By Lucy Ziesemer
I’m writing this on Sunday night feeling oddly optimistic.
I know all the ‘be your best self’ gurus would advocate we use the weekend to fill our hypothetical cups instead of draining the more hold-in-your-hand variety, but I’m a realist and know most of you aren’t opposed to the celebratory clink of champagne glasses and beer bottle necks. In my experience and much to my continued dismay (insert eye roll here), Sunday nights are usually wrought with the ick, where the thought of Monday morning sans friends, fun and folklore far from blows your hair back. No matter how much you love your day job, the weekend exists for a reason. Now I’m no TED talk fiend, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised it’s possible and actually quite an organic process to fill both one’s life cup and their beverage cup simultaneously. It’s all down to the people you share “here’s cheers” with, and with my marriage to a Western Man only a couple of months away, I’m now unwrapping deeper layers of what it is to be a woman on the land thanks to snippets of insight shared over beverages of all kinds (Bushells tea, Pimms, a good old fashioned red- you name it) by women who really know the drill.
I’ve always been quite independent and sure of my abilities and direction. Living in the bush, you learn to handle certain things yourself rather than wait days, weeks, maybe even months for perpetually “flat out” professionals to sort it for you. I specify ‘certain things’ because I would rather dig a 4 foot deep long drop in the paddock than go to the toilet with a frog in the bowl. It’s called being resourceful. But as I discovered this weekend, independence is only sustainable with a support network of likeminded individuals lingering in far flung fringes out of sight but certainly not out of mind.
On Saturday, I was introduced to a group of women, some who travelled 700 odd kilometres, to celebrate and welcome me to the “wild western women’s club.” Without exaggeration, I was starstruck. These ladies offered me pearls of wisdom money couldn’t buy about what it takes to stay married to a Western Man. More than “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach...” who knew?!
(N.b- I’ve learned that ‘Western Man’ is actually a proper noun and widely used by long married women residing in rural and remote areas of Queensland, hence the capitalisation.)
While the effort the ladies went to to be there did not escape me, it was clear they truly wouldn’t have been anywhere else. And the big resounding lightbulb moment from all of this, was that women on the land are a force to be reckoned with. In my young life I’ve experienced one significant drought. In theirs they’d endured dozens. They’d surmounted isolation, hardship, and no doubt numerous uphill battles and revelled in joyous victories, small wins and happy days in equal measure. Garth Brooks (up there with Shania Twain in my books) sings a song he dubbed “The River.” It describes life for the ebb and flow that it is, be it rapids roaring and dragging with an invisible undercurrent daring you to lose your balance, or a gentle ripple where a leaf could fall and float undisturbed, peaceful. The western women reminded me that we are unique, multipurpose vessels of strength, hope, humour, love, determination, passion and power. They reinforced the importance of connection in order to combat the oxymoronic feeling of being smothered by so much space. They encouraged things I already knew, like not losing sight of what’s important and using nature as a source of energy- a practice I try to employ daily.
Western Women, and yes they can be a proper noun too, are a breed of their own. Not better than Eastern Women, but maybe different in minuscule ways the naked eye or otherwise concerned wouldn’t recognise. The best metaphor I can conjure is that Western Women are chameleons, equally comfortable serving party pies at tuck shop, on their annual salt and sand craving pilgrimage to the coast, or branding calves and changing the oil in crusty rust bucket Toyotas at home.
I feel honoured to be inducted into the club- it’s a cool one. Honoured and grateful, to the strong woman who raised me, the strong women who’ve featured in my life thus far, and the strong women I now call friends into the future. How lucky we are to live where we live and do what we do- a distant, out of touch dream for so many.
~ So here I am, happy on a Monday morning!
Raised in Hughensville in regional Northern QLD, Sam Fryer is a bloke that had a supportive upbringing, received a good education and is now involved in the operations of his family-owned property. With a wife and two children of his own, Sam’s life seems to look and sound pretty good on paper. As we have discovered, it’s important to dig a little deeper. Beneath the unassuming happy-go-lucky life of Sam, is the story of a man who has faced more life challenges than he can count on one hand.
In this episode, Sam opens up and shares some incredibly heart-wrenching tales that he went through from his childhood, right up to the present day as a devoted dad. Through facing testing hardships like growing up with a sister who had special needs, managing mental health demons, seeing the loss of a close mate, suffering serious injuries and navigating the challenges of family succession planning, Sam has been on a tough and turbulent journey.
One of the reasons that makes Sam’s story so great is how he has chosen to use his life experiences as a catalyst to be more positive and appreciative. Despite all that he has been through, Sam has a profound optimism and zest for life that is simply infectious.
