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Graziers shooting cattle they can't afford to feed

Caitlyn Gribbin, Monday May 20, 2013 - 21:48 EST
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Ray Martin, from Broadwater Station, says many graziers can no longer feed their cattle. - ABC

Graziers in northern Australia are shooting their cattle because they can't feed or sell them.

Drought, a diminished live exporting trade and low cattle prices at saleyards are being blamed for creating terrible farming conditions in the north.

Sisters Chanelle and Debra run a cattle station in northern Australia and say they've shot weak and sick cattle that don't have food to eat.

"It's very hard when you're counting down to the last cent and you're looking at it and saying 'I can't feed that cow because I can't afford it'," Chanelle said.

"If they haven't got any food or no quality of water, are you just going to let it die a slow death of three or four days in a paddock, with the crows and the eagles picking their eyes out?" Debra said.

"Or, do you take the bullet, put it in your gun, pull the trigger?"

One of Australia's largest beef producers says the industry has little choice but to shoot cattle.

North west Queensland grazier Malcolm McClymont says conditions are worse than the 1974 world beef price collapse.

"Banks are pulling up with money, they won't lend any more money to feed," he said.

"The cattle are of no value so there's not much other alternative [than to shoot the animals].

"Anyone that's running cattle at the moment is running below production; eventually, over a period of time, they'll all go broke.

"The problem is people have got to sell the cattle, otherwise they're going to die at home and that's the big crunch."

Writing was on the wall

Beef industry leaders have been warning this would happen. Over summer, much of northern Australia didn't receive traditional monsoonal rain. That meant grass didn't grow, so in parts, there's nothing for cattle to eat.

Graziers say they'd buy food, like hay, but they can't afford it for a few reasons.

Firstly, live exporting to countries like Indonesia reduced enormously in the past couple of years. That's flooded the domestic cattle market, with too many beasts to sell pushing prices as low as $20 a head in Queensland recently.

Drought is also declared in parts of the north and farmers say they can't pay off their bank loans.

Graziers already being forced off properties

There's already evidence of the tough conditions in the cattle industry. Richmond Shire mayor John Wharton was last year ordered by receivers to leave the property owned by his family for nearly 100 years.

The circumstances surrounding that is an issue that's before the federal court.

But for now, Councillor Wharton is working as a livestock agent, living in town, not on the cattle station. "I'm out of it now," he said.

"A lot of people in the bush have had sleepless nights, they say 'I've been working all my life for the bank'."

Cattle crisis was 'avoidable'

There are hundreds of northern Australian cattle producers who say their pain was avoidable.

They blame the Federal Government's 2011 live cattle export suspension with Indonesia, a trade that's plunged into decline since that decision.

But that crisis was accompanied by a strong Indonesian push to self sufficiency, to the detriment of Australian live trade.

Towards the Northern Territory border, Ray Martin owns Broadwater Station.

Without a full-strength live exporting market, Ray Martin says many in the north can't stay on their properties.

"I'd say a lot of people will go broke and a lot of communities will suffer.

"With live export not being available, it's just wrecked our markets."


© ABC 2013

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