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“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: , ,

Hay & Fodder Suppliers to Live animal export.

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

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

(NT DPIF Outlook 2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06.06.13 012_weaners _edited-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

27.11.2013 136_edited-1

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

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

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

27.11.2013 153_edited-1

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

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

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

hay 001

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

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

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

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

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

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

MLA Voting Entitlements close 2nd October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Advocacy, Agriculture laws, Beef Industry, Legislation, Live Exports, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“Come on, give us a hand!”

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

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

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

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

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

Map 2. 1 - 10_edited-1

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day of Muster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is actually going to pay?

Various reports have been conducted over the years that have considered the economic impact were live exports of Australian animals stopped. Some reports have attempted to put a price on the financial cost of stopping live export, and predict ongoing returns if live export animals were supplied to Australian processors instead. I would like to discuss the economic expectations of some of these views. I am purely looking at economics, not animal welfare in this article.

In 2006 MLA released a report1 that considered the value and ramifications of closure of the live animal export industry stating that

the prosperity of Australian sheep and cattle producers is linked to the live export trade as domestic prices are underpinned by the trade1(Pg ii).

Forecasting a drop in both sheep and cattle prices of up to 18% and 7% respectively if live export was stopped 1(Pg 28/29). That irrespective of any gains made in beef export, the national beef industry would decline by $330M or 5% annually for every following year due to no live export trade1(Pg28)

Before the peak of the 2009 cattle export period of slightly less than 1M head, MLA (20072 ) forecast a 10 year direct loss of income if the trade was halted. Across Australian sheep and cattle industries (including dairy) a direct loss of income over 10 years was estimated at $2.2B. The effects would continue to be significant after the initial 10 years of closure. It forecast a farm-gate price drop of 59c/kg for the Northern Territory alone, due mainly to lack of processing facilities in the north and increased costs in freight, a point the MLA 2006 report also raised citing freight increases of as much as 40c/kg1(Pg 28).

From a personal perspective, owing to effects of  the ban in 2011, and then subsequent market loss the following 18 months we personally realised a direct loss of income of $239 per head ($0.70/kg loss directly plus extra cost in freight) for every steer that was suitable as a boat animal as a young animal but eventually sold into the Australian domestic market due to being too heavy or unable to gain market access in the period of 2011/2012 and part way into 2013. This doesn’t include the cost of keeping an animal for another 18 months on property and effect on overheads and finances due to loss of income. In total a loss of approximately nearly $300 per beast. We are a small property, the effect on others could have been much greater.

For WA northern cattle producers, a more dire forecast is predicted if live export ceased, estimating price drop of $1.60 down to $1.10 plus additional costs of 21c/kg in costs due to cartage2(Pg 6).

WA sent 23% of the cattle exported through their ports in 2013 of 276,450 head3. Historically WA has always been a significant volume exporter of approximately 70-80%  Australian sheep exports.

WA sheep producers prices are expected to plummet by 70-80% with a live export ban, remember this report was done nearly 7 years ago when Australia was approximately exporting 4M head of sheep a year3. In 2013 Australia sent just under 2M head of sheep. WA’s market share of live sheep exports in 2013 was 83%9

WA sheep producers experienced catastrophic market price freefall when the Saudi Arabian market had closed and caused an immediate reduction in WA sheep local prices of 50%1(Pg 23), In 20054. The WA saleyard sheep indicator in March 2013 was 120c/kg cwt, down from 331c/kg cwt 12 months previously. The OTH sheep (18-24kg) was 187c/kg in March 2013 but had been 220c/kg 12 months prior10

Friends who supplied live export sheep in WA have told me ram prices went from $100 per head export prices pre 2012, ESCAS implementation to $40 in Australia (following ESCAS implementation and loss of some markets) with many animals not being able to be sold at all. Others who solely supplied live export with Damaras, purposely bred for live export were unable to sell any into Australian processors as they were simply not desired animal type.

The Victorian dairy industry, if live export was stopped would affect their entire sectors farm profitability negatively by 20%2. Many enterprises sometimes up to 250 producers may contribute to a single shipment of export animals. 12 month old dairy heifer prices were estimated to drop in price from the then $1000 head to $500 and surplus heifers would go from $500 to $100 if the dairy live export industry shut down. Again keep in mind this report was written nearly 7 years ago. When dairy exports were nearly half of what they were in 2013.

