A roller-coaster adventure!

Host: Yarrie Station
Written by Annabelle Coppin – Owner, Yarrie Station.

What a huge 12 months for Yarrie and the new Outback Beef business! It’s been my first year running solo as our family succession plans have kicked into fruition. The first bonus is that I’m still here and plan to be for the rest of my life! We have had new exciting plans, old plans, and been acting on those plans through one of the most challenging years on record on the southern property for rain after one of the best starts in 2016.

We’ve had a failed 2016 season so far at Yarrie with just 50mm for the whole wet (usually 300mm), extreme fires, and cyclone with no rain in it. New equipment had to be purchased, budgets, dry season plans, development plans, bank reviews, more budgets, more dreams, more setbacks, more pressure, more plans, more acting on it, but with more sense of achievement too. We’ve had record cattle prices, low interest rates, new team members, the best support from my special friends and to top it off best wedding proposal a girl could ever ask for! That’s a small description of the on-going roller coaster adventure for past 12 months for Annabelle and the Outback Beef team.

1.1 Big skies give great ideas copyBig skies give great ideas.

I couldn’t ask for a better team in our business – we have a wide range of experience and characters that contribute to keeping this ship a float! I’m energised by these people and their individual drive for their own career in agriculture and also what they can contribute to the place. You will meet a few of them this week through their own blogs. A few have managed to skip their Central Station homework this year but never the less they are all such great people and I’m very privileged to have their commitment and support. It takes a special person to take on this job. There are long days, and you need brains and a big work ethic. It’s not all nice sunsets and beer (although there is also fair bit of that) and it can get very hot and dry. If you haven’t experienced station life yet I encourage you to get out and get into it! If you put 110% in, be prepared for one hell of a sense of achievement at the other end.

Yarrie changed hands in July 2015, right in the middle of muster! Since then I have also taken on leasing my one of my parent’s farms at Badgingarra in the mid-west region of WA. So two rather large changes in the same time period. Firstly, I’m a very lucky person to have this opportunity, to the credit of my parents a lot of the hard road has been cleared for me. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone to hand over their lifetimes work and love, to give me a crack. I’m sincerely thankful for their vision and guts. Yarrie will always remain home for them, a name on the title doesn’t mean much compared to the great bond with the country they have, plus my mother is still out there everyday working as hard and supporting me as she always does, I’m not sure how I’d do without her! Some things haven’t changed much at all (it’s been done well in the past for a reason) and others a lot which raises the eyebrows of a few, a few others knock you for, and the rest think it’s a great idea! All part and parcel of the job.

1.2 My mum is a gem. Hardest worker on the place, here she is with a beer cleaning my chopper bubble after landing copyMy mum is a gem. The hardest worker and supporter on the place, here she is with a beer cleaning my chopper bubble after landing.

We have decided to invest a lot into the pastures of the southern property. We to want further decrease our risks of dry seasons in the north and market downturns. We want to continue to sell heavy value added cattle to a mix of both live export and the domestic markets and also one day a substantial amount through our own brand. It’s not simple and there will be many more hurdles, challenges, and twists. Its long term plan and Col and Corrina who manage the farm have been fantastic to take on the challenge with me. If you ask the farmers around us they will probably laugh at the idea of the ‘station folk’ trying to improve pastures, which is fair enough, it is not really our area of expertise and we haven’t really proven much in the past! However there plenty who are and we are learning a lot from them which I appreciate to no end (including some excellent farmers who are our neighbours in this region). Plus, the nickname ‘Farmer Col’ is starting to stick for a reason, he’s on a mission!

Fodder Crops in January at Badgingarra.

So here we are hunting for the best valued machinery we can find: air seeders, tractors, bins, mowers, cropping plans, seed, silos, bigger sheds. Then comes the soil tests, fertilisers, lime, chemicals, and a feed yard! It sounds huge, but it’s not really. We aren’t the big guys in the game and we are still a very conservative little business who keep ourselves busy enough! But there is still a risk to take that next step of investment (when you’ve got enough debt as it is!) and you have to faith in the plan of ‘starting with end in mind’! It will take years to see if we have really made the right decision, the proof is in the pudding, not the talk or thought. We are also currently building yards and paddocks on Yarrie which is exciting and also scary all at once.

DCIM100MEDIALoading out cattle from the farm.

Efficiency in the herd is a key priority here as we aren’t a numbers game, we just don’t have the capacity to run the big northern numbers like some. So it’s time to really look for any opportunity to continue to get our herd as efficient as possible. Measure, measure, measure and then act on those results. For the last three years we have implemented an electronic herd recording system and this year every beast will finally be in it, which includes all stock from station to farm. This is a huge outlay in time, money, and at times patience (having a computer in the yards barking orders at you in her annoying American accent!). The main areas we are focusing on are fertility, weight gain, and mortality rates. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to get accurate results of these in our rangeland environment. Proof will be again when we can really see improvements, which can’t be done if we don’t measure it to start with. I feel a lot is also out of our hands with the environment we are in, so it’s about finding that balance and not fighting nature too hard.

We can set all the plans we like but the long-term outcome is always twisted and modified with the season we receive and the market demand that year. The season this year here at Yarrie has certainly thrown a curve ball into them! Luckily the south has had an excellent start, there’s always a positive! The main priority is to look after our herd as best as we can in these challenging times. Cattle welfare comes first, it means a very slow and expensive muster, huge supplement and grain costs, and cattle sold lighter than we would like and a lot more to send south to the farm. We are being very selective what stock stays on Yarrie this year to survive this tough stretch. Then you have to think five years ahead, as cash flow hurts with the reduction of numbers. It’s time to think outside the square to keep the ship afloat and moving forward.