Sam came onto our radar during Movember last year when he was looking for an agriculture related team to support. After a chat, we were immediately blown away by his story and knew it had to be shared with the Humans of Agriculture audience. Sam is a true storyteller who will steal your undivided attention and leave you feeling grateful for the simplest things in life, like your arms and legs.
Following on from last week, if you need someone to talk to or you're worried about a friend or family member you can reach out to the TIACS support line and either text or call them on 0488 846 988.
Disabilities in the bush
An area that is rarely mentioned or given the attention it deserves is disabilities in the bush. Being in a remote location can make things more difficult in terms of barriers like healthcare accessibility and support. Sam's family faced these circumstances head on with his younger sister Alex being born with cerebral palsy. For the Fryer family, that meant regularly taking the 4-hour trip to Townsville for appointments with specialists while still trying to manage the family farm, bring in an income and raise three kids.
For their family and the community, it was a normal and accepted part of their lives as they never knew any different. Sam reflects that the support of neighbours and locals really helped their family manage the challenges. “Where we lived, we had some amazing people just down the road that would come up and help Mum on the place when Dad was away. Without the community around us I don’t know how they would have done it.”
The role of the local community in supporting families just like the Fryers is critical, whether that is checking in, helping with school drop offs or checking water. Sam credits these years as fundamentally shaping him and is passionate about giving back to those around him.
"It's a massive part of who I am and who my parents are. We are involved in a lot in the community and with events, it's one way for us to say thankful for those years when I was younger" he said.
Another topic woven throughout the discussion is around mental health and specifically the role and exposure people working in agriculture and Rural Australia have to it. For an industry where workers can often be isolated and spend time alone, it has become increasingly important for mates to watch out for each other and ask if they’re okay. With Sam connecting with HoA for Movember – it was clear that advocating for mental health was an important issue close to his heart.
Sam reflects that even from a young age, he felt the heavy weight of his life challenges taking a toll on him. “I needed to see someone and needed to talk to someone,” Sam recalls, after his move to boarding school as a young adolescent. “I came from a school of five to a school of 1,500 and I had just lost my best mate. I just wish I had of had someone to talk to during that time.”
Through his very own up and down roller coaster, Sam shares the insight and wisdom he learnt on how to overcome his struggles and help his mates beat theirs too. He is a beacon of knowledge, who really positions you to stop and realise that we all have a part to play in helping those around us and starting conversations.
“It can’t just be a couple times a year that we decide to call our mate and see if they’re okay, it’s all during the year. If you know something’s wrong with your mates you should be able to give them a buzz.”
After seeking professional support and having a network of loved ones, Sam shared that he has reached a really strong point in his life. This is significantly noticeable through the way he speaks and shares his ideas. After a tumultuous set of circumstances, it remains his priority to focus on the positives and be grateful for the little things.
In the podcast, you’ll hear Sam touch on his idea that he actually feels lucky. It’s a powerful moment that highlights how we can give ourselves so much strength through the way we process the bad times. Sam said, “I’m very lucky, I suppose I probably keep saying that but mate I’ve got two legs and I can walk around, and you know I’ve got both my arms still which is pretty lucky on another level. The experience I’ve had has made me the person I am today. I am thankful for that. it changes my view on the world and makes me appreciate everything a bit more because I’m still here.”
To listen to the podcast, head to the Humans of Agriculture channel on Apple or Spotify and select Episode 36 “HoA ‘I’m lucky’ with Sam Fryer”.
By Lucy Ziesemer
How else could I start this post than HAPPY NEW YEAR?! Here in the sticks as beef producers we were largely exempt from the trials and tribulations of the Covid-19 saga and thankfully for us were able to watch the pandemic unfold from afar. Of course, our little towns closed down and our usually sleepy streets went into full blown comas, but when you’re used to the peace and quiet of rural life an exaggeration of that isn’t too hard to cop.
Take nothing away from the small businesses that felt the full force of 2020- our hearts are still with those families doing it tough because we’ve all been there.
We branded the last mob of calves at Taroom this morning and sweat out every last morsel of the silly season- no juice cleanse required! Our biggest mob in both numbers and size, it was a tough slog to end on.. kind of like the way 2020 ended for a lot of people really.
HOWEVER! Let’s be the glass half full types and look back at what went right hey?!
In short, the cattle market skyrocketed and it rained - jackpot!
Still, what I enjoyed seeing most in 2020 was the general public’s brand new appreciation for food! It was as though we were watching the human race awaken from a spell, where Covid-19 forced people to think beyond the fridges of Coles and even beyond the trucks that stock those fridges. Forgive me, but wasn’t it fantastic to see the thought process evolve, see families buying veggie seedlings and planting herbs on their windowsills? People bought chooks! There was a two month wait on laying hens!
