The rough roads of far western Queensland are not good for the major joints in livestock trailers. The road conditions the trailers meet every day on very rough roads can cause damage. Items like the top corners and the frames on the doors all get extra reinforcement on trailers belonging to Surat, Queensland, livestock operator Mark Johnstone. This does mean the trailers are slightly heavier than the norm, but Mark has learnt the hard way.
“Ninety per cent of the time, the roads we drive on are pretty ordinary,” says Mark. “We go as far as Epsilon Station, out at Cameron’s Corner. Then we go just over the South Australian border, down the Birdsville track.
“Come winter, in the cooler months, that’s when we start pulling cattle out of remote South West Queensland. We take the stock through to Grantham, in the Lockyer Valley. The abattoir there does all organic meat.
“When we bring the cattle in from out there we have to do a layover with them, then we can sell them in Wyandra or Cunnamulla. You’ve got to be careful, it has to be somewhere which has organic hay.”
There are only a few places in outback Queensland where the right organic feed is available. Even some of the bigger sale yards do not have organic facilities. Organic cattle need to be kept separated, at all times, from ordinary animals, with their own loading ramps and yards, etc.
Ninety-five per cent of all of Mark’s loads comes directly from farms. He spends little time loading out of sale yards. Cattle from farms in the area to the west of Surat are hauled to places like Roma, Dalby, or sometimes even as far as Biloela in Central Queensland.
Most of the time Mark is dealing directly with the farmers who own the cattle. Mark prefers to operate face to face with the owner, not necessarily via an agent. These relationships are long term and both parties can feel comfortable dealing directly with each other.
The seasonal nature of the work suits Mark’s business. In the colder months, when Mark’s work is further west in the more remote areas, there are quite a few livestock trucks working in the Surat region. However, in the summer, many of those competing operators move over to bulk grain transport, while Mark picks up livestock work in the area.
“When the seasons are good, it’s really good for everyone,” says Mark. “Everyone’s got enough work, but when it gets dry, it’s hard. We have found in every drought we’ve been through. There’s plenty of work and you can make money, but when it rains big time, for the next twelve months there’s nothing.
“If the seasons flow just right, the fellow on the land has got money in his pocket, and you always seem to have a bit more money in your pocket.
“When there’s a drought, everyone hangs on until the last minute. You can’t blame them for doing that, but then they have got to move, and it’s got to go today. You miss out on half of your customers. Once the drought breaks, customers will try and work you in with the timetable and ask you when you can do them. This only lasts for about two months, and then it’s just ‘sit down time’.”