In my opinion it could be reasonably expected some live export animals could be picked up by Australian processing. Surely though the realisation is that 100% transferability of live export sheep and cattle to onshore meat processing can not and will not happen. In regards to sheep the “current view is that such a subsititution will not occur easily”5(Pg 13).

As to what percentage Australian plants would willingly process animals  and to what capacity has simply been assumed at 100%. If the investment funding was available, abattoirs built, animals fed to ensure all year supply and availability, markets assured and costs of production not prohibitive, labour assured including unions irratic demands kept at bay and costs of production controlled. Would the Australian processes be able to or even want to maintain 100% capacity? Interestingly 100% operating capacity is actually not optimum for many abattoirs, about 80 to 85% is. If it was feasible to do don’t people think we would be doing it now? Live export in the north developed because the processing facilities we did have, were unable to stay competitive due to costs of operation and freight. Australian processing currently costs nearly twice as much as overseas processors, competititiveness is becoming a big problem on a global scale for all Australian manufacturing industries.

Of course the fundamental question underpinning a complete stoppage of live export to domestic processing, is would it be profitable? For the producer, processor and retailers. Ultimately in the long term most reports concur that for the producer, the base of the whole livestock production supply, it will not be profitable without live export. Why would processors pay more than they have to for a product of which there is no other competition for. Again the producer cops the raw end of the deal.

In 2009 ACIL Tasman, by virtue of RSPCA, conducted a study on the closure of the WA live export sheep industry, their conclusion, was that closure of live export for WA would “require adjustments” but were “not extensive”5. Ironically  they had the figures so completely wrong and undervalued that Livecorp instigated a review of the ACIL report in 20107. Livecorp claimed gross miscalculations were made by ACIL of nearly double in most cases of losses directly attributable to producers that would occur if live export was stopped. ACIL had based its ‘No live export available scenario’ on the assumption that market prices would remain unchanged without live export as a market alternative to producers. Every single other report even those supported by WSPA realise that returns to producers will lessen without live export. Yet RSPCA and others supporting a ban continue to present the ACIL 2009 report as fundamentally sound! Of course as the impact will be mainly worn by producers maybe it is of no concern to them of $60M losses here and there.

In  2012 WSPA stepped up to the plate, employing ACIL also, they carried out a feasibility study of establishment of an abattoir in north Australia, this study WSPA  regularly quote saying that producers will magically make 245%6 in increased profit by being able to sell heavier cattle to a newly established abattoir.

From a producers point of view this report indicated the abattoir required prime animals at very cheap prices to be paid for at less than cost of production, hot boned and put into non-premium markets in direct competition with already existing meat suppliers and assumed new market access will occur for the outgoing meat produced. A lot of ‘ifs’ in that equation on how the abattoir would be feasible itself and highly likely it wouldn’t!
I really do wonder sometimes at what point do people think producers should gift their animals, it seems that we are expected to do it an awful lot and yet magically to operate with no income! Of course assuming that they want livestock production to actually continue.

Unfortunately as with most things there’s a few points WSPA never point out in their propaganga phamplets, though very clearly stated by ACIL in the opening paragraphs of the 2012 report. The requirement of significant ongoing government investment if more processing facilities are to be established. Personally I think our government is currently broke, there is no slush fund for any industry at the present time.

ACIL have obviously realised the importance of producer viability to maintain live export because the 2012 report very clearly states that processing would depend on only a portion, they suggest half of what is currently sent to live export. The point being not to stop live export completely, yet process in the vicinity of 400,000 head. While I don’t agree with the basis of the views used in this report, it at least acknowledges the fact that live export is an important support basis for price and herd productivity.