Demand for Aussie grown proteins jumped because finally, the luxury of popping to the deli and picking up a pack of t-bones was out of reach and everybody looked up from their phones while grocery shopping to say “hang on, where am I going to get my steak?”
Private, grass roots butcher shops have become as popular as Pizza Hut and we’re seeing Aussies opt for locally grown produce as opposed to imported goods. I can’t explain the joy this brings me.
Australia is an oasis for food production - we truly live in a salad bowl where almost any delicacy can be harvested one day and dished up the next. I’m grateful, truly, for Covid having such a profound effect on Aussie agriculture. I wish it hadn’t taken such a massive kick up the bum to change perspectives but as they say, you gotta do what you gotta do.
To me, this year is like the first page of a new book, or the ‘this book belongs to’ page with a line for you to write your name."
I’ve often wondered what it would cost to make agriculture relatable and had numerous conversations where the general consensus has been “teach them what it’s like to go without.” Statements like these aren’t malicious, but there’s only so many times news stories about food production can be ignored before those in the hypothetical backstage crew start clutching at straws. As it turned out, we didn’t need to go on strike and the hens were free to keep up the good work as consumers saw the world through new eyes organically and of their own accord.
What we need now is to not forget how far we’ve come. It’s so important. We love growing food and we love that shoppers love dining on it. It is an extremely rewarding experience sending a load of prime grass fed steers to slaughter knowing that beef will be enjoyed in ritzy restaurants, first class steak houses, over the counter at surf clubs and hot off the backyard barbeque. To me, this year is like the first page of a new book, or the ‘this book belongs to’ page with a line for you to write your name. When you make your mark on this, the first year of a new decade, don’t just write your name. Make your mark as an active, enlightened consumer of Australian agricultural produce. Buy your groceries with eyes wide open and aim to learn something as you wander the aisles. A fun fact.. lots of fresh produce actually has the name of the farm and its location detailed on the label, which I reckon is pretty cool!
So welcome 2021, you barefaced, clean slate beauty! This year I desperately hope everyone’s veggie gardens thrive, their chooks don’t go clucky and we keep supporting the Aussie farmers who will never let our fellow Australians’ fridges go bare.
By Oli Le Lievre
Wow, well what a year it’s been, I feel like 2020 has thrown it all at us and then some. It only seemed fitting that I do a quick year in review from my bedroom - which has been my home and office this year.
At home in Australia, the lead in to 2020 was hazy, our cities spent months blanketed by smoke, our regions devastated by drought followed by the worst fires in history as we lived through the ‘Black Summer’ of 2019/20. 24 million hectares burnt, three billion animals were killed or displaced (9 News), followed by flooding rains the impacts of Climate Change on our doorstep with the world watching.
On the 8th of January I was in the freight facility at Melbourne Airport looking at Rock lobster bound for China as the first indications of the impact of Corona Virus began to show its face. Before we knew it our streets were empty and the shelves were bare, friends were losing jobs and a virus, in effect nature was in control. The world stopped.
With our lives fundamentally changing before our eyes I had so many questions that I wanted to ask - we needed to actually talk about these challenges, engage in real dialogue and challenge the status quo to deliver solutions that create more vibrant and prosperous societies.
In order to make agricultures influence in our daily lives relatable, I knew I needed to broaden our perspectives as who we see influencing our food and fibre system from paddock right through to plate. I needed people to share their own stories, yet I lacked the confidence and courage to speak about it myself and dreaded to put my face to it – my first video took me more than a week to upload after recording.
I reached out to Chef and co-Founder of Three Blue Ducks, Mark LaBrooy and with a gentle shove from Brianna Casey the Humans of Agriculture podcast was launched, complimenting our photo stories we were sharing.
Providing me the chance to ask those ‘dumb questions’ (that I really wanted to ask); to understand more about people, to get better at listening to their stories and develop my own understanding. Some 41 episodes on, our content has been downloaded more than 15,000 times in 56 countries around the world. Thank You!!
There’s been a lot of memorable moments and so I wanted to share a couple that really stand out and to me, they were moments when things clicked and I felt like maybe despite feeling like I was going around in circles there could be relevance:
And yet amongst a year of challenges, through grief and some incredibly lows, we were able to put the wheels in motion for a community of people that have an interest in bettering themselves and the world around them through their relationship with agriculture. Through sharing more than 105 stories we are able to create a better understanding of the role agriculture plays in the lives of every person everyday.
We’re 1% of the way to our goal of sharing 10,000 stories of people involved in agriculture. In 2021 we’re looking to partner with people and organisations that share our vision that agriculture is fundamental to healthier, happier and more prosperous communities. We know storytelling is incredibly powerful to help grow our understanding and shape the futures we desire.
So if you’re interested get in touch with me email@example.com as we get More People, More Often, Identifying with Agriculture.
