Posts Tagged With: cattle station

“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: , ,

Wild Dog management on Pastoral Land #3

Wild Dog management on Pastoral Land #1

Wild Dog management on Pastoral Land #2

What is 1080
1080 is a colourless, tasteless, odourless chemical that is naturally occurring in some Australian native plants. Its chemical name is sodium fluoroacetate or sodium monfluroacetate and is manufactured as a pesticide. It is a schedule 7 poison under the Poisons and Dangerous Drugs Act; this means its use is very restricted and highly regulated. It is also extremely potent. The reason it is a preferred chemical of use is because it is easily deactivated and breaks down with water, it will not accumulate as a toxic residue in the soil.
Ingestion of 1080 interferes with the animal’s ability to produce energy from its cells that enable basic body function and survival. 1080 disrupts the energy or electrical impulses and communication of the cells in the body causing the central nervous system to collapse and cardiac arrest to occur leading to death.

A medium weight dog of 14.5kg requires ingestion of 1.6mg of 1080 to be lethal, a pig 56.1mg and an 80kg person 160mg.

12.04.13 009_edited-2Picture 1. These are 1080 dry baits, one of these baits is enough to kill an adult dog. The layer of baits is broken up into individual blocks before dispersal around the property.

28.10.15 018_edited-1Picture 2. Some raw meat lumps that are ready to be injected with liquid 1080. Only 0.2ml is injected into each bait but that is enough to kill a dog.

Birds will pick up some of these baits but generally have a much higher tolerance to 1080 and therefore it doesn’t usually kill them unless they manage to find lots of baits and consume all of them which is highly unlikely. Pigs will also eat the baits and again need a much larger dose to be killed. Domestic dogs will eat the baits and it will kill them.
There is no current effective antidote for 1080 though I do believe there is one being developed called Blue Heeler.

We do not have available to us any other effective largescale management tools to control wild dogs. In our environment their tracks are seen but they rarely make appearances. Shooting is not always a practical or efficient method of control.

In years gone past there was a dog bounty in which people who did shoot or trapped dogs, skun and produced the ears, scalp and back hair as evidence of killing to receive a reward. I believe parts of QLD still pay a dog bounty but I haven’t been able to find how much the NT used to do this. My father in law tells me in his day (in the NT) it was enough to earn a reasonable income and supplement the wages they used to receive. Recently Victoria was offering $100 a scalp.
The National Wild dog action plan
Throughout Australia wild dogs are now recognised as having significant social and financial impact on many aspects of agriculture, native fauna and ecology. Not only in their direct impact on livestock through killing and maiming but they have been attributed with spreading a hydatidosis worm and infecting domestic dogs with parvo virus.

In some parts of Australia native animal populations of small ground animals and birds is returning with the control and implementation of wild dog programs Animals return to NW NSW following wild dog culling.
75% of landholders in the NT rate the wild dog problem on their property as severe or extremely severe. Not only due to the financial costs but also the emotional toll that causes distress, anger and a lot of work in caring for injured animals.

Some sheep producers are recognised as suffering a condition similar to post traumatic stress, a condition called hyper vigilance. It is a condition that is beyond simply being aware of a problem or looking for its occurrence, it is an exaggerated emotional intensity in attempting to detect threats, accompanied by very high levels of anxiety that causes exhaustion. Combined with the other pressures producers face of operating their properties, hypervigilance is not a state you can maintain for a long time without health repercussions.
Across every state and Territory in Australia a co-ordinated implementation program was initiated and continues to counter wild dog problems across Australia. In the NT this has been significant for producers like myself that enables controlled baiting programs to occur on our properties.

For the first time in a long time we feel that we are actually getting wild dog numbers under control through use of 1080 baiting programs targeting wild dogs.

The process of 1080 baiting
To seek approval to use 1080 for a wild dog control program I am required to complete
1. Chemical certificate application course and
2. Complete a 1080 training program through an accredited training provider
Only after I have received both of these credentials, which require renewal and retraining every 5 years, can i then apply on behalf of the property each year for;
1. an authorisation to use 1080
2. an approval to purchase 1080 and
3. a permit to take protected wildlife for pest animal control.
This requires a lengthy documented application that details where I will lay the baits according to our property lay out, what signs I will use to warn people of baiting, who will do the baiting and at what time periods.