Consider this AAco have battled for over 5 years now to eventually get an abattoir that will process 100,000 head initially, mostly its own cattle and cull numbers  that were already being processed somewhere else. It is not intended as a facility to process animals intended for live export, it is a vertically integrated system mainly intended for AAco’s own stock. The Facility is costing around $94M, of which they received no direct government assistance yet have repeatedly lobbied for. It will not process the 600,000 head turnoff currently directed to live export, infact it will process some numbers that are already directed at other abattoirs. I would dearly love to see the Livingstone abattoir operating profitably as it would be a welcome outlet for some of our own cull animals. I have not met a producer who doesn’t want this abattoir to succeed. In my opinion it had to be built near Darwin, not for cattle supply or market access but  for labour supply and employee demands now of facilities and amenities. A smaller facility in WA is also being currently built, again repeated requests for government funding have not been forthcoming, the majority of supply of cattle intended to come from the owners own herds.

ACIL’s 2012 report made some incredible assumptions concerning the 245% increased profitability

  1. Animals would reach 400kg live weight by 3 years of age – which is highly unlikely in north Australia.
  2. All north Australian properties have finishing capacity of animals to heavy weights – but they don’t!
  3. Properties would all be able to produce heavy cattle from every 5 out of 8 years – possible yes, but when thought of in the context of ensuring guarantee of average annual rainfall for 5 years, I’m not so sure!
  4. Sale price to abattoirs was based on $1.45 paid live weight delivery. A very low figure that I suspect wouldn’t even cover production costs of the closest supplier of animals.
  5. No mention was made of impact of currently working abattoirs as it was assumed a new abattoir would process 100,000 and the other 300,000 would simply go to other facilities. Therefore cost of freight and producers cost of production time in holding animals longer wasn’t considered when the plants were at full capacity and kill space not available. Seasonal variability of supply of animals to Australian abattoirs has been a major problem since the time the first slaughterhouse was established when the first settlers arrived.
  6. Alteration to herd size on property was only minimally altered for allowance of carrying sale animals rather than breeders. To me this is the biggest impact on property cost and operations and is fundamental to economic viability. If your property is fully stocked the carrying ability of sale to production animals is of utmost significance.

Of course a number of new processing facilities would be lovely in the perfect world but then again in the perfect world money would grow on trees. Australia simply doesn’t have the consistency of seasons to ensure continuity of supply of heavy animals suitable for slaughter. That is why Live export is so well suited to northern properties operations,  we breed quality cattle, but we don’t need to send them fully grown and fat. Other countries do the feedlot process, we breed they feed. For Australian processing we have to send them heavy for the processors to have yield of carcase in comparison to cost of processing. Small animals cost just as much to process yet yield substantially less meat, they are less profitable to process.

While it would be nice to process another 400,000 cattle in north Australia, surely others can see that it is not financially achievable. We must have the competition of live export to ensure some form of market price parity for the producer. Send us broke we will take a lot of other service industries, employees and businesses with us, including eventually some processors.

Is the Australian producer expected to give their cattle away to keep up supply to abattoirs to keep them in business while we go broke, it simply doesn’t work that way!

If the financial viability of producers is undermined then we simply go out of business or for those who can afford to diversify from livestock will do so. Stopping live export will undermine the national herds as producers stop production or lower it and this will ultimately affect processor numbers which will decline their supply of animals more than with live export available. A point only realised in one report5 and I’m surprised isn’t given more thorough consideration.

The most recent report I have found is another sponsored by WSPA. This one mainly focus’s on WA and phasing out of the sheep live export trade. Released in March 2013 this report is written by a economic analyst and uses these curious equations to consider prices in NSW sheep markets in comparison to WA and Comparing live export of sheep to sheep processed in WA determine that

“there is no support for the connection that the live sheep export trade somehow underwrites domestic sheep prices”8.

Equation_edited-1Equation_edited-2Source – ‘Economic impact of phasing out of the live sheep export trade’ A. Davey. March 2013. Appendix 2.

I must say this report is the oddest, most contradictory piece of rubbish I have seen for a long time. The very next paragraph following that profound statement then states a premium price of 57c per kg which is approximately $28 per head is received by farmers selling to the live export trade. 3 or 4 paragraphs after that it states that

“cessation of the live export trade would see sheep farmers selling heavy wethers lose the premium they currently receive at sale yard auctions when they sell to live sheep exporters. On this basis, these sheep farmers would be materially worse off”(Pg vii).

Yet the author feels that live export doesn’t underpin the market prices. Very odd and very wrong!

