Dry season cattle country, Northern Territory, Australia. Yes, there are cows in this picture. Squint, or click to enlarge.The Northern Cattle industry works like this: In the Australian summer months, the summer monsoon brings plentiful rains to the northern third of Australia. This provides ideal conditions for cattle, which grow fat and multiply during the times of plenty. It is a good thing that these conditions suit them, because the rains also make travel very difficult.
Sometime around March or so, the rains