Vet in the Spinifex

Host: Northern Beef Futures
Written by Kevin Bell – Veterinarian, Northern Beef Futures Project.                      

Kevin Bell at home in the cattle yards.

My name is Kevin Bell. I’m a qualified veterinarian and I work for the Department of Agriculture and Food’s Northern Beef Futures (NBF) project in Broome.

I decided to do veterinary science because it looked like it would allow me to live and work in rural areas, be my own boss and travel. Well it’s done all that and more – with my wife of 48 years (also a vet) and over time, seven children!

The travel started with a decision to step out of our comfort zones, managing a growing mixed vet practice in country Victoria, and spending five years as volunteers in a then very underprivileged South Korea, which was still recovering from the Korean war. We may or may not have contributed anything, but we learnt heaps. Especially working things out from first principles and improvising in all areas of cattle and sheep management in extreme climates. An example being feeding cattle housed through a four to five month winter, then managing them on tropical pastures, native and sown, and dealing with a lethal variety of tick fever, which was not recorded as being there! Remember – no internet, no computers then (1970’s), and all in Korean.

I’ve never stopped learning, and right now I’m learning heaps about cattle in the Kimberley and Pilbara. Being new up here, I can ask stupid questions , and find that there are not always answers, which opens up whole new (and old) fields of research.

I began working for the department in 2015, immediately prior I was Professor of Animal Production Systems at Murdoch University in Perth – one of a team giving birth to a new degree in Animal Science. For me, this was an enjoyable six years putting practice into theory, having spent the previous 23 years as a private grazing animal consultant with a great bunch of sheep and crop farmers in the South West of WA. When I regretfully left that job, I was starting to work with the grandchildren of my original clients!

I am currently based in Broome, housed within the Northern Beef Development Centre. My current role allows me to get out and rub shoulders with pastoralists all over the Kimberley and Pilbara regions.

Kevin doing what he does best getting out and talking to pastoralists.

For a year or so, I also fell into the role of filling in for the government vet in Broome, so got to do some more real work in the yards and dust at 6am (needed some light).

At the moment, much of my work is to do with the NBF Business Improvement Grants program. This program allows pastoralists access to funding in order to complete a station business plan in association with a private consultant, and review this plan over a two-year period. So the role is really about engaging managers with the key performance indicators for their business, and the most profitable strategies to engage with, as best suits their personal circumstances. Following the development of this plan, is access to grant funding to invest in identified prioritised management and/or business strategies.

The latter are many and varied, and it will be great for the industry to be able to be aware of some of these and apply where applicable at home.

One of the many businesses benefiting from  the Business Improvement Grants is Country Downs Station owned by Kurt and Nikki Elezovich.    You may have read Nikki’s blogs on  Central Station  recently.

You can read more about the NBF Business Improvement Grants on the Department of Agriculture and Foods website.

Until next time, regards Kevin.

The Department of Agriculture and Food’s $15 million Northern Beef Futures (NBF) project is an investment by the State Government’s Royalties for Regions program.