12.04.13 012_edited-2Picture 3. Example of the 1080 wild dog control baiting notifications.Anywhere that you see a sign of this description or similar exercise caution if you have your own animals with you. There is no antidote for 1080 commercially available yet! While rain is thought to break down bait formulations very quickly there may be a possibility a bait has been laid that is protected from moisture and is still potent and potentially lethal to your animal after rain periods.

If you suspect your pet dog has taken a bait, they may show symptoms of extreme eye dilation, dis-orientation and rapid breathing. Restrain them and cover their eyes to reduce the light awareness with tape and a cloth if needed. You will need to get them to a vet for immediate attention.

This is a 1st_aid_book that has some very helpful information and may be useful for those who have domestic dogs and suspect their animal has picked up a bait. It also has helpful information to increase awareness and prevention of domestic dog accidental baiting.
In regards to a 1080 wild dog program, control and documentation is very strict in that I need to keep records of all aspects of our actions in regards to the baiting program conducted, including notification to neighbours of our baiting and recording of circumstances regarding the baiting process. Including accountability to every single bait used.
If government departments are not satisfied with past record keeping or procedures then they have the right and ability to refuse your future applications.
Only when we receive specific authorisation to conduct a baiting programs are we allowed to then ask agents to purchase dry baits on our behalf or hire a contractor to inject wet baits.

If I am conducting a wet bait program then the person we contract to inject the baits has very specific and legally binding requirements of their actions of injecting meat for us. In this process we will kill a bull or other animal  and  cut several hundred pieces of meat into sections about the size of your fist, approximately 400-500g.

If I purchase dry baits then I must present my original documentation of the permits to the seller and transport those baits in a locked storage container.

Dry baits have a shelf life where as wet baits are used immediately. Neither is necessarily more potent but the attractant of using a a wet bait is often more effective in attracting dogs to take the baits.

We rarely see a wild dog, dead or alive and can only judge the success our baiting programs on the damage as evidenced on our cattle. Previous years we have been conducting dry baiting programs, earlier this year we conducted wet bait and feel confident it was far more effective than the previous dry baits.
We have determined the beneficial use of the wet bait program by visual inspection of our calves and see that they don’t have marks on their ears and bodies, this year has seen a marked decrease in damage to calves seen around the property.
Wild dog control is absolutely essential for the long term health and welfare of our cattle and our own businesses financial future. It is absolutely imperative that wild dog control programs are conducted consistently and effectively at a local, state and national level.

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Picture – Photo November 2015. Cows and their new drop of calves resting at a trough late in the dry season. This period is our highest calf drop time and also when dog attacks are their most severe.We try to look at all calves on each bore run and see if they have dog damage to their bodies to determine the effectiveness of our wild dog control programs.

Categories: 1080 baiting, Animal Welfare, Cattle station | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Wild dog management on Pastoral Land #2.

Wild dog management on pastoral land #1

History of dogs in Australia
The Dingo (Canin lupus dingo) derived from wolves in eastern Asia and migrated to Australia approximately 4,500-5,000 years ago. They were possibly assisted in their migration throughout Australia by use as food and companionship by aboriginal people. Feral domestic dogs (Canin lupus familiaris) came to Australia with European settlement; the two Canin species can interbreed and are known as hybrids and are present across all of Australia.

Wild dogs distribution is across all of Australia.

2012 distribution_edited-1Source – AWI ABARES Wild dog management in Australia – document is available for download in the sources at the end of this blog.

night shots #1_edited-1Picture 1. Source – Conservation and Pest Management. A night vision camera captures this image of 5 dogs feeding on a pig carcase purposely established to investigate dog activity in the area.

With innate predator behaviour the dingo and wild dog opportunistically hunt a variety of mammals, native and introduced, birds and reptiles. They will scavenge carrion including rubbish as well as eat plants, fruit, vegetables and eggs.
Each dog requires the equivalent about one fifth (20%) in food and 12% water relative to their own body weight to survive.

