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Food for the Future
Explain (article one)
stations because the plants are not as nutritious as the pasture of
southern Australia. In northern areas, the cattle are run
at around one animal for up to 500,000 square metres of land.
In southern areas, on the other hand, each animal only needs
up to 10,000 square metres of land.
There are two main seasons in the north: the wet season from
October to March and the dry season from April to September.
The wet season’s rains help the grasses grow, and when the feed
is green the cattle grow and put on weight. As the quality of feed
deteriorates in a dry season, nitrogen levels become low in the
grasses, and protein feed is supplied to provide the necessary
During the dry season the cattle are mustered – they are
rounded up and moved to the nearest yards using horses and
motorcycles, as well as helicopters or aircraft to help spot and
move the cattle. Here the calves are vaccinated against disease,
marked on the hide or with an eartag so they can be identified,
and the male calves not suitable for breeding are desexed.
It’s a big job to muster all the cattle into the yards, so the
bulls are allowed to run with the cows all year rather than being
taken out of the herd after mating. This means that on some
properties, calves are born at different times of the year, so
there is usually a second muster during the year to tag and
wean the calves born later.
Most stations have several sets of yards so the cattle don’t have
to travel too far. Trucks are used to transport the cattle on the
dirt roads around the station, and to take the horses out to the
paddocks to do the mustering. Huge trucks with several trailers,
called road trains, take the cattle from the yards to market. The
cattle may be transported to quarantine facilities to be shipped
to overseas markets, mainly in nearby Asian countries, or they
may be taken to an abattoir (meat works) for processing. The
main ports for shipping cattle are Broome and Wyndham in
Western Australia, Darwin in the Northern Territory, and
Karumba and Townsville in Queensland.
Increasing pressure on fertile and arable land by a growing
world population will mean it’s too expensive and inefficient
for cattle breeding herds. In northern Australia, the enormous
tracts of land are unsuitable for intensive production or cropping,
but despite the harsh landscape this unlikely area remains an
important part of the protein needs of a growing planet.
The cattle industry is very important to rural Australia –
apart from mining and tourism it is the only industry that
these wide, arid rangelands can support, and without these
industries, Australia wouldn’t be able to support the small
communities, vast road networks, and isolated indigenous
inhabitants who rely on education and health services that
the communities sustain.
Farming in southern Australia
In the temperate south, farming is very different. Sheep are
farmed predominantly in the south, as well as cattle breeds
such as Herefords and Angus. These breeds have a high
reproductive performance and are suitable to colder climates.
Southern cattle production uses a type of farming where cattle
graze on grasses and pasture plants as their primary food source.
Cattle farmers work hard to manage the health of their pasture
to ensure it provides good quality, nutritious food for their
cattle. They do this by ensuring their soils are healthy and dense
in nutrients, planting improved grasses and pasture plants,
controlling pests and weeds and sometimes applying fertilisers.
Good pasture needs reliable rainfall, so this type of farming
occurs in higher rainfall regions in the southern half of Western
Australia and South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South
Wales and south-east Queensland.
This type of farming is often suited to smaller farms where
farmers work closely with their cattle each day, managing their
feed and breeding and keeping watch over them. The cattle are
run in paddocks and are moved between them to manage
pasture levels and soil health. From time to time they are
mustered with horses, bikes or utes and moved to yards to check
their weight and health, or to divide them into different herds.
Farmers manage their bulls so they only mate with the cows
at a certain time during the year, which means their calves are all
born at around the same time and they will be ready for market
at similar times. On southern cattle farms, cows usually have
their first calf when they are two years old. This is done to time
births for autumn, or sometimes spring, so the newborns have
the best chance of thriving. Cows may have up to eight calves
in their lifetime.
When calves are young they are vaccinated to protect them
from disease. They are also marked, which means they get eartags,
like an earring. One tag identifies the year they were born and
their mother and father. A second, electronic tag, part of the
National Livestock Identification System, records the property
they are from and all their movements over their lifetime.
Most of the male calves are desexed. Desexing makes
management easier, decreases the risk of inbreeding and allows
for males cattle to be kept with the other cattle for longer.
On southern farms most of the rain falls during the winter
months and pasture then starts to grow. The warm, sunny spring
months grow the best pasture before it dies off and becomes
‘dry’ feed over summer. To keep cattle healthy and growing,
farmers feed them hay, grain and silage pasture (that has been
cut and stored) when there is not enough good pasture.
Hay and silage are made in spring or summer and are stored
ready for the drier months when extra feed is needed.
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