Muchea pastoral influx begins

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

The first big run of pastoral cattle to be offered at the Muchea Livestock Centre this year has buyers and sellers bracing for a busy few months.

This week the addition of more than 400 pastoral cattle pushed yardings to more than 1500 and signalled the start of the pastoral cattle flow for the year.

Supply from the north lifted significantly as dry northern conditions forced pastoralists to offload their cattle, with cow supplies and heifer offerings very strong.

With deliveries expected to increase in the next few weeks, the MLC is keen to avoid the meltdown that occurred last year when staff failed to cope with large numbers of stock.

WA Meat Industry Association chief executive Andrew Williams said he was confident he had the right team in place at the centre to handle the big livestock numbers.

Mr Williams has been under pressure to fix ongoing logistical and systemic problems at the centre since his appointment in February.

"We are bolstering staff levels across the board," he said.

"But most importantly, we're employing the right people with the level of experience for the job."

Mr Williams said the focus on improving staffing was in addition to improvements which were already in the pipeline, with a recent commitment by WAMIA to install CCTV, IT infrastructure, as well as system upgrades and maintainance programs.

"Everything we are doing at the centre is with the aim of making the centre as easy to use as possible," he said.

Meanwhile, agents expect cattle prices to remain robust despite the influx of pastoral cattle.

Young pastoral steers were in demand this week and sold between 200c and 250c/kg.

Prices for local heifers were between 265c to 300c/kg, while pastoral heifers made 165c to 235c/kg for the majority.

Elders livestock manager Tom Marron said this week marked the start of the pastoral cattle season and expected numbers would continue to climb.

He said it was possible the centre could get to capacity of 3000 head at the peak of the season, because of a delay in mustering to July and August in many places.

"At that time, we will get the usual general mustering, getting the northern cattle down into the system and going into live export, local market and processors," he said.

Mr Marron said patchy northern seasonal conditions would make it difficult to predict week-to-week averages at the centre.

"Some pastoral areas are very wet, whereas others aren't, so for that reason this year there won't be a continuity of numbers," he said.

"Since the Gascoyne region got about 200mm rain in late February and early March, many stations are looking at restocking rather than selling.

"The problem many are finding is pastoral breeders are becoming increasingly expensive, which may impact on their final decision as to whether or not restock or sell their cattle."

At Muchea this week, Bonney Downs and Warradarge station manager Peter Goyder said unreliable rainfall had been a major factor in his decision to sell his "substantial herd" of Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster cattle at the centre this year.

Mr Goyder said he intended to sell off his herd from both stations at a rate of about 200 head a week, over the next six months.

"Normally we would be fattening the cattle, but this year we will be selling the cattle to the lot feeders because of the dry conditions," he said.

"We've had only 100mm of rain at Bonney Downs and Warradarge has received no rain at all … the situation there is just terrible," he said.

"It's a good market to sell at the moment. Cow prices are back a bit today, but steer prices are very good and we have got some good young heifers here."

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