I’m not sure if we jinxed ourself but we have spent a lot of hours on the grader this summer preparing the country before it was supposed to rain. We have been implementing some trial sites for rangeland rehydration. Our local Landcare group the Degrey LCDC have been very active in finding some funding to help us with this, which we greatly appreciate. We also hosted a rangeland regeneration workshop run by Greening Australia on Yarrie in October last year. This was full of very informative, well known, and at times challenging speakers all focused on how we can improve our country for the future. We have identified some areas that we believe are critical points in the landscape on Yarrie that we can help improve by slowing water down in that area and encouraging more plant growth and biodiversity. We now need a good drink of rain to monitor the results. From there we will learn from our mistakes and improve our techniques. The potential of improving this land is very exciting and also something I highly value as a land manager. We are also involved in fire management project to be carried out over several years with Rangelands NRM. I’m really passionate about leaving this country in better condition than I found it. There’s no set answer yet and it will take time to work it out. Again early days and the results are in the country’s pudding, which may not be fully seen until the next generation or two on Yarrie.

1.5 Rangeland Regeneration project on Yarrie copyRangeland Regeneration project on Yarrie.

We are planning to host an inaugural Weaner Stock Handling Cup in August this year which is also being supported through the Degrey LCDC. Boyd Holden will be the judge over the two days. The public event is open to all pastoral station crews to participate in team stock handling events. The idea is aiming to demonstrate and share a sense of pride in advanced stock handling skills. We hope in the future this event will grow and also provide an opportunity for groups and organisations to showcase industry and landscape management information and talks. The events will involve completing challenges in handling and training livestock for an advanced outcome in them.

The Yarrie Outback Desert Garden is also underway. This is a joint venture between Yarrie and a local company Outback Trees of Australia. Our aim is to establish native trees, scrubs, and flowers under irrigation and find a commercial use for them. This may include bush foods, native cut flowers, carbon trading, environmental offsets and seed to harvest for mining regeneration. Early days yet but so far we have had some excellent results with survival in the trees we have planted and they look fantastic. The garden area is 20ha on the magic pindan soil, surrounded by unique laterite hills. We have a solar system that runs the irrigation that automatically waters the plants every morning. Rangelands NRM and Greening Australia have also contributed to this exciting venture.

1.6 Planting trees in the new desert garden with Pip Short from greening Australia copyPlanting trees in the new desert garden with Pip Short from Greening Australia.

We finally have our Outback Beef brand launched, Yarrie beef is now available for sale in our local town of Marble Bar and surrounding districts. My father has purchased a roadhouse and store in town and we are suppling through this, plus The Iron Clad Hotel is serving up it up with a cold beer or two! All cattle need to be sent south for processing as there are still no abattoirs in the north. We rest them on the southern property and then transfer to the local abattoir, butcher shop, and back up to Marble Bar on cold freight. It’s a huge circle and cost but we are getting a real buzz from selling local Pilbara beef back to Pilbara people. Our beef really is unique, raised on native rangeland pastures, it has a natural flavour and has a great story behind it. We are also very proud of it and I know there is massive potential in the future to continue this venture, small steps, bigger dreams.

1.7 Outback Beef logo copyThe new Outback Beef logo.

We lost our friend and Pilbara legend last year, Rossi Rotor. Rossi was a very special mate and mentor to many of us, it was a great shock to lose him in a helicopter accident is his experimental machine he built earlier in the year. He had over 30,000 hours of mostly mustering in the north. He was extremely well respected and held endless funny stories to his name. We miss him dearly and hold strong thoughts for his lovely wife Chrissie and daughter Sophie every day.


chopper pilot Ross McDowell images supplied by Hugh Brown

Our legend Rossi Rotor (Ross McDowell, photo supplied by Hugh Brown).

Save the best until last!? Thomas my lovely boyfriend of six years stole the show earlier this year! He always likes to do things differently and does love rocks but he still caught me right out with his proposal! He picked out a clear area in the bush where he knew I fly over regularly. Secretly camped out with his old friend Jack Bennett (also his two dogs and pet kangaroos) to cart rocks and build a huge creative rock monument, clearly stating the gesture to get married! I have to say when I flew over it I had to use 100% concentration to just get that chopper on the ground safety and take a deep breath! To a point I didn’t even notice the custom ‘A’ chopper pad he built for me and instead plonked it down hard on the dirt just near it!

To top it off there was a ring (a real one!) waiting for me in an old chocolate tin among the perfectly laid rocks. I was blown away with his thoughtful effort and love the fact it will be there forever and a day. We are now planning a week long party and wedding (somewhere in the middle) later this year here on Yarrie. But first there is mustering to finish!

1.9 Proposal Ring copyThe Proposal Ring and landing pad.

I’ll leave you with a video that was produced by the Degrey LCDC about Yarrie and also the importance of producers working together for better results in the future! Thank you Kick Up Dust productions, a local Pilbara film maker for the professional job! Keep an eye out for the other stations in this catchment that also have a similar documentary on them.

I hope you enjoy following us this week on Yarrie. Thank you to Central Station for the opportunity and most importantly to all the people out there that take the time to connect with and follow genuine stories from the Australian bush. We need your support to remain managing this landscape whilst providing safe, consistent, and affordable food to the world in a life we all love!

1.10 My very special friends celebrating our engagement in the riverMy very special friends celebrating our engagement in the river.