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.
2018 – Plastics
2019 – Alternative Proteins
2020 - ….................?
With the first full working week of 2020 down, I’m interested in hearing opinions as to what could be the next big trend(s) in Australian Agriculture, Food and Beverage for 2020.
2019 saw the dominance of alternative proteins and a fairly one-sided debate, the view being that livestock are a significant catalyst for the state of the planet. The importance of agriculture in general and livestock in particular in the global context is difficult to overstate. 40% of the world’s population derive their livelihoods from agriculture, animal proteins are and will remain incredibly important, not only economically but also in the fight to reduce hunger and malnutrition.
“Is it vegans and vegetarians driving the growth of this area or is it the flexitarian looking out for themselves with the planet in mind?” The 20’s will be a pivotal decade for how we produce, move, and consume, but what will be the big talking points in 2020?
Through my role with Global Table Australia in 2019, working with the team at Seeds&Chips, exposed me to new and emerging innovations in technology, practices and products that are driving us towards a more sustainable food system. In the lead up and throughout the event, I had many conversations and gained insights from leading innovators across Australia, NZ, Asia, USA and Europe.
Below are the five areas that I expect will produce big talking points in Australia in 2020
Food waste – It’s increasing as a key area of conversation, that everyone can have a positive impact in. It has quite significant Greenhouse Gas Emissions and there are big opportunities here both environmentally and economically. The circular economy is seeing this opportunity move beyond value adding in the form of waste by products, like composts, to higher value goods from further processing of what was previously considered waste. Aquabotanicals have developed products through their technology that extracts water from Fruit, Vegetables and now even sugar cane waste. Susie and Gerard Daly the 2019 Australian Farmer of the Year, have developed their second grade potatoes into Vodka, gin, and other value added products.
Low alcoholic beverages – All major Australian brewers are now producing low and zero alcohol beers. BWS states sales of non-alcoholic beers grew 60% in the second half of 2019. Melbourne based start-up, Brunswick Aces, production of non-alcoholic Gin has blossomed well beyond its backyard origins. Will even more creativity and expansion in the adult beverage space see this area providing the social buzz without the headache in 2020?
Indigenous and native foods – An overnight success that has been around for 40,000 years started to come to the fore later in 2019 as an emerging opportunity. Australia’s ‘bush tucker’ not only has rich cultural history, it exhibits many flavours and nutrient rich foods that are resilient to environment conditions, and may provide significant new commercial opportunities. With indigenous producers ‘not having enough native produce available’ for demand, are they going to see significant growth in 2020 and our very own superfoods?
‘Traditional vs Alternative’ – It was the dominant conversation of 2019, product ranges have expanded from vege burgers to now fish fillets, prawns, bacon and product ranges will continue to grow this year. It was a highly emotive conversation but will we see a levelling and balance of the conversation in 2020? Health conscious consumers are seeking out more ways to not only look after themselves but also protect the planet. From the old staple of milk, to burgers, to now bacon and fish – Is Lasagne the next target?
Storytelling – The demand for transparency is growing. With initiatives such as #thankafarmer leading the Paddock-to-plate conversation, in 2020 we will see greater engagement across the entire supply chain from point of origin throughout the journey to consumption. Broadly, people will be gaining exposure and insights more authentically into how food is produced, moved, processed and where it goes beyond the plate. The critical link here is people, and I think millenials will be the ones driving this.
Do you agree, disagree or want to discuss these more? I'm looking forward to seeing what other trends we should be watching and what will be the big talking points of 2020!
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.