steel tank, the tank itself and holding paddocks with traps and gates. We bury some pipework, especially if the cattle are going to walk near them and we always put an outlet for a fire fighting unit to obtain water from the tank in case of bushfires.

09.10.13 122_edited-1Figure 10 – Constructing some fencing and the trough. Latter the trench will go in for the pipework so it is buried and keeps the water cool.

09.10.13 120_edited-1Figure 11 – Constructing the earth mound for the steel tank to ensure its above the height of the trough.

We like steel liner tanks as they are relatively easy to construct and hold a good capacity of water to their cost. They do take a few days to put up and can be a bit tedious due to the number of bolts etc. but in general we have found them to be good tanks. This is an Aquamate tank, 13000 gal or nearly 60,000 litre capacity

12.10.13 002_edited-1Figure 12 – Tank constructed, with a roof. This stops sunlight creating algae and protects the liner, it also keeps the birds out.

Ideally we’d have aprons around the troughs and some other infrastructure but as we are trying to do this bore as economical as possible those things will have to wait. For about $20,000 we now have a new bore with assured clean water and a new home for our cows.

The only thing left to do now is go get some cows and relocate to their new home.

17.10.13 018_edited-1Figure 13- The Girls at their new home. This trough will water two paddocks and offer relief to a spring and another bore.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, Environment, Life on a property, Live Exports, Northern Territory., Property operations | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Northern Wet season

In the north of Australia rainfall is reliant on the monsoonal effects to create the main rainfall periods which is from October through to March. Our property has an average rainfall per annum of 896 mm or in the old scale 35.8”.

rainfall monthly 18.10.13_edited-1Figure 1. Average monthly rainfall over approximately a 39 year period

The pastures we utilise for cattle production are all native grasses they have adapted to grow in the boom and bust of the rainfall occurrences. Relative to the pasture requirements, it is very important to not only receive the volume of rain but to receive it in steady amounts through the hot months of the year to continue that growth and good plant root and leaf establishment.

airstrip_edited-1Figure 2 – Wet Season – Our Airstrip in the wet season. Dominent species of grass here is a Native Couch.

If rains are received there is a massive growth period of grasses, herbages and trees, if rains stop during very hot periods such as February then a lot of the pasture feeds tends to be dried off and not have the volume and mass level it would have achieved if rains had continued. Their mass of production is deminished as is their seed production capabilities.

In the north when a wet is referred to as a light wet or there have been long periods in between rains then it is often referred to as a poor wet season. The problem is not so much in the initial few months of the dry season, April to September as the feed body is still relatively high enough to allow animal grazing and keep good condition on the animals for weight. The worry for the grazier is the last stages of the dry, when feed loses it protein and nutrient level due to normal haying off. A poor wet means the body of feed is simply not available and drying off  starts a few months before it usually would. This makes for a very long dry period in which cattle need to find suitable grazing materials until the next rains come. If the wet season doesn’t arrive until December then the periods of September to the rains can be difficult for the cattle to maintain body condition and health.

17.10.13 005_edited-1Figure 3 – Dry Season- This is a photo (Oct 2013) of a black soil flat with mainly speargrass but also palatable plants of what I think are types of rat tail grasses. This area has cattle on it and while it looks like it has a large body of feed, much of it is either not palatable this time of year or has little nutritional value. Cattle will maintain their condition here for a number of months yet.

In our case the problem was realised several years ago that we were too reliant on natural waters, we had a number of springs and large waterholes that we pumped from to give a clean drink to cattle in the dry season. We weren’t happy with the springs though as the pigs wallowed in them. They still went stagnant to a degree latter in the dry and the water quality simply wasn’t good enough as through the dry their levels sometimes drop. We worried that with a light wet or a particularly long dry season, if the rains were unseasonably late in the year these springs would simply dry up as their surface replenishment had not occurred.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFigure 4. Wet season – A small creek that feeds the main river system which eventually flows into the Roper Gulf.

In the 5 years we have been here we have seen two springs that have dried up this dry season, they simply didn’t get the surface replenishment to maintain their flows.

Rainfal wet season 18.10.13_edited-1Figure 5 – Comparing the last 3 wet seasons to long term averages of monthly rainfall.

2010/2011 – was a great season, we had light showers in November which was a good start, with really good downfalls in December, these kept up through January ensuring a very heavy soakage of the country, with large volumes of water filling creek systems, at one stage our river peaked at 13.5m. While the rainfall dropped in February it still kept raining and then peaked again in March. This set up a great year for grass growth and high volumes of pasture feed for livestock.

stockyard_edited-1Figure 6.- Wet season – This is our stockyard. A vine grows on it which I don’t know the name of that literally covers our whole yard every year. To clean it up, we just let a few pet cows in and they soon eat it back when fresh and green.