They can survive on moisture they obtain from blood and fluids found in prey but generally require a permanent water source for long term survival.
Wild dogs are top order predators, meaning they have few natural enemies, except people. Most people regard them as pests, yet wild dogs may enable important ecological balance by preying on some other species, some of those  being introduced pests themselves, such as rabbits.
The pure Dingo is an annual breeder with mating occurring usually April –May with generally a small litter of 2-3 pups following a gestation of about 2 months. Hybrids or wild dogs tend to breed larger litters, often up to 6-8 pups and can breed sometimes twice per year. The dispersal and increase of hybrid animals has been assisted by development of water points in rural and urban environments and feeding capabilities has been increased due to livestock production across many areas. Domestic dog releases and abandonments including interbreeding from all over Australia has exasperated the problem with hybrid dog numbers exploding in recent years.
A dog’s ability to traverse area depends largely on their environment and conditions, but some have been tracked over thousands of kilometres in only short periods across several months. Pure dingo’s exhibit strong territorial pack behaviours, Hybrids often do not and will wander over large distances thus increasing their chances of food source acquisitions and breeding encounters.

Producers such as myself want to minimise wild dog populations to predominantly protect our cattle but there is the possibility that in killing pure Dingo populations we are upsetting the pack order hierarchy of the pure dingo population. By trying to control wild dog numbers we may actually be causing increased attacks on our livestock by pure dingo populations as the younger generations have not learnt the abilities of their leaders and will attack livestock that are easier and more plentiful than native wildlife to survive. If we remove all dogs from one area we may in fact be causing an vacuum that increases likelihood of dog transitioning from another area as their social order and territorial areas alters.

As with all livestock management and animal welfare issues there is  no easy answer in regards to welfare and economic needs that is plain cut and correct for everyone to follow, We protect one animal by killing another. There has to be some form of balance but at the moment the pendulum is that wild dog numbers are excessive and causing catastrophic non sustainable losses to many livestock production systems.

Impact on Livestock production
From a personal viewpoint the experience of finding animals that are still alive but severely maimed is the most distressing.

As our property is open range we usually find an injured animal a number of days after they have been attacked. Blood poisoning or septicaemia is generally well established, particularly if it is hot humid weather by the time we find the animals.

Due to dog inflicted injuries, the animal is often suffering secondary infections from blow fly maggot infestation or general infection due to dirt entering open wounds. The wounds by their smell and purification sometimes attract other predators including more dogs and pigs; this then initiates a second attack which would usually kill the animal.
Wild dogs can cause significant trauma to the tail, the resulting crush injury is then prone to a condition called ‘tail rot’. Blood flow has been affected to parts of the tail and the tissue dies (necrotic),  this can cause infection to enter the tail and moves up the tail possibly into the spinal cord even leading to meningitis and paralysis of the hind quarter.
We produce cattle and though quiet in nature by pastoral standards these animals are not tame or used to being handled, such as a dairy herd or southern beef herd may be accustomed too. Sometimes we  see livestock injured by dog damage but to capture and attempt to give them some form of medication involves chasing them. This then causes even further stress usually worsening their injuries, increasingly bleeding and pain.

15.12.12 227_edited-1Picture 2 – This weaner is with its mother, having suffered an attack as seen by the scratches on its ears. The animal is in a low body conditioned state as it is late in the dry season when fodder is at is worst nutritional level. We were unable to catch this calf and do not know if it survived.
Sometimes we find calves that have received injuries and are so exhausted from their ordeal we can walk up and capture them, Often they don’t attempt to move away. The mother may be present and  significantly agitated or obviously suffering exhaustion because she has been fighting off a number of dogs over a long duration. Other times the calves have been entirely abandoned.

06.05.2015 070_edited-1Picture 3. A young heifer several months after we captured her. She was lying near a tree with her mother still with her and had suffered a dog attack that tore the muscle and skin from her shoulders and rear end, including her tail and ears, the scar tissue can easily be seen. She recovered eventually but due to her trauma and forced weaning (we removed her from her mum) she remained a small and stunted animal. This calf suffered long periods of repeat infections that went right down her front legs due to skin being pulled from the muscle but not broken, She was tough enough to survive but will never be able to be sold and possibly never be able to breed.

