Exclusion fences boost processor confidence

Exclusion fences boost processor confidence

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Queensland's last small stock export processor is hoping western Queensland graziers are fair dinkum about using their exclusion fences to boost sheep numbers when the season recovers.

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Western Meat Exporters manager Campbell McPhee.

Western Meat Exporters manager Campbell McPhee.

The pastoral maps covering the walls of Campbell McPhee's Charleville office tell an encouraging story.

The maps show the vast swathes of western Queensland that now sit behind exclusion fences and Mr McPhee believes they are the key to the future growth of his business - Queensland's last small stock processing facility.

Located 800 kilometers west of Brisbane, Western Meat Exporters currently processes 2000 goats and up to 2000 sheep and lambs five days a week.

Encouraged by the massive investment in exclusion fences and talk that graziers are keen to build their sheep numbers once the drought breaks, Mr McPhee wants to increase his sheep kill in line with the projected growth of the flock.

"I would like the plant to grow alongside the Queensland sheep industry," he said.

"If we can see the Queensland flock moving from that two million head mark into the three million area, that will give us some idea of what kind of investment we should be making and how much expansion we should do for the next 10 years."

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Western Meat Exporters is one of Australia's most remote export processing facilities.

The business has been developed over several decades and is now one of the largest employers in the Charleville district with 150 staff.

The plant usually runs five shifts a week and all product is boxed, certified and sealed for export on site before being transported daily by refrigerated trucks to port in Brisbane.

Around 70 per cent of their goat meat is exported to America although Canada, the Caribbean, Japan, Korea, Thailand and China are also important markets.

In the past few years demand from China for their lamb and mutton has surged and Mr McPhee said Chinese importers were clearly feeling the impact of the African swine fever outbreak.

"China is the main player at the moment on the back of swine fever," he said.

"That market has been very strong for us for the past six months but we also want to continue our strong relationships in America."

Campbell McPhee

Campbell McPhee

Mr McPhee has already increased sheep and lamb throughput at the facility but is now planning to make mechanical and structural changes to ramp up the sheep kill.

Required improvements include upgrading the technology and facilities to accommodate more frozen product.

Mc McPhee wants to introduce a night shift in the boning room where staff would be able to provide extra value by further breaking down carcases.

An extra shift could provide an additional 30 or 40 jobs at the facility.

Mr McPhee said sheep have heavier carcase weights and provide a more consistent kill compared with goats which can become hard to source at certain times of the year.

He won't put a figure on his expansion ideas but said he was talking to the Queensland Government about how the state could support the plan.

"We have really taken notice of the Queensland Government's investment into exclusion fencing and noticed the uptake among graziers," he said. "We certainly feel encouraged to follow that investment.

"Thanks to those fences we now have the ability to process some of those sheep in Queensland, rather than having all those sheep go interstate to be killed and create jobs there."

Keith Richardson is the branch manager of Elders Charleville and has seen first hand how exclusion fences have provided new options for local graziers.

Once the drought breaks he believes most will look to goats and Dorpers to restock, rather than Merinos and even cattle.

"The people who are already in Merinos will probably build their numbers but because we have a lot of Mulga country, I think we'll see more goats and Dorpers," he said.

"If you have good country that will breed a Merino lamb successfully, and if you are fenced, then you might go back into Merinos but it is not going to be the mad run into Merinos like they were predicting. They got that wrong."

Keith Richardson, Elders Charleville, believes a lot of producers who have built exclusion fences will look to goats and Dorper sheep when they restock.

Keith Richardson, Elders Charleville, believes a lot of producers who have built exclusion fences will look to goats and Dorper sheep when they restock.

Mr Richardson said much of the 'red' country around Charleville traditionally ran Merino wethers.

But he said that type of operation was no longer feasible because there simply wasn't a secure supply of wethers and producers were unable to compete with processors to source stock.

For Mr McPhee, the type of stock is not an issue.

He's simply looking to shore up supply.

"I think Queensland's future in the small stock industry looks far more positive compared to what it was five years ago when the graziers would tell you horror stories about dogs hunting them out," he said.

"At least with the exclusion fences they have hopefully found a tool to take back control of their industry."

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