Generations of change

Host: Umbearra Station
Written by Angus McKay, Owner.

The Bluetooth speaker was pumping out the beats from one of the 6 or 7 smart phones scattered around the undercover work area. We were pregnancy testing a yard full of maiden heifers with a Repro Scan ultra sound preg testing unit. It was at that point I thought, “Wow, times are really changing on Umbearra Station”.

I’m only 38 years of age, fairly young in the scheme of things around these parts. Yet I still am amazed at what changes I’ve seen in our industry in my life time. I can only imagine what my father and other cattle men of his generation must think when they look around at how far this industry has come in the last 50 years.

My father would walk cattle over a hundred kilometres to the rail siding of Finke to load the old stock train bound for southern markets. Nowadays we just book a truck pulling 6 decks, loading 120 bullocks at daylight and then they arrive at the processors the next day thousands of kilometres away. Back then they would spend days on horseback, tracking down cattle that could be 20 odd kays (kilometres) out from watering points surviving on succulent Parakeelya. They would spend months at a time away from the limited comforts of the homestead in an incredibly basic stock camp.

His generation had endeavoured so much during such a crucial period in the Northern Territory cattle industry. From high interest rates to the heart-breaking Brucellosis and Tuberculosis testing, these men and women paved the way for our generation. They have seen the rise and fall, and rise again of foreign investment, the introduction of aerial mustering, live export, branded beef products and so much more.

The rate of which technology is being made available to us just seems to increase every year. We have a range of remote monitoring systems on the market which allows us to check watering points from our kitchen table every morning. Walk over weighing systems that allow us to draft lines of bullocks with the click of a button. I’m sure it won’t be long until we start seeing more drones flying these large-scale stations as well. It’s incredible how this technology just seems to keep progressing, what are we going to see in the next 10-20 years? These are exciting times for sure.

With so much technology available to us, we must learn how to embrace and utilise it. Some of it may just be a distraction, but not all. With the rising cost of running these properties one of the most important areas to concentrate on is labour efficiency. Most of the technology that has come onto the market recently is all about saving labour costs. It seems to get harder and harder each year to attract young people to our industry and then to retain those skilled people too.

I think social media has shown young people out there how rewarding it can be to come out here work on these properties. Sites like Central Station and others social media pages have played a big part in that. Mind you, some of these new age ringers need to learn when to put the bloody phones down as well and concentrate on the task at hand. It’s great that you’re so excited about what you’re doing, and want to show everybody what you’re doing, but there is a time and a place for it.

For all this technology available to us, we still need young men and women who know how to handle stock. That is one thing that has not changed and I hope never will. The skills of the old school stockmen are just as important today as it was 60 years ago. Everything around us may have changed, but the basics haven’t. We will always strive for better genetics and a more cost-effective management in the beef industry. Everything we do today lays the foundations for the next generation of cattlemen and women to build upon, just as those before us have done for us.

 Changing a flat with my little right hand man Ollie.

 Flying over the hill that my wife and I were engaged on on top of on Umbearra. 

 My mate and stock agent Mick discussing the next sales.

 Out with the old in with the new, old windmill and new solar set up in 2010 at Sputnik Yards.

 Road-train arriving on sunrise to load cattle for Sale.

 Umbearra Homestead.