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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.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


This is a tale of Ronnie, a kelpie pure bred
This is the tale of Ronnie, who wasn’t quite right in the head
His siblings became sheepdogs, their regard always held high
But this is the tale of Ronnie, who seemed to have far too much eye.
While the litter scrapped and ran, Ronnie would stop and stand
Watching the cat snooze on a garden seat
He’d sit there all day while the other pups played
Edging closer to that cats out stretched  feet.
Learn he never did, what secrets those feet hid
But he still bears the scar that shows
Just one little lick, make a cats feet strike quick
He’s lucky to have kept his nose

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Hadagutful 2013 - Now with more guts

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 those trucks.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Sterner Stuff

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

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Mustered, Pickles and Jams

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 story starts.


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 to muster.


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 for  the 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 mess.

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Ding Dong.

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.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Blatant Self Promotion.....

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.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Don't Mention the War.....

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.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

#Hadagutful 2.0 - This time it's personal.....

In November 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 online.

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.

So last year, we had a gutful.

Now, we’ve just got the shits on.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Good Head for Radio....

Yesterday the ABC came out to talk about how the new export laws (ESCAS) is affecting us.

If you want to hear our thoughts, have a listen. No wise cracks in this post, it's just not funny anymore.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Slow Hand Clap Please....

Open Letter to Federal Minister for Agriculture, Senator Joe Ludwig.

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 single ewe.

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 sheep.

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 time.

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 through it.

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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