Depending on the injuries and if the calves mother is present, and we can catch the little guys we may  apply medicated sprays that we carry in our vehicles all the time and release the calf to its mother or we may capture the animal and take it home to become a ‘poddy’. Often these animals die as they are unable to handle the combined stress of having been attacked, weaning and the infection and injury assaulting their bodies.
There are times when we have found animals so distressed and with such infection that on approaching them we can smell their rotting flesh, occasionally we can clean these wounds and the animal will survive, other times we have to shoot them. Euthanasia is not a pleasant process for the producer, this is invariably shooting an animal that we are responsible for and feel incredibly sorry for due to the injuries they have received. We are all licensed to carry and discharge firearms.
We conduct a basic record of all animals that we capture for their first branding, keeping a tally of what we regard as a minor or major body damage. These are the animals which have been attacked but have survived, we have no real idea of the ones that have been attacked and have died. A visual inspection is conducted of each animal as we restrain them individually at branding time. If the calf has only a torn ear then we call it minor, if it shows any scar damage especially across its withers (shoulders) legs, rump and particularly if it has no tail then it is regarded as major. We use these records and general observations to plan and implement a wild dog control program.
We have had animals survive dog attacks that come into the yard with their genitals torn and sometimes even missing testicles all together. Often significant scar tissue is around the rump or their tail is gone from  high on the point it joins their backbone. Some animals have slight damage to their ears; others don’t have ears at all. The dogs have attacked them by hanging onto their ears and hindquarters until parts of their body were physically tore away. If the wounds have healed there are often large indentations or obvious deformity in that part of the body.
Some livestock show no obvious impediment from their body damage though the loss of a tail means they have little to combat flies and irritating bugs with. Some recover from unbelievably horrific and deep cuts, while the muscle shape is lost their bodies do seem to adapt to the weakness of those muscles damaged. Some females if their genitals are damaged have difficulty calving due to the extensive scar tissue around their vagina area.

For the animals that survive or have been a victim of a wild dog attack the stress and energy lost in exertion of fighting or running from dogs can be detrimental to the animals health. Especially late in the dry season when body condition is paramount to the long term health of the livestock, reduction of this condition can affect their long term survivability until rains are received.
Reasons for control of wild dogs
I would be lying if I said we didn’t want to control dogs because they fundamentally cost us a financial fortune, but the motivation is also too equally to protect our stock from pain and suffering. We are responsible for the wellbeing of our cattle but at times feel completely helpless in the onslaught they seem to face from wild dogs. Stopping livestock production is not an option, therefore we must find ways to protect our stock.
Many years and again significant amounts of money have gone into enabling the genetics and breeding of livestock animals to occur. Including the supply of significant water and infrastructure development. To achieve the task of having an animal become pregnant and give birth to a live healthy calf is predominantly the aim of what we do. We produce animals.

Wild dogs attack the animals usually the smallest and weakest and destroy our production and profitability. The flow on impact of wild dog damage is massive, yet our very operation actually supports their access to water and easy prey for food.
On the one hand we are protecting our stock, on the other we are destroying another animal to enable our livestock to live.

Some argue the native Dingo should be protected, to a point I do agree but the true pure Dingo is largely non-existent now and I believe they have largely adapted to hunting livestock as they are easier to kill than native animals.
The fact that wild dogs can cause such catastrophic damage as hybrids or in conjunction with each other indicates to me that wild dog numbers are so excessive at present that realistically if businesses are to survive then we must implement significant long term wild dog control programs that control the population.

We are having animals being pulled down and sometimes killed that are over 1 year old and weigh over 200kg, if dogs are injuring these animals then a small calve is hardly going to challenge them who may not be much larger than the dogs themselves.

