It’s a dusty, hot day at Roebuck Plains station in the pindan cattle country of Western Australia’s far north.
Around 50 jackaroos and jillaroos have descended on the cattle yards.
Some have travelled more than 500 kilometres to compete in the 2019 Livestock Handling Cup.
The Cup is an event like no other in the world which showcases best practice animal welfare standards in the Northern pastoral industry, with a focus on low stress — for both the humans and the beasts.
“Most stations do a low-stress stock handling course every year so it’s something that’s really taking off,” Kimberley pastoralist Peter Camp said.
“And with a competition like this one now, I know there’s a lot of interest not only nationally but internationally.
“There’s been people from as far as Canada and Africa all very excited about what we’re doing and would love to come and participate.
“It’s something that could grow and is a huge promotion for our industry.”
Skills put to the test
The event was first held on Yarrie station in the East Pilbara in 2016 and was the dream child of fifth generation pastoralist Annabelle Coppin and livestock handling educator Boyd Holden.
Now in its fourth year, it attracted 15 teams from across the Kimberley and Pilbara who competed for the title of Livestock Handling champion.
The competition, run by the Kimberley Pilbara Cattleman’s Association, tests station workers’ cattle skills with a series of challenges.
First each team has to settle the beasts in a yard, draft them into groups and guide them through an obstacle course within 30 minutes.
As each team of three steps into the yards, the spectators fall silent and all that can be heard is the gentle clang of the gates and trot of the cattle as they move through the draft.
Mr Camp said the key to successful low-stress stock handling was being calm, quiet and good teamwork.
“You’ve got to get the cattle to go fairly close proximity to waving banners, and balloons and stuff that they wouldn’t be normally used to,” he said.
Low-stress stock handling on display
Yarrie station’s senior station hand Martha Linstad travelled almost 500 kilometres to attend this year’s Livestock Handling Cup, which was hosted in the Kimberley for the first time.
Ms Linstad said her team had seen the positive effects of low-stress handling techniques first hand.
“We have different games or sessions we do with all our weaners; we run a program that makes them used to people, [and] how we want to move them,” she said.
“They get a reward when they go where we want them to go, and that sets them up for the rest of their lives.
“Whether that’s going into an abattoir, loading onto an export boar, [or] getting handled in different facilities.”
Ms Linstad and her teammate Lydia Inglis are both up and coming stockwomen in the Northern pastoral industry.
Both were rewarded with individual encouragement awards for their leadership and communication skills in the yards.
Myroodah comes out on top
At the end of a long gruelling day in the yards, it was first time competitors from Myroodah, an Indigenous-owned station near Fitzroy Crossing, which took out top honours.
“Because we’re getting a whole bunch of young people coming through and that’s how they learn to handle cattle from the start.”
Ms Inglis said she hoped the KPCA Livestock Handling Cup would continue to boost the reputation of the Northern pastoral industry.
“This is not just another chance for us to win some prizes, get together and make it a huge social event,” she said.
“Our sole focus is to keep this industry moving forward with positivity and to support each other, that’s our shared responsibility going forward.”
Cattle Collective highlights animal welfare
That was the message echoed throughout the weekend by a new group — the Cattle Collective — which was created to improve transparency in live export supply chains.
The project will share with city consumers via social media, the untold stories of producers, station owners, managers, vets, truck drivers, station hands, exporters and importers.
“We really want to change the hearts and minds of the Australian public on a very politically driven debate and [one] that’s become really emotive,” livestock veterinarian Holly Ludeman said.
Dr Ludeman started the initiative off the back of the success of the Sheep Collective earlier this year.
That project was launched in the wake of the devastating footage showing dead and heat-stressed sheep on Emanuel Exports’ Awassi Express voyage to the Middle East.
“That footage was horrible and disturbing to everyone, I suppose that was part of the driving factor of sharing these stories,” she said.
“There is still people who don’t agree with certain parts of the animal production system, so I think it’s [about] acknowledging and accepting that and being very respectful.”
“It’s going to be really difficult to shift that image and gain trust back but I’m really passionate about being part of this project.”
Bridging the city-rural divide
The Cattle Collective will be officially launched at the LIVEXchange Welfare Beyond Borders conference in Townsville next month.
Dr Ludeman said she hoped initiatives like The Sheep and Cattle collectives will help bridge the city-rural divide and educate future generations.
“We’re really excited to be involved in projects like Teacher Ethics for Rabobank who are training teachers about agricultural industries,” she said.
“We’re going to hopefully be at the Perth Royal Show talking with children, using the virtual reality headsets from LiveCorp.
And as the sun sets on another Livestock Handling Cup, competitors know there’s still a lot of work to do to promote the Northern pastoral industry to city audiences.
But they can leave satisfied knowing they have played a small part in telling their story to the world.