Sheep producers in WA have communicated quiet clearly the collapse of their ram prices and older sheep. Why on earth did this 2013 report so stupidly say that there is enough processing capacity in WA to process the entire WA current live export supplies when the sheep supplied to LE are in no way similar to type or age to what the processors actually want. It makes the arrogant assumption that to ensure all year round supply of animals to the processors that producers could and would wear all costs of feeding while waiting for kill space availability. At 50c per day cost to feed a sheep at what point do others expect producers to not even cover their own production costs but then incur further costs to appease the processors to keep up supply?

There is absolutely no doubt that Live export offers stability, income and confidence for investment in the beef industry as a whole, it does contribute significantly to the economy. Those who say it doesn’t aren’t affected directly by it and for those who believe we are ‘insignificant’ I can assure you stopping live export will destroy many good businesses. Live export production underpins not only the domestic cattle and sheep prices but the entire herd populations of both cattle and sheep. If you want to see a serious demise of the entire Australian livestock industries then support a ban. I hope I don’t have to write an article 3-4 years after a ban and ‘say I told you so, you really should be careful what you wish for”. Then again those who are pushing for a ban are not paying the economic price for it are they?  and they aren’t really pushing to improve animal welfare just animal liberation. Ironically I don’t think most of them give a damn anyway about the people a ban would affect, welcome to the more compassionate world.



Other reports of interest though not referred to in this post.
nwq-abattoir-opportunities

Investment opportunity – Northern outback QLD abattoir – DAFF. Feb 2012

Sources.

1 Hassalllive-expor-2006[1]

‘The Live export industry – Value, Outlook and Contribution to the economy’ MLA. Hassall & Associates. June 2006. – project code LIVE 314

2 Regional_Value_of_Livestock_Exports

‘The Live export industry – Assessing the value of the livestock export industry to Regional Australia’ MLA Clarke et al. June 2007 – project code LIVE 326

3 Australian livestock export trade. N Austin 2011.

4 2012AC Nath CP

‘Impact on Western Australia’s shep supply chain of the termination of live sheep exports’ Nath at el. 2012

5 ACIL Tasman 2009 – The value of live sheep exports from Western Australia
‘The Value of the live sheep exports from Western Australia’ ACIL Tasman, M. Barber 2009

6 ACIL Tasman 2012 – Economic analysis of live cattle exports

‘An economic analysis of the live exportation of cattle from northern Australia’ ACIL Tasman, M. Barber 2012

7 Zeitsch_Value of WA Live Sheep Exports_Final Report_9 February 2010[1]

‘Review of the ACIL Tasman study into the value of live sheep exports from Western Australia’ J. Zeitsch. 2010.

8 sapere report on live sheep

‘Economic impact of phasing out the live sheep export trade’ A. Davey. March 2013

9. Australian livestock export industry statistical review 2013.

10. Personal communication of sheep prices.

Categories: Animals Australia, Australian abattoirs, Beef Industry, Katherine, Live Exports, Northern Territory., Politicians, 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

Working with Indonesia

A friend who is working in Indonesia with Indonesian stockpeople is assisting in providing training, education, resources and advice to them to improve animal welfare outcomes. Part of her job is also to help ensure that ESCAS is complied with. I haven’t been to Indonesia to see these facilities for myself. Yet.

She has kindly supplied some of the photos in this article. The information in this article is also from other people who I have spoken to and live in Indonesia working in the cattle import industries. It is because of the direct involvement of these people and their commitment, including their employers that animal welfare in Indonesian slaughter houses has greatly improved and continue to as people practice their skills and refine their techniques. Irrefutably the people who have learnt better animal handling skills in their employment with these Australians  have then used that knowledge to improve handling and health for their own small family herds and community herds that they may be involved in.

After unloading of the cattle from the boats, most cattle spend several months in the feedlots. There they will consume by-products of Agriculture that are great for fattening cattle. Indonesia has an abundance of high volume – low cost feeds suitable for this such as palm leaves and corn stalks. These items are placed in a chopper and then fed to the animals.

IMG-20111115-00090_edited-1 This is a group of people receiving animal handling training. It is imperative that when unloading a shipment of cattle with many thousands of animals that people are aware of the requirements and processes they must adhere to ensure efficency and compliance. This not only improves animal welfare but human safety as well.

