An attempt to spread the word of Agriculture through my own experiences. Inspired by Advocates for Agriculture and their story on ABC's Landline on the 14th August 2011. Might take me a while to get this page up to scratch, but it should be fun trying.
Thank you to everybody who has shared this blog. Sharing is the way these things work, otherwise I'm justing talking to myself. If you like what you read please tweet, Facebook or email it to your mates. The more people outside our agricultural circle we can reach the better. Don't forget to have a look at the other blogs I'm following too. Everyone has a story to tell.
It’s on again, the Stop Live Exports Human Chain across the
Stirling Bridge in Fremantle.
They’re a persistent bunch, but then so are we. Last year we
gate crashed their little party and it was BRILLIANT!
If you weren’t there, words can’t describe how the day felt.
The huge BBQ in the morning. The inspirational speakers (we have a bigger PA
system this year, so you can actually hear them this time), the mass of people
pouring down the hill to line the foreshore, and then the trucks. God bless
Work can be bloody hard out here, in amongst the dust
Heat is high, the days are long and strong fortitude’s a must.
But when things are going wrong and you’ve almost had enough
Something reminds you that those before had been made from sterner stuff.
As we drill away at the dirt, to replace some ancient yard
The air powered rock drill jams, and the bit is stuck in hard
We swear and curse and heave and strain, till finally it comes free
But blokes who dug those holes without one, are from sterner stuff than me
Steel pipe cut to length with an electric powered saw
Replaces the wooden strainer posts that once were there before
One old jam log still stands, hand cut with nothing ‘cept an axe
Made from sterner stuff were those guys, and also, their backs
So a fair bit has happened
in the last few months. We got to meet the (former) Minister for Agriculture.
We saw the (former) Prime Minister in the flesh. And it looks like we might be
the former owners of a once thriving export depot, which while is not what we
had planned, it is what it is and we move on.
Meanwhile, some serious
work has been done to get our type of sheep in to local processors. Now I could
write a thousand words on this, but here is the short version. Yes, the ones
that make the grade are worthwhile, but the eighty per cent that don’t still
need a home to go to. It is a lot of work for less return overall and no matter
what we are still stuck with the older sheep. So this is where this particular
After an initial trial
into processors, much discussion and more to the point, no ship orders for
damaras, we arranged a booking for light ram lambs to an abattoir for mid-August.To be frank, the price was shit, as a light
lamb weighs not much (the clue is in the name) and when you’re paid by the
kilo, there is not much you can do about it. But cashflow is king in any
business, and things need to keep ticking along. So three weeks ago we started
I haven’t yet explained
how the muster process works out here at Gabyon. That’s a tale for another day, but it involves
an aeroplane, four motorbikes, two sheep dogs, portable sheep yards, a semi-trailer
and some (cough) swearing. It’s not easy, but if you’re working towards
something, its good fun. We see the mob of sheep in a paddock we haven’t seen
since last muster, we see the lambs, and we see the weaners. It makes a nice
change from driving around not seeing a bloody thing for six months or more.
So we mustered. Then we
get a phone call a week into it. There’s a ship order out. They’re taking all
the things, including damara’s. AND they can take the older rams. Hallelujah,
about bloody time, pull out all the stops people we need to get some sheep
rounded up and get them gone NOW. Needless to say we felt heartened, after 18
months of nearly nothing we had a good order to work towards.
However, this put us in a
pickle. We’d arranged a delivery of light lambs to an abattoir, which coincidently
was roughly the same delivery date as the ship order. There wasn’t much to think
about though. The ship would take all ram lambs, and all rams up to white tag,
whereas the abattoir would only take light lambs. Bugger the meatworks, we need
to move sheep off the place and money into the account ASAP.
A week and a half later, which
was yesterday, with some five hundred rams lambs and rams in the yards, on VERY
expensive feed, we get a call. “Job’s off. They’ve cancelled the order. My
guess is they can’t get ESCAS approval.”Now it’s probably a good thing we live so far from Perth, otherwise one
or two of us would be up on murder charges and I’d be writing this from a
holding cell somewhere.
So now we are in a jam.
We have a holding paddock full of sheep too old forthe domestic processors, with no idea if any
ship order is going to be forthcoming for them, and last I heard the next available
kill space is Christmas, with this year’s new drop of lambs about to be ready
for sale. Sheep need to eat, and either we let them go again into the main
paddocks, after three weeks of work and expense, and hope they stay away from the
ewes which we don’t want mated to them, or we try to find some way of feeding
them, which will be nigh on impossible with the dry season in the Northern Ag
zone all but exhausting any spare hay supplies.
You all may or may not be
aware we’ve started a station stay. Perhaps a few of the do gooding brigade who
so adamantly campaigned against our trade would like to come visit and witness
firsthand the mess they have made. Hell, they can even take a ram home with
them. Strangely, that’s only not allowed if you’re an Arab in the Middle East. Try
explaining that one to the two French backpackers helping. They think we’re
nuts enough with vegemite, giant jumping rats and running birds who don’t fly.