I hope you have a safe Christmas, and that 2021 is a year of opportunity, that we continue to learn and adapt to the world we live in and that we acknowledge the importance of connection.
Stay safe and stay sane and see you in 2021!
By Lucy Ziesemer
It may be hard to believe, but I’ve never given too much thought to the fact that I’m a woman in agriculture. With no sons in our family and being the eldest, I guess I assumed the role of Dad’s right-hand man/ gopher early on. I loved the outdoors, especially watching Dad work cattle and observing his way with stock. I have memories of sitting on the top rail in the backyards watching Dad and his stockmen yard up. Prior to the advent of cross breeding and knowledge of the ways it benefitted the Australian beef industry, a significant number of beef operations were Hereford based. By the time I was old enough to know the front end of a beast from the back, Mum and Dad had moved into Charolais cows for their Charbray operation. It was an artwork to six-year-old me. White cows flowing like foam from a wave funnelled together by an invisible fence conjured by some sort of magical force the men created placing their bodies and directing their eyes to just the right spot. It was mesmerising and I yearned to know the secret. I wanted to know where to point that magic yard stick that was an unspoken language between human and beast.
It never occurred to me that Dad’s ringers were always male. I would blunder into the yards with Mum delivering smoko and share an Iced Vo-Vo with the men, listening to them discussing things I didn’t understand. I still remember the day I realised ‘beast’ was a singular term for cattle and not the savage monster from my imagination. As I got older, I didn’t care that I had skinny arms and needed both of them to close the slide gate when the men shut it with a finger. The same is true today. Some may call it poor parenting, but I couldn’t disagree more. I was not mollycoddled as a kid. If I fell off my bike and skinned my knee, Dad would quite literally “rub it better” so hard that the friction burn distracted from the stinging graze. Cut up hands from fencing with barbed wire? Find a solution- get some gloves. If a pipe needed digging up, you marched into the mud with your shovel and dug like you had a job to do, not like a girl. I was never treated differently for being a female even if some days I would have loved someone say “you’re right darlin’, have a spell.” That’s why I never paid any attention to the fact that a woman working on the land was somewhat unusual. I knew I wanted to be there come Hell or high water, so I got on with it.
There will always be aspects of the job I’m less capable at. Take something as simple as straining a fence for example. I can get it pretty damn tight and totally stock proof, but I’ll guarantee if a bloke came along they’d get one more click on the chain every time. This doesn’t worry me in the slightest, it’s just a fact. But there’s a conflicting ideology applied to women in the workplace, whatever workplace that may be, that puzzles me. We’re seeing women in traditionally male dominated roles more and more and on the one hand we call out for equal representation because we’re good at what we do and it’s normal for women to perform these tasks, and on the other hand we expect to be cheered along the way for simply doing a job. Shouldn’t the goal be to get the job done and share a knock-off beer at the end of the day?
The rise of #womeninag excites me. I’m on board for celebrating women in agriculture, and before you shout HYPOCRITE, I will say I think the hashtag serves a greater purpose of celebrating agriculture itself. I think it’s great we’re showcasing women’s achievements on the land because it’s drawing attention to what we’re actually trying to promote- Aussie agriculture. We know we’re tough and fine-tuned to hard work, but we love what we do and the daily grind it entails for us. It is my hope that #womeninag inspires the next generation of producers to question where their food and fibre comes from, encourages them to embrace Australia’s vast landscape and the potential it holds, and fosters a love for agriculture through watching the men and women paving a path before them.
By Lucy Ziesemer
It’s that time of year again. Most WAGs wake up on the morning of November 1 with fear in
their bones. They’re adamant they won’t look, won’t pay it any attention in the hope the
novelty will wear off and it will just ‘go away.’ By the same token, those wives and
girlfriends are also equally proud (while they may not admit it) of their partners’ ability to
grow the thickest, most dense and perfectly groomed moustache among their mates. And
while they may complain and declare “this is DEFINITELY the last year it’s happening,”
they’re actually achieving the whole point of Movember, aren’t they? They’re starting a
Aussie blokes are typically a rowdy bunch. They’re all about a bevvie at a barby where the
conversation flows as fast as the tins. Enter the words ‘mental health’ and I bet you’d
almost hear a pin drop. Or that’s at least how things used to be, until movements like
Movember became commonplace and in turn normalised mental health, working towards
turning it into a conversation topic as common as the weather.. or close anyway.
If you ask me, there’s been a massive shift in men’s attitudes towards discussing their
mental health. I have been in or around numerous social conversations where men have
openly made statements like “I did it really tough when this happened” or “yeah, it really
took a toll on me.” It took me a second to realise what a massive step this was in terms of
societal progression. For women, a large part of our conversations revolve around how
stressed, tired, overworked and underpaid we are. We say we need a holiday every week!