Indo feedlot _edited-1The bunting feed trough in the feedlot. Water would also be available and the floors cleaned periodically. As most of these feedlots have cement floors a thick layer of sawdust is laid over the floors for comfort of the animals. When the yards are cleaned out the manure and floor covering is then used for fertiliser in plantations.

P1000909_edited-1These men are receiving training on the maintenance and upkeep of a pneumatic stunner. The installation of these items is a great advancement for animal welfare. The simple act of the Indonesian people learning the repair and maintenance skills of this equipment themselves is an important aspect of animal welfare improvement

7 Time of stun (2)_edited-1The animals head is in a head bail – the black frame around his neck and he is about to be stunned to be slaughtered.
Once stunned unconcious he will drop and as he does the side gate to the right will be opened, as soon as he rolls to the side his throat will be cut and he will be bled, at which point he dies. Each animal will have their individual RFID tag scanned and recorded to ensure the animals traceability.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis animal is also held in a head bail to be stunned, on which the person who’s hand is visible to the right will open up the door to allow the animals body to fall to the floor and have his throat cut.

7 Processing 2_edited-1This is an abattoir facility in Indonesia, after bleeding the animal is processed on the floor. Note the covered race-way so the animals can’t see what is ahead of them. This assists in keeping the animals as relaxed as possible. The Door that swings on the crush, above the ramp is also covered in to the bottom to stop any one from rope casting.

Indo meat market 136_edited-1This is an Indonesian wet meat market. Many people prefer to buy their meat still warm to the touch and the meat hanging here  would have only been killed a few hours before. The culture of the people who prefer wet markets believe the freshness of the meat is dictated by its warmth rather as opposed to  our societies view that fresh is chilled.

Some Australian companies and others who are established in Indonesia have assisted Indonesian slaughterhouses to install stunners for their sole use in that abattoir in their supply lines. These facilities have also received assistance by Australian importers with lairages ( the yards through which the cattle move) and the boxes/head bails that the animals are placed in prior to stunning. Each full installation costs approximately $50,000 Australian dollars. Some exporters have a large number of abattoirs in their approved supply lines.

Locals have seen benefits in the use of the stunning equipment not only for animal welfare, the meat is not bruised or the animal isn’t stressed but for their own occupational health and safety. The efficency of some abattoirs has been greatly assisted by the stunners. To the point that Australian exporters are being asked to import more stunners to Indonesia to use in abattoirs that kill local cattle and not Australian cattle.

It is estimated that 98% of Australian animals are now pre-stunned prior to slaughter with some supply lines having 100% requirements for stunning of their own choosing.

Industry sources have quoted that an indirect employment ratio of 7 to 1 is due to Australian cattle imports. This includes people required to unload the ships, transport of cattle, feedlot staff, abattoirs, butchers and market labour such as people who may collect feedstuffs for consumption by the animals or are involved with the collection of the organic manure and yard waste. Indonesia has no welfare system, you don’t have a job there, then literally you don’t eat.

While importing slaughter animals Australians are also involved with breeding herd development in Indonesia. This sounds ironic that a country would want to help another breed up their herd rather than sell their own the realistic case is with Indonesia’s 240M population, topography and inaccessability of many islands the chance of it ever achieving self sufficency in beef herds is extremely remote. The Indonesian government also have a social policy that each company must help a community in some way, many importers of cattle do something with cattle to assist the local people, ie lending breeding cows, assisting with breeding programs and health problems of animals.

Some villages are totally reliant on the employment of a feedlot located in its area. It is estimated that 1M people in Indonesia were direcly affected when the Live export ban occured in 2011. With an average wage of $150 per month, some feedlots are estimated to support 100 families directly through employment which has flow on to another 700.

Categories: #hadagutful campaign support, Advocacy, Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, Indonesian abattoirs, Live Exports, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Australian sheep Industry

A rally is being held in Fremantle to support live animal export on the 8th December 2013. In support of that rally I have put this information page together. Sheep producers and others have kindly supplied the photos in these articles. I don’t have any practical experience in sheep handling and the following  are  my observations of reading and speaking to producers.