When we explain we now have to control what another country does with an animal
we’ve sold them, they think we’re mad. Strangely enough, so did the two German
girls, the Taiwanese girl, the German guy and the Austrian girl who have all
graced us with their presence. There’s a lesson there somewhere. I hope whoever
is in charge in the near future wakes up to this, or it’s going to be a bloody
Dear Mr Ludwig, former Agricultural Minister for Australia
Congratulations on your early retirement. We trust you found
your time as Agricultural Minister an enlightening one, and that after a few
years in the job, you are now able to tell a sheep from a cow from a horse’s
arse. We also hope you have learnt that livestock are not like iron ore, and
that they cannot sit idle at wharf side while you attempt to appease some 18
million voters on the Eastern seaboard.
Did anything you heard at any of your meetings with any
producers actually sink in at any point? We would hope so. We are sure any
future employers would expect the ability to listen and learn to be a
prerequisite, and to this we hope it has improved should you get bored of tax
payer funded pension benefits, benefits which those left decimated by your few
years at the reins (reins are the things which steer horses, at the opposite
end of the horse’s arse) would greatly appreciate.
If you've been reading for a while and ever wondered what it be like to be on a station, here's your chance. Welcome to Gabyon Station Stay, our new little sideline that we hope people will enjoy.
We've got some basic rooms and amenities, and with 670 000 acres, there's plenty of space to pitch the tent or park the caravan, but if you like your toilet to flush and your showers hot, you'll probably want to stay close to the compound, and you won't find stars clearer than out here.
We have a friend who used to help us in the feedlot from
time to time.A lovely girl, whose pride
and joy to this day are her two dogs, a blue heeler called Millie and the
biggest German Shepherd I have ever seen called Rex (obviously). She taught
these two all manner of commands and tricks, but for various reasons, one being
her father of German descent, and the other, well, she didn’t want just anybody
being able to tell her dogs what to do, so they only understand German.Which is great, until you walk around the
corner into your shed, with her car parked under it with a blue heeler and what
can only be described as the Godzilla of the canine world inside, heads poking
out the windows and giving a bark that says “I dare you to come closer.” It’s
at this point I wish I’d taken German instead of Japanese in high school, and
after racking my brains and a few failed “Shuddups” and “Siddowns” I yell
“Nein!” And both dogs cease and desist and I manage to get in and back out the
tractor without losing any limbs.
That is about the extent of my experience with Germans.
Until three weeks ago.
2012, we showed everyone we’ve had a bloody gutful.
Had a gutful
of the criticism, the insults, the assumptions, the simplistic solutions
offered, the ideological claims and counter claims against our trade.
Had a gutful
of some bright spark in an office somewhere claiming that he’d worked out on a
piece of paper that should the live trade cease, sheep prices will only drop by
$5-10, while at the same time we watch them plummet from $90 to $35 in the
space of twelve months with a restricted trade. And that’s if you can actually sell them.
Had a gutful
of being told we should send all our animals to local processors while the
local processor tells us they either a.) don’t want them b.) can’t take them
for eight weeks or c.) can only take some until the new season lambs come
Had a gutful
of being told how much of a difference our new regulations are making a huge to
overseas markets, while reading that Romania has lifted sheep exports from zero
to a million head, and how Somaliland is gearing up their new 55 000 head
holding facility for Saudi. Only difference has been we aren’t there.
Had a gutful
of being told how our new regulations are an improvement in animal welfare,
while we castrate ram hoggets and lop their horns off to the ear because we can’t
sell them anymore, but might be able
to as wethers, once they heal.
Open Letter to Federal Minister for Agriculture, Senator Joe
In May 2012 I wrote to you, Senator Joe Ludwig, regarding
the implementation of the Exporters Supply Chain Assurance System and the
effect it has had on our operation. In short, it had completely shut off the
markets which exporters delivered our sheep to. We, along with many other
growers, changed breeds to either Damara, Awassi, or Van Rooy, all an easy
care, non shearing type sheep which does not require many of the husbandry
practises the traditional Merino does, ie mulesing, tail docking, castration,
shearing, crutching or chemicals to prevent flystrike.
These breeds, known as fat tail sheep, originate in the
Middle East, and compete with the domestically bred animals, and also with
other countries imported livestock. They were traditionally sold via third parties,
ie small local agents or through saleyards, much the same as our own domestic
saleyards. Of course, none of this complies with ESCAS, as the final point of
slaughter cannot be determined.
Your Department replied with a nicely worded letter saying
how good ESCAS was for the industry and if I have any concerns to take them up
with the exporters. It may surprise you to know that having diversified our
business into an AQIS registered pre-export sheep depot, we were already in constant
contact with exporters.
Your Department was also kind enough to provide the Rural
Financial Counselling Services phone number. Up until ESCAS, our Rural Finances
have been quite manageable on our own, thank you.
Since ESCAS’s implementation, we have witnessed an almost
complete halt to our cash flow. I cannot convey just how detrimental this had
been to our family business. We have two farms listed for sale, both sheep
grazing properties, whose value has dropped significantly since the uncertainty
in the sheep industry. We employed two full time staff. Yesterday I gave our 21
year old employee of two years his four week Notice, as we simply do not have
the funds to keep paying him. He has two small daughters. When he asked if he
could have first dibs at the job if things get better I could have cried.