2011/2012 – wet season was OK. It started well in December peaked in January and then dropped to nearly nothing in February. Early in the year is  very hot and with young grasses not yet hardened off by the time the March rains came in 2012 many were actually burnt off and had died. The March rain assisted in plant growth but not to the volume of the previous year. The dry season though of 2012 wasn’t too bad as there was enough water and ground moisture to allow good volumes of grass growth.

hayed off feed_edited-1Figure 7 – Dry Season – Feed that has hayed (dried) off about mid way through the dry season. some of this is speargrass and soft spinifix, not palatable when dry grazing grasses but are important to keep the soil together. Amongst it is some oat grasses and Kangaroo grass which is  good fodder.

2012/2013 wet season was pretty lousy wet season. It started very well, In December we received a week of 25mm every day, good steady soaking rain, it was looking to be a great wet season with the ground getting well soaked and grass grown without the massive volumes of water to cause erosion. Then it literally stopped, January and February were shockers for rain, most growth that occurred in December was burnt off by the heat. While we received a saving rain in March and this grew good feed while the weather was still warm. It didn’t have the substantial volume or growth that would mean a late dry season feed coverage was going to be available. Our river barely got above the 5m marker the whole wet which is very unusual and even nearly stopped running in February.

As a comparison of just how poor the 2012/13 wet was, it is the 4th lowest wet season tally received in my records of 39 years. The worst was 1991/1992

17.10.13 001_edited-1Figure 8 – Comparing rainfall of the wet season with the most recent 2012/2013 with the worst recorded on my records.

Over the last 39 years some huge rainfalls have been recorded

17.10.13 002_edited-1Figure 9 – Comparing the largest wet season ever recorded with the worst against the averages over the last 39 years.

17.10.13 012_edited-1Figure 10- Dry Season – October 2013. This area is on a basalt rock ridge, in the wet it grows very good palatable grasses, because they are preferred by the stock they will graze this area heavily thorugh the dry. This paddock has been destocked now but ideally you wouldn’t want to see the coverage loss any greater through grazing as it would deteriorate its ability to regenerate when there is a rain event.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, Property operations, Uncategorized, Wet Season | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dear Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister – Mr Kevin Rudd.

 I have cattle. I need live animal export markets and I need them now.

Congratulations on your re-appointment as Prime Minister. I hope you will continue to support the live animal export trade.

To cut a long story short my family business has quality cattle to sell and no-where to sell them. I am a producer in the Roper Gulf of the Northern Territory. Our main market is to Indonesia as live animals.

I implore you to give your immediate attention to the opening up of markets for animals in Live Export. We are unable to send any cattle on live export shipments at the current time due to strong competition in a curtailed market, government over-regulation and permit restrictions. We are also unable to send the same cattle to processors in other states due to the current low prices being paid due to oversupply in those markets.  Present prices barely cover the freight to get them to a sale destination let alone basic costs of production of our property.

I know of producers affected by drought who have been forced to sell animals due to lack of fodder. They have also been caught up in the current beef crisis due to the markets being flooded with cattle from the north and west. These are cattle that should have sold and on export boats in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The perfect storm is in full catastrophic action and is increasing in intensity. With the added pressure of high debt, I fear many producers will be forced from their properties if something isn’t done immediately to open up markets to allow them to earn income.

We do not have access to overdrafts and it is unlikely that we could borrow further. Currently we have animals to sell yet can’t create cash flow under present circumstances to sustain the debt we have. We quite simply have no-where to sell them. It would be financial suicide to even contemplate further debt load while the market restrictions are so intense and debilitating. With no income to repay debts now, increasing debt is not feasible.

I am not asking for cheap loans, handouts, welfare, or direct monetary assistance, I need markets in which to sell my animals. If you can give me that, I am able to work through most other problems but I must have those markets available to survive.

I implore you to negotiate, trade, barter, even beg to assist other countries with the uptake of ESCAS (Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System) to establish first class animal welfare supply lines, and provide federal funding support to the abattoir attempting to be established in Darwin. Both these options of markets would allow producers like my family to get our businesses back to some form of operational viability.

Please do not underestimate the current beef crisis that has enveloped the whole of the north of Australia, from the West coast of Australia right across to the east coast in Queensland and is also severely impacting every other state. Sheep producers are in a similar situation with the free fall in prices.

Mr Rudd we desperately need a strong leader at the moment to work with the Agricultural industry in general but in particular the livestock production sector needs to regain markets to re-establish their viability and consequently the economic security of many producers. Please help us turn this awful situation around.