And we do- we totally deserve one, of course. Jokes aside, I am in no way trying to
downplay women’s mental health, merely pointing out how far men have come in
Traditionally, men don’t like admitting defeat. I’ve grown up around some of the most
steadfast, determined, hard-headed men you can imagine. Men who, in years gone by,
would certainly have never contemplated TALKING about how they were FEELING, goodness
no. And to an extent, that generation of men are probably still struggling with opening up-
after all, those are long held traits that were ingrained and passed down from generations
before them. Our generation owes a lot to social media, and yes you could argue avenues
like Instagram and Snapchat are just highlight reels and for the most part- they are. But if it
weren’t for a few brave men who realised there was a dire need to get men talking about
the big stuff, put their money where their mouths were and used social media to promote
their idea, men may not be knocking the top off a cold one while simultaneously discussing
the dark places their minds had taken them all this time later. I think we’ve come to realise we all have mental health, the same as we all have heart health and gut health. I can’t explain scientifically why for so long men have denied themselves the capacity to talk about their mental health as they would chest pain or stomach cramps. When you really think about it, anxiety and depression can have the same fatal outcome as a heart attack, so why on earth is it only recently we’ve started taking this seriously? I reckon it goes back to the old theory of man equals provider and protector. The rise and rise of equality for women has done nothing to abate this and come on, what woman doesn’t want to feel protected by her man? But heck, I’d want to make sure my man
was strong mentally way before he was strong physically. At the end of the day women are
proving they can ‘do it themselves’ sure, but that doesn’t mean men lose their innate desire
be the strong one in all forms. The good news is, men are now realising it’s perfectly normal
to talk about their problems and women get to be the backbone when this happens in their
From an agricultural perspective, there are a multitude of everyday occurrences capable of
really testing one’s mental endurance. You may be staring down the barrel of another dry
summer, watching another crop wilt and fail or pulling bogged cattle out of dry dams. That
day, the tilly might have blown a tyre as you were on your way to get the rifle to put down
another beast too weak to stand. You start walking, arrive at the shed and realise the pump
has packed it in and the paddocks under its guard will be without water for three days in 40
degree+ heat, as it’s Friday afternoon and nothing will be open to buy parts until Monday.
You run into the office in a last ditch effort to reach the local water services bloke and your
eyes rest on the most recent bank statement- overdrawn, no extension.
A man (and we’re talking about men’s mental health so we’ll keep it specific) with strong
mental health would no doubt find these challenges immensely stressful. Throw an
undiagnosed illness such as depression into the mix and you’ve got enough to potentially
push that same man over the edge. Left untreated, mental illness is deadly and none of us
Movements like Movember have helped men, particularly men on the land, turn a corner
when it comes to talking about their mental health. Similar movements throughout the year
such as RUOK day prompt us to keep up our focus on checking in with our loved ones not
just in the month of November. As a woman on the land engaged to a man on the land, I
hope to raise strong, resilient, brave kids on the land. I’m grateful though, for the work
Movember and its counterparts have done to make sure my future husband and children
know it’s not a sign of weakness to speak. In fact, speaking up in my eyes is a sign of inner
strength like no other.
So let’s relish in the moustaches- may they grow in abundance this Movember and every
By Lucy Ziesemer
Did you know, chickens prefer beautiful humans? They tend to peck at faces we humans also consider beautiful. Or did you know it’s just as easy to swim in syrup as it is to swim in water? And here’s a REALLY useful fun fact.. you can dislodge a kidney stone sitting at the back of a rollercoaster but not if you sit at the front.
If you’re wondering what the heck these insightful pieces of information have to do with anything, think instead about the money invested in solving those scientific mysteries. The mind boggles, and there’s plenty more where they came from. Google it.
I was thinking to myself, I wonder how many times in a farmers’ life he/she discusses the weather in conversation. Personally, that’s a question I wouldn’t mind taxpayers’ money spent answering. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating saying I have at least mentioned or joined a weather based discussion during one in two of my adult conversations. I also wouldn’t be lying saying I think about some aspect of the weather every single day.
A few months ago, the Queensland Weather Bureau delivered some Holy news leaving farmers and graziers with feelings of excitement and trepidation in equal measure.
“Queenslanders can expect above average rainfall throughout Spring and Summer with early Spring rain likely as we move into a probable La Nina weather pattern.”