We used to employ up to six casual staff. Not anymore. The
feedlot has effectively been made redundant as exporters try to save costs by
trucking sheep from our area to their own depots, and also as we predominantly
held the fat tail breeds that have become common on the surrounding pastoral
properties, which are now unsaleable.
Our two farms at Geraldton are currently heavily
overstocked. We cannot sell the ram lambs anywhere. Ship orders have dried up,
and despite claims from activists, the domestic market simply does not want ram
lambs. Our station, Gabyon, at Yalgoo, is also under huge pressure. Rangeland
management is a delicate balance, with over grazing easily degrading the
landscape. Since March, ESCAS’s start date, we have done very little mustering
as there is nowhere to send the stock. We have trucked lambs to the two farms
in the hope they would sell. That was six months ago. In that time, the holding
paddocks on Gabyon are again full, and in danger of being badly eaten out. We
are faced with the choice of trying to fence off another large holding area, at
considerable cost which we have no funds to pay for, or turning the ram lambs
back out. This, coupled with the un mustered ram lambs, creates a huge welfare
issue, as the rams literally rape the ewes to death. Mobs are supposed to have
2-3% rams, not 50%. Two days ago I saw three rams of varying ages chasing down a
The ironic thing about all this is shortly we are going to
be forced to do something. We can’t leave the sheep to fend for themselves. So
most likely we will muster and mark the young lambs, and for the first time in
a decade, castrate and tail them. We are also contemplating castrating the
older rams lambs, which is neither a pleasant or painless job. I cannot see how
that is an improvement in animal welfare. It was unnecessary before, and one of
many reasons we got out of Merinos.
I have spoken to numerous people inside the industry.
Originally I thought, well, if ESCAS is what we need to keep live export alive,
so be it. But it goes too far. One person told me nothing will improve unless
the Middle East come grovelling to us, which is highly unlikely, or the
regulations change. One exporter is talking of getting their own facility in
Saudi, but that is months away, and still with no guarantee of taking fat tail
What really gets me is the fact I can send sheep to Muchea
saleyards with absolutely no clue as to who will buy them. No idea as to what
conditions they will be kept. For all I know they could starve to death on a
hobby block. Yet I can’t sell them in an overseas saleyard, even though we have
done so for the last fifty years.
And the really frustrating part is that nothing has changed
overseas. Sheep still get their throats cut in little abs. People still take
them home in the boot of their car. Only they aren’t Australian sheep, they are
Somalian, or Nigerian, or Sudanese or local sheep. Romania’s export of sheep
has lifted from almost zero to over a million in the last year. And to top it
off, I can guarantee you no one is there now in the market places from
Livecorp, MLA, Wellards or anyone else trying to improve anything anymore. The
ute, don’t boot campaign would have ceased.
In Indonesia we see pictures of local cattle being craned
out of ships by their heads. Since the cattle shortage the Indonesian Defence
Force has been shipping in cattle from outlaying islands and Provinces. You
think Australia is bad? How well do you think the IDF carts cows?
The people you have tried to placate with this system will
never be placated. Animals Australia believes eating meat is cruelty in itself.
I can show you hundreds of examples where people against this trade have said
as much. The very idea of farming animals to them is abhorrent. They see blood
and immediately demand an end to it. They cry foul when a sheep is caught from
a yard by it’s back leg. How do they think we do it here? Call them by name?
Our business had a good system. Breed at the station, finish
on the farm. Diversify with a contract feedlotting business. Even dabble in the
local farmers markets, and the boutique capretto (young goat) trade. But the
system cannot cope with no markets. It is not even a case of sending everything
to a saleyard, as they would simply be walked by, or sold at a price that would
not cover the freight.
People may wonder why we would limit our production to an
animal that is solely reliant on one market. Quite simply, because at the time,
it was a better option for us than continuing to grow wool at a loss. And we
realised the risk, and as other breeds came on, we experimented, trying to find
a breed suitable for both markets. Eighteen months ago we found one we liked,
and are in the middle of breeding them through our flock. But it takes a long
There are dozens of other producers in the same boat as us.
After being encouraged by exporters and the WA Agricultural Department, with good
reason, that these breeds are a good option, we have been left stranded
effectively overnight by you. The demand for them has not changed, only the
inability to track consignments through various sales points to meet your
requirements. Other exporting countries must be rubbing their hands in glee
while shaking their heads in amazement at us.
In 2006 and 2007 Geraldton had its driest years on record.
That nearly broke us. But we got through it. In 2011, Gabyon station flooded.
That took out most the fences along creeks, and severely limited our cash flow
as it was too wet to muster. But we got through it, and the abundant feed the
rains created was supposed to be money in the bank. In December 2011, the
abundant feed caught alight, and over ten days burnt an unprecedented 80 000
ha, or one third of Gabyon. We lost more fences and some stock. But we got
The ESCAS regulations have done more damage to us in the
last eleven months than anything Nature has been able to throw at us in the
last decade. And if something does not change very soon, we will be through.
At what point does animal welfare over-ride people welfare?
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