Yours sincerely

Jo-Anne Bloomfield.

Categories: Advocacy, Animal Welfare, Cattle work, Live Exports, Politicians, Property operations | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Hanging in There.

We’re luckier than many, we have feed for now, we’ve had a light wet but the feed will hold for a few more months where we are in the Roper Gulf, NT. I dare say I’ll be singing a different tune in 6 months but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

We’ll be mustering next week or starting too, where we actually send cattle to sell, well that’s the million dollar question, quite honestly I don’t know.

No boats are planned to come in for a while, so we can’t send to live export the normal less than 350 kg Indonesian types. The heavies as we call them, aren’t really that heavy being generally about 450kg older steers, dry cows or cull bulls, sometimes rogue bulls we would send to Philippines, Vietnam maybe, Egypt in the past. As yet it’s not certain when bookings for these will occur, we won’t know that for likely another month or more.

So what’s our alternative if we can’t sell into our usual LE markets!

Abattoirs, well the Darwin one with AAco as far as I know has come to a grinding holt while AAco try to find more money to starts its build, the government has refused to come to the party with any funding of roads or infrastructure needs. To their credit I haven’t heard AAco say they aren’t going to build the abs but it’s certainly not in operation now. It is important to realize that the AAco abattoir always intended to process up to 90% of their own cattle so as an outlet for other producers it always will be a limited function.

So what about selling to other producers, it’s an option but means we actually have to sell at weights even less than the Indonesian weights, drastically so, as low as 220kg. At that weight we sell to others who may finish them on more consistent feed or better access during the wet most likely to the Indonesian markets. At that weight, we’re losing money.

Losing money what a funny term, like I put down $100,000 and just completely forgot where I put it, like I have suddenly been inflicted by dementia.

The most expensive part of an animal is the production of it. Getting its mother pregnant, to give birth to it, a healthy calf to then have it survive through dog attacks, nature and its own actions to weaner age, approximately 6 months of age. Intensive work takes place with the animal for a number of weeks to teach it aspects of feeding, yard work and people, then this is cut back to paddock handling to then be released back into general paddocks to grow some more until it is about 12 -18 months old when it is about the 200- 250kg weight range. At this point the male animal is likely to owe us $350-$400 just to cover costs of herd and property management. So to sell at say 225kg on property to make $400 means I need to find a buyer willing to pay $1.78/kg on property. I’m not holding too much faith in doing that at present!

We could possibly send some heavy animals to the abattoirs in QLD, 2500-3000km odd road trip costing $250 for each animal, feedlot costs if we decided to feed for a while could be a couple more hundred dollars, then to actually find kill space in an abattoir. I hear they are booked 3 months in advance at present. A heavy steer we’ve had on property is likely to owe us $400-$500 to recoup costs plus the freight and feed so now this animal needs to pay its way at nearly $1000 per head, that’s about $4 over hooks for a dressed beast at 250kg. It’s been a heck of a long time since that sort of money has been chucked around for 8 tooth cattle so I’m not confident in getting that either.

There is one last option, as stupid as it sounds we are seriously considering it. Sell nothing.

We’re lucky we have some unstocked country, we could move all sale cattle into there and hold for next year and pray like hell markets lift. We can’t not muster as leaving the weaners on the cows is as sure as holding a gun to their head, problem is mustering costs money. Chopper $350/hour plus fuel will cost close to $20,000 for seasons muster, $15,000 worth of vaccinations and treatments sitting in my shed. Labour, bikes, another $5,000 bill for hay waiting to be paid. Knowing we’ll need another $20,000 hay to muster and handle weaners. Throw in there supplement, repairs, fuel and food for us.

We’re only a small place, tiny actually, but at least I don’t have to tell people we can’t afford to keep them on and they will need to find other work, besides our son we don’t have anyone working for us.

My heart goes out to those in the position of being forced to shoot cattle for any reason, my husband and I have experienced drought, we fully appreciate its insidious unrelenting death stalk. I just can’t believe that anyone would think it’s OK for a farmer to be forced in a position to shoot stock, irrespective of what or who is to blame for that, little do these people realise the toll it takes on mind body and soul to destroy the very animals you raised.

While I have every confidence in the live export markets regaining momentum and cattle prices lifting, it is going to be a tough haul for the cattle industry in the meantime. To paraphrase a person I heard speak recently. It will be a roller coaster ride for beef producers be sure to wear a seatbelt and crash hat. I’d just like to add be really, really nice to your bank manager.

Categories: Cattle work, Live Exports | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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