I can still hear the words ringing out of the old Toyota’s crackly radio as I drive around wondering when this prophecy will come true. Now, I can only speak on behalf of Queenslanders but I’m sure agriculturalists in other Aussie states would agree- the last few years (10 years for some) have been pretty bloody rough as far as rainfall is concerned. This time last year we were feeling quietly confident that our best rainfall months were still ahead of us, even though the situation was looking fairly grim in the paddocks. But grim got grimmer as the rain never came, paddocks with stubble turned to powder and the relentless dry winds, dust and smoke haze from fires littering the east coast right down to Victoria reminded us that Mother Nature does what Mother Nature wants, always. Even the sky lost its colour and the countryside became one miserable shade of grey. We fed cattle. Every. Single. Day. We were buying fodder from South Australia and freighting it to Central Queensland to preserve the crucial element of our operation that would (we hoped) cover the financial burden of drought: our breeding stock.
We came within a couple of weeks of being forced to sell our core breeding herd- cows that featured 20+ years of genetics, work, and love. Fodder became near impossible to buy. Dad completed his Facebook apprenticeship on the ‘Hay and grain for sale’ page.
And then it rained, and I quite literally felt a dark cloud dissipate from over my head. I’m generally quite a happy, positive person and I try to find the good in every situation. I believe I’ve been lucky to experience quite strong mental health throughout my life, but I must admit even I felt the shadow of the black dog during the drought.
Now we sit in almost the exact same position as we did 12 months ago. This time, the Bureau is promising better days but I wouldn’t be alone in saying I take that with a grain of salt. I’m watching the sky, monitoring the wind direction, looking for ants building nests and counting echidnas on the road. Wait, was that a Black Cockatoo?! I’m hopeful, but I’m nervous. I’m not ready to go back to those drought days yet.
To add some perspective, my experience with drought has been relatively small compared to those on the land in western parts of Queensland and beyond. I can only imagine the pain they have experienced over the years.
Not just on world mental health day on October 10, but everyday I urge everyone to consider their loved ones, friends, family and farmers. We love a sunny day on the beach as much as anyone, but we’d take a rainy day on the verandah overlooking lush green paddocks first every day of the week. Here’s hoping the weather man’s got it right and we’ll be out pulling up flood fences next week!
By Lucy Ziesemer
When I thought about how I would shape this blog I tangled with whether or not I should ease into the hard-hitting topics that prompt ongoing controversy or jump straight in. Now I’m all for suspense and surprises, but this blog was always intended to encourage people to develop their ability to apply critical thinking to what they hear in mainstream media.
My time as a journalist was mainly spent preaching to the converted so I figured if just one non-agriculturalist was to read these posts and broaden their perspective, I would have taken a small step towards achieving my goal. So, why wait? Let’s talk about Meat and the process of how it gets there!
Over the years I’ve had many conversations with vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians- you name it! Obviously there are some with particular dietary requirements limiting their consumption of meat proteins, but there is also a portion of the community whose decisions are based on the portrayal of mainly beef, lamb, chicken and pork production in a negative light. I will be the first to admit, I have seen some horrific footage of animal cruelty that truly makes me sick to the stomach. There is, no doubt, people in the industry who don’t do the majority of producers any favours. It would be irresponsible of me to try to pretend bad things don’t happen. They do. Shonky builders or electricians place the majority of first class operators under the ‘rip off tradie’ label. This is no different in the rural industry- there are bad eggs in every occupation and it is that industry’s responsibility to weed them out.
What I can also tell you is that Australia is actually a global leader when it comes to animal welfare and our standards support countries to do better around the world.
Many of the animal cruelty incidents that have received large scale media coverage in the last 10 years have actually happened off-shore. The 2011 live cattle export ban left many grass roots Australian farming families on their knees. Some are still recovering, some never will. What was happening to livestock in backyard abattoirs overseas needed to be exposed and the result was a major overhaul of operations ensuring Australian cattle are only slaughtered in approved facilities. This was a big win for export cattle in the long run! However, something did not sit right with me about the whole fiasco. Why did we punish our hardworking Aussie families for another country’s mistakes? It wasn't quite so simple...
I was taking a trip down memory lane when thinking about my relationship with animals. I believe farm kids grow to be some of the most gentle and compassionate adults. My Mum tells me I would have been all of three-years-old when I, upon finding a butterfly in the final stages of its natural life cycle, tried to provide mouth to mouth resuscitation and feed it water from a plastic syringe from my toy doctor’s kit. I was about 10 when I came across an orphaned calf whose mother had died during labour and convinced Dad to bring it home. He needed convincing because the calf was clearly disabled through lack of oxygen and his experience told him it wouldn’t end well. I tried for hours and hours to help the calf stand and teach it to suck from a silicone teat attached to a bottle of calf milk. Ultimately the calf died and as Dad predicted, it ended in heartbreak.