There are

12,810 businesses in Australia which solely conduct Sheep production. (2013/14)1

Plus

6,754 which are businesses which produce sheep and cattle (2012/13)2

and another

19,169 properties which conduct either sheep and/or cattle production with grain production. (2012/13)3

Another source (MLA Fast facts sheep production) quotes 43,828 properties in Australia supporting sheep and lamb production in 2010/114

sheep population 001Source – MLA Fast Facts 2012 – Australia’s sheepmeat Industry

  • Australia supplied 7% of the worlds lamb and mutton supply in 20104
  • Sheepmeat industry accounts for 32% of all farms in Australia agricultural activity4

photo (5)_edited-1Figure 1 – The Iconic Red Kelpie herding ewes and lambs

Sheep Dec. 2013 010

Source – IBIS world. Sheep farming in Australia Oct 2013.
This chart was taken from a report that considered 12,810 Australian properties whose sole production was sheep.

Herd charts 003 Sheep_edited-1

Source Agricultural Commodity statistics 2012 – Dept Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry. Page 136

Wool crash occured 1990, many wool producers converted to meat production or diversified into cattle and cropping.

Some producers who remained in sheep meat production developed systems to target the Australian lamb processing markets and lessened their aim to the mutton trade. Some developed herds based on Damaras and aimed them to the live export markets.

There were significant drought periods 1979 – 1980, 1982-1983, 1990-1993, 2002-2008 and more recently in the last couple of years.

IMG_1669_edited-1Sheep grazing

sheep population 004Source – ‘Structure and dynamics of the Australian sheep industry’ Hassell 2006

sheep population 002Source – 2012 Year Book Australia – ABS. Sourced 01/08/2012 Pg 542

photo (7)_edited-1Younger sheep yarded.

Sheep Dec. 2013 006Comparing National herd to the slaughter of mutton and lamb to the numbers exported (mainly mature sheep)
This chart is only a basic indication as the herd and slaughter figures are based on calendar years while the Live export figures are from financial year calculations

Sheep Dec. 2013 002_edited-1

Comparative anlysis of only mature sheep slaughter compared to sheep live exported. Both are
calculated on a Financial Year
basis. I didn’t include lamb slaughter in this chart as I didn’t think animals marketed as lambs would be exported, their preference being the Australian processors outlets.

1002051_249524205211183_926170008_n Sheep pictured at sunset

Sheep Dec. 2013 005_edited-1Australian Sheep slaughter for sheep and lambs 1973 – 2011

Sheep Dec. 2013 003_edited-1Australian production in total of sheep meat (mutton from mature animals) with the comparative amount exported

Sheep Dec. 2013 004_edited-1

Australian production of young sheep (lamb meat) total production and compared with the volume exported.

photo (12)Home kill sheep hanging in a cool room

Sheep Dec. 2013 008_edited-1Live exported animals for the last 13 years or mortality rates recorded. This chart illustrates that in the last 13 years 959 voyages with sheep occured over which a total of 52,434,493 were loaded and exported. Of this 1.02% died in transit. For each trip conducted an average of 54,676 sheep were loaded of which approximately 558 died enroute per voyage.

Sheep Dec. 2013 001_edited-1

Average mortalities per year for the last 13 years or recorded data for mortalities.
Overall average for 13 years is 1.02% with an average of 4,033,422 animals loaded each yearSheep Dec. 2013 003_edited-1

This chart is comparing all sheep and lamb meat production (not animals volume) produced in comparison to live sheep exported over a the last 30 plus years. I have added trend lines to indicate that meat production has increased slightly from the 1975’s to current periods and Live export has declined

I am interested in this graph because one of the catch cry’s of the ban live export is that live export caused loss of supply to abattoirs and thus their closure. I find it interesting that production seems to have increased slightly even considering the drop in sheep herd populations from the heyday of the 70’s and the changes in animal production situations.

I am doing a similar chart for cattle but as yet haven’t finished it.

Sources

  1. ‘Sheep farming in Australia’ IBIS World. October 2013
  2. ‘sheep-Beef Cattle farming in Australia’ IBIS World December 2012
  3. ‘Grain-Sheep or Grain Beef farming in Australia’ IBIS World December 2012
  4. MLA Fast facts 2012. Australian Sheepmeat industry
Categories: #hadagutful campaign support, Australian abattoirs, Live Exports, Sheep industry, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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