28.10.15 019_edited-1Picture – A newborn calf with the afterbirth yet to be cleaned by his mother. This calf is still unstable on his legs and will be unstable for several hours after birth. Small calves of this age and size are literally defenceless from a pack of dogs.
In the NT, Dingo’s are regarded as a native species and accordingly they are afforded full legal protection under the Territory Parks & Wildlife conservation Act 2006. It is an offence to possess, interfere or kill dingo’s unless authorised. Wild dogs are not protected and need to be controlled.
How do we control wild dogs without decimating the native Dingo?
Unfortunately current chemicals used in baiting programs to control wild dogs are not specie specific, the baits we lay to kill wild dogs will kill Dingo’s but with controls and strict regulations in place the amount of baits we are allowed including time periods and place allocation enables some populations of the Dingo to survive as we are not allowed to bait however or whenever we like.
There are a number of methods used to control wild dogs but I will explain the 1080 baits that we are authorised to use on our property in the following blog

Wild dog management on Pastoral land #3

Categories: Animal Welfare, Beef Industry, Cattle station | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Wild dog management on Pastoral Land #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild dog management on Pastoral land #2

Wild dog management on Pastoral land #3

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

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

“Roger” – Message received.

Mustering River paddock today, I tried to take a few photos from my view on the 4 wheeler bike as we went along. We use 2 way wirelesses to communicate with each other and the chopper pilot who we hire. Most of the day is spent sitting behind cattle walking them to the yard. Occasionally the pilot will ask you to go to a place or get behind some cattle and generally the reply is “Roger”, communication jargon really, it just means I understand, I get the message.

29.05.2015 130_edited-1#1. R22 is beginning to muster.

A good part of the morning we do nothing! we wait. The chopper is working the paddock to bring groups of cattle out and we only move in behind when he needs us to help keep walking mobs along. Through this treeline is a major river system with a large waterhole. Along the entire river is many gullies and creeks with steep embankments and rocky outcrops.The gullies and scrub are impossible to get a bike through. Cattle soon realise to use trees or gullies to walk into which you have no hope to move them out of because you simply can’t get to them on the bikes. The chopper is an absolute necessity for our mustering capture effiency.

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We are mustering towards a permanent water point, a bore that the cattle know well. They will tend to follow their own walking pads out and follow the lines to the bore. Some animals will always give trouble particularly in dense and rugged country as this, and with the availability of natural waters they may be cunning and know the chopper means business. Some are very apt at hiding and knowing when to go to areas which makes it difficult to get them out of. We won’t get a 100% muster there are always some missed animals.

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The pilot works on using pressure and release. If the animals are moving in the direction he wants he’ll fly higher and hang back off them, staying the opposite side of the animal where he wants them to go. The reward to the animal is it is calmly walking and not being pressured. If the animal doesn’t go in the direction the pilot wants he will get right down low on them, using the noise and downward wind draft of the rotars to stir the trees and make noise, even a small siren at times to increase the pressure until the animal goes where the pilot needs them to move. When the choppers are doing this they remind me of an angry little bee at times. When the animal moves in the right direction the pilot will back off and give the animal space, thus the reward is the release. They move the wrong way he will put pressure on them again.

29.05.2015 159_edited-1#2. Still waiting. I usually carry a book, I read alot of stuff while waiting, or write blogs.

Some areas open up fairly well, though you still have to be careful and look out for the small termite mounds and granite rocks. It’s the small ones that catch you unawares, the size of basketballs, you don’t see them until nearly on them and if you hit them at speed they can really jerk your bike around, even tip you over. So your always looking for these mounds. Where the red spear grass is (reddish tinge where the trees begin) there are a number of small gullies that lead to the river system which is further in amongst the dense trees. These water lines are also nasty when riding as some are only about 50cm to 1m across. Deep enough that if you drove into them too fast they could cause you to actually nose dive over the top of your bike as the front wheels fall into the gullies.

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You’re not racing madly around on these areas but atleast you can see some distance to keep an eye on cattle, you can keep cattle together and this is where the pilot is generally pushing the various mobs he has moving. The chopper has been in the air a couple of hours. Our son is in the scrub there somewhere having problems with a bull, we know small mobs are starting to walk out but we haven’t seen a single beast yet.

sulky old bull

#3 Sulky old bull has bailed up.