I know the vast majority of farmers would take every option available to them before ending an animal’s life. Through illness and injury, we nurse and pamper and persist until there is literally nothing more we can do. I have seen broken legs splinted and wrapped by a cockie* with as much care and attention as a registered nurse. I’ve witnessed grown men cry at losing a best mate in their Kelpie or Stockhorse. These are men and women who carry the weight of the world through droughts and floods and market slumps. People who are often portrayed as uncaring, budget focused brutes. I mention money, as I’ve come across the argument that farmers only appear to care because a life saved is dollars in the bank. This theory doesn’t float- an ailing animal is expensive to maintain. Time alone outweighs potential sale profits, then you need to add the cost of hand feeding and injections such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and pain relief. Often vet bills are involved as well. We save lives because it’s what any normal, emotionally available human would do.
Now we’re getting to the pointy, unavoidable end. I can hear this question buzzing back at me through my computer screen: if you care so much about your cattle, how can you let them be turned into meat and eat meat yourself?
I’ve grappled with how to answer this when I’ve asked myself the same question. I eat meat because I know where it comes from, how it was treated and how it was handled in its final moments. I have stood in the viewing room at an abattoir and watched as the cattle calmly make their way down the ramp, are painlessly stunned and then very quickly and cleanly killed by experts in their field. I know how grass-fed cattle spend their days peacefully munching away in big open paddocks. I’ve seen grain-fed cattle behave like kids with an ice-cream truck when their feed is delivered- kicking and bucking with what can only be described as pure joy.
I’ve felt real sadness when a hand-reared poddy reaches its marketable stage of life. I’ve processed this by realising that this is nature as it has been for hundreds of thousands of years. It is undeniable- we humans are the superior beings. Animals such as cattle and sheep existed centuries ago as a food source and the same is true today. Humans have a role to play in getting these animals from paddock to plate in a way we can be proud of. And I am proud. I’m proud to be involved in an industry that places so much emphasis on the animals in our care. I’m proud to be one of thousands of Aussie farmers who can confidently say they place their animals’ welfare ahead of their own. We literally have lives in our hands. That’s a pretty big deal and not a responsibility we take lightly.
After all, we are the earth’s caretakers and I reckon we’re doing a mighty fine job.
If you’re keen for more information and want to check that this chick actually knows what she’s on about (fair) head to https://www.goodmeat.com.au/.
*Cockie- another term for someone who works on the land, usually with livestock.
By Lucy Ziesemer
I once saw a girl with a tattoo that read “I like cows.” I laughed it off and thought it would probably turn out to be something she would come to regret. But I’ve never forgotten it.
I’m not big on tattoos myself, but if I was to name some of the things I derive most enjoyment from in life, I would say “I like the outdoors, Summer storms and the way the air smells when Spring is coming. I also like cows.”
My name is Lucy. Most of my life’s lessons have had something to do with agriculture. It makes sense, seeing as I’ve spent as many hours as I humanly could immersed in it. My parents own a 13,000 acre Charbray beef cattle operation at Taroom in Central Queensland. It was there that I cut my teeth with most things that come to mind when you think of working on a cattle property. I learned very quickly that barbed wire doesn’t mess around and neither does a mother cow with a newborn calf. I learned to treat old Toyotas with as much care and respect as you would your elderly Grandmother, even if you only just changed the oil yesterday.
Side note: has anyone else noticed old tillys are ALWAYS female?.. “Don’t push her too hard on the hills, she’ll get hot.” Surely we’re not that temperamental?
"I learned patience (with people, animals and machines) and I’m still learning."
But most of all, I learned to love.
Now hang on a second- please don’t exit! I’m not going to get all soppy with this blog, that’s not my intention at all. I am however feverishly passionate about agriculture and that will become abundantly clear in my writing no doubt.
What I do aim to do is share my day to day life and all the thoughts and experiences it conjures in the hope that it might spread a deeper level of understanding between those involved in agriculture and those outside it. It’s so, so true. Every family really does need a farmer.
As it happens, I consider myself to be just that- a farmer. If you want to get into the nitty gritty, I’m really a grazier. We don’t farm and plough paddocks to grow crops, we graze cattle in them. Either way, my job is to produce beef that is then distributed to domestic and international consumers. The people are hungry, which is great because it means I get to keep doing what I love every day. And we do LOVE it! Long days in the saddle or digging fence post holes under the summer sun remove the need for a gym membership- what’s not to love! On a serious note though, I can’t see myself in any other profession. I’ve tried- I worked as a journalist for an agricultural masthead and thoroughly enjoyed it. I met great people, heard really inspiring stories and got to share them far and wide. But I found myself wishing I could be doing the things these farmers and graziers were doing, so I jumped ship and here I am back chasing cows* for a living.
