Talk to any beef producer in Australia and you’ll quickly come to understand that raising cattle is not a job, it’s a way of life.
Whether they’re a small hobby farmer or one of Australia’s oldest and largest cattle companies, as is the case with The North Australian Pastoral Company (NAPCo), each and every story will showcase their passion for producing quality beef in an ethical and sustainable way.
At the heart of this is animal welfare, and an unwavering commitment by both grass fed and grain fed beef producers to ensuring the cattle in their care are happy and healthy.
For NAPCo, the commitment to animal welfare comes from the simple and long-standing belief that “cattle are not a commodity to us”.
This concept may seem hard to imagine in practice, given the scale of the NAPCo operation; managing a herd of 200,000 cattle across 6 million hectares of land in Queensland and the Northern Territory, the company is a major player in Australia’s cattle industry.
But with that scale comes a 145-year history that proudly boasts stewardship of their animals, the land they farm and the future of their business.
As Rick Young – manager of NAPCo’s Wainui Feedlot – tells it, NAPCo staff have a connection with every animal in their care.
“Animal welfare is obviously important for the animals, but it’s also important for the people, it’s important for business, and it’s just a big part of what we do,” Mr Young said.
“We’re passionate about what we do, we’re passionate about animals, and we want them to be as healthy as possible and in their natural environment as much as we can.
“Every day we get out of bed wanting to work with animals, and that’s why animal welfare is important to us.”
Watching his team interact with animals in the feedlot – which involves caring for 16,000 to 18,000 head on any given day – Mr Young said their attention to detail and commitment to happy and healthy animals is something they clearly take pride in.
“Our people take their time, watch what the cattle do, how they act, what they eat and what they like to do,” he said.
“We work with that, promote that, educate ourselves to be able to understand that and then everything we do is based around how an animal likes to behave.
“Doing that gives you a sense of pride and achievement at the end of the day.”
There’s also a sense of enjoyment that comes from looking out over pens of happy and healthy cattle.
“When I’m driving round here in the morning, I take the time to stop and just enjoy doing what we do, and I thoroughly do,” Mr Young said.
“I’ll pull up and animals will be playing with each other, they’ll come up to the car, they’ll sniff your hand, they’re resting, acting normally, and they’ll run around bucking and playing.
“We live and breathe what we do, and cattle are not a commodity to us.”
This mentality is not limited to the feedlot staff; it’s at the heart of every team across the operation.
NAPCo cattle are born and raised on wide open pastures and are the product of generations of farmers who have spent their lives overseeing the entire operation from breeding to fattening.
“These generations of producers and their commitment to animal welfare is proof that cattle are far better off under the careful eyes of good people,” Mr Young said.
“The question is often asked ‘is the human management of animals good for their wellbeing’, but I think the question should be ‘what if we didn’t’.
“Animals range in managed pastures that cover large areas; we have paddocks that are so big cattle would never walk across them, they can roam around for days and never feel confined.”
In addition to this, their nutrition is monitored and managed, and they are cared for thoroughly for disease, parasites, injuries and general health.
“Even the slightest welfare concern can be addressed quickly and professionally,” Mr Young said.
“If cattle were left to run wild, there would be starvation, disease, injuries, and ill health that would cause stress and even death over long periods of time. No one wants to see that.
“We do this because we have a relationship with animals, the land and our heritage. There is a real connection and genuine feelings with what we do.”
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