River paddock as per its name has a whopping great river system going through it and while mostly dry at this time of year is a challenge to get a 4 wheeler around due to the topography. We get the occasional old sulky mongrel like this bloke. He’d be over 10 years old and then some, never been in a yard and he’s got the shits, he won’t walk with the mob but has the energy to belt us. Before this photo he’d already hit into my sons bike and had a go at rearing mine on its arse end by head butting the front bullbar. He’s standing in the water because he thinks we can’t get the bikes in there to get him. We left him there. We’ll see him in the future and shoot him. He’s too thin to sell and is certainly not what we want breeding with our females. Animals like this who refuse to be mustered only encourage bad behaviour of cattle. Often if one gives you trouble like this the next time you see him he’ll have friends and they will all give you trouble. The debrie in the tree to the bulls left is the water flow level of this river in the wet.

flicks Pdk

#4 Cattle starting to string along.

A relatively flat area. We’re on top of a tableland area, we will move through some drainage areas in undulating country before we hit the road and a fenceline, which the cattle will follow to the bore. We’re starting to get a few small mobs together and they are calmly following the stock pads. The chopper is still heading them in the direction of the yards about 3km away. We have just pushed these girls out from some very rough gullies and creeks and now we are heading them to other groups of cattle to the left. My son has another mob out to my right and I can hear my husband and daughter on the radio are further south with mobs already coming along a fence line heading to the road.

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The chopper will work like a large broom across the paddock flying over all us in a large arc, letting us know if we have any that have snuck off or diverted into gullies, or ones he has found standing quietly. We are all very spread out at the moment and the chopper is making sure we stay at the back of any cattle to keep them all heading in the right direction.

29.05.2015 196_edited-1#5 Cattle moving through their holding paddock

Yarding into a holding paddock, The chopper really does the majority of the work. We’re having trouble with the young bull on the far right. He was getting beat up by other bulls and doesn’t want to be part of the mob. He’s a cleanskin and starting to get fed up with the noise of the chopper and bikes. We got him in the yard.Though he needed some persuasion with our bikes to physically push him there.

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Most of the mob is cow and calves of varying ages as this is a breeder paddock. When a chopper has been working the cattle all day the animals recognise to obey it, move away when it moves to one side etc. Most of the mature cows and handled animals give no trouble and know they are going to the yards. With cleanskins or unhandled older animals sometimes moving bikes in, actually confuses the animals as they aren’t sure if they should be watching the chopper or watching you. If the animals are busy looking at who’s herding them rather than looking for the gates or following their companions they can become agitated and break away from the mob. We don’t want that to happen. We want them to follow the cattle who do know where they are going and moving into the yards.

Flicks Pdk

#6 Secure Holding paddock

We are pushing the entire mob through a double set of gates into another holding yard which then leads to our stockyards. The chopper is about 40-50m ahead of us, on the bikes we will move in a line to sit beside each other across the short laneway. The chopper yarded up without out help required.

As this is a major water point where cattle walk every day to drink, the area becomes very dusty.

The pilot will often prefer yard up without the bikes for 2 reasons.
1. Sometimes the chopper can simply do a better job. The pilots can anticipate the herd actions much better because of the view they have. We are only able to see the last few head due to dust.
2. If the chopper does need to be aggressive and come in low the pilot knows we aren’t under him or in a position that he may hit us with the rotors. This may sound silly but there have been some terrible accidents over the years of pilots yarding up, dropping very low and not realising a worker has driven under them. The rotors have hit the person on the ground killing them. If any of the cattle had turned we would have all moved in to stand and hold the cattle until they turned the right direction again, we wouldn’t have done that until the pilot knew exactly where we were and had lifted higher.

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We had a good yard up and left these cattle in this small holding paddock for a few hours to rest, this allows cows to mother up with small calves. We came back in the afternoon with our bikes but no chopper and yarded up into the stock yards ready to draft and work the cattle the next morning. We don’t leave them in the barbwire holding yards over night as some animals may try to get out and escape.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Cattle station operations, Life on a property | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Examples of stunning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.1 Captive bolt stunning

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

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

1.2 Indonesia stunning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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

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