It’s my favourite time of year here at the moment. The cows are calving and the air has that Spring time feel I mentioned earlier. You can’t beat new life in nature, it’s pretty special. Through the typically dry winter months until the weather breaks we feed a vitamin and mineral supplement in both a dry meal based form and a molasses form to keep all stock, not just breeding cows, healthy and strong when the grass is dry and lacks protein. This winter we have been very fortunate to receive a couple of decent downpours that have encouraged fresh green shoots in our dominant feed- buffel grass. We’ve also seen more herbage such as clover than ever before. Herbages like clover, lamb’s tongue and crow’s foot (named for the way they look) are very high in protein so we are excited to see some of these little beauties sneaking in!
Weekly lick runs and water checks are the perfect excuse to spend smoko near the newborns. I love seeing the small changes from week to week as they grow and develop. Each week brings a new element of confidence and curiosity among the babies- they’re starting to become boisterous little characters!
Like humans as they grow up I imagine!
Today, I fixed the same 4-barb fence twice. It’s a strong fence- fairly new with no weak points, so why did it break and why twice? We seasonally mate our cattle, which means the bulls are pulled out of the females in early March each year and put back to work their magic with the girls in late September. This allows us control over our calving window meaning all calves are born in a certain time frame and will be close in age. At the moment, the bulls are kept away from the cows, but the weather is warming up and they can smell Spring in the air too. Spring time means one thing for bulls- women! They’re like teenage boys. They can’t get what they want yet so they start being destructive and fighting among each other for something to do. Barbed wire is no match for a 900kg bull with his blood up. Yet they are absolutely TERRIFIED of a 7-in-1 injection to prevent disease.. go figure. Obviously I repaired the damage too early and the boys went at it for round two after lunch. Nothing like practice with pliers!
My days are ever changing. We rarely ever do the same thing two days in a row, which is another reason to love working on the land- zero monotony!
Hopefully these snippets of my life will bring some form of enjoyment to yours.
Yours in agriculture,
*This is just another Aussie slang term. We don’t actually “chase” cows around all day! It just means someone who works on the land or is involved in the industry more broadly.
Lucy is a former journalist and has returned to her family grazing property in Central Queensland. As a lover for Australian agriculture, she's sharing her story to increase the understanding of grazing cattle in Australia.
In early January I wrote an article stating “The 20’s will be a pivotal decade for how we produce, move, and consume” and just two months on from that, it is evident that we are going to see a fundamental shift in how we operate as economies and people adjust in these uncertain times.
For those in rural Australia in particular, it’s been compounding. Firstly through extended drought, fires, then floods, and now Corona Virus. We have witnessed the absolute best of the human spirit, as communities rallied around each other during the Black Summer fires, and more recently as rains brought a lot of positivity back into the sector.
I’ve been watching the events surrounding the Corona virus unfold. I closely analysed the seafood market in January as it bottomed out within days of the virus gaining attention, highlighting how the reliance on a single market like China to underpin our export exacerbated the impacts. Now, closer to home, I’m genuinely feeling a bit of anxiety as the everyday behaviours and access we’re so well accustomed to are being removed. It’s putting perspective onto the fundamentals of life.
So what does it all mean for Australian agriculture?
To me, it has highlighted the necessity and importance of the bare essentials. Food and water are the fundamentals to the hierarchy of human needs, and when push comes to shove, people are going to go to desperate measures to look out for themselves.
"We produce high quality, safe produce that is grown under world leading standards"From our seafood to grains, Australia produces enough food to feed about 70 million people, exporting approximately 60 per cent of what we produce. We produce high quality, safe produce that is grown under world leading standards. With 4.5 billion people on our doorstep in Asia, we have a lot of choices and option in who we can target, and also who will be demanding these standards.
Beyond just our produce, we can support agriculture through the validation of how we assure our products via technology as well as our expertise. An example of young people seeking opportunities is Matt Champness spending 12 months with the Crawford Fund working with rice farmers in Laos, assisting them to better manage their weeds, utilising a whipper snipper. His Australian ingenuity is transforming lives and communities, helping them become more food secure.
There is a need industry to develop stronger cross sector and cross industry partnerships to further equip young people in agriculture to develop the skillsets to empower them to seek opportunities, build stronger relationships between communities, and better manage the volatility in the world we live in.
The world is changing before our eyes, the uncertainty is unsettling but it will not last. In the midst of global volatility, Australian agriculture is performing well – we have positivity in our livestock markets, grain prices are rallying, land prices have withstood these most recent tests, and we have a lot of amazing people within the ranks of agriculture – the world needs high quality, assured safe food and Australia is well positioned to capitalise on these opportunities.
Oli Le Lievre
Oli's experience is extensive for someone his age; from AgTech to production agriculture to consulting. He was a key member in the development of Australia's largest agrifood event in 2019. Oli's passionate about a resilient food system and believes engaged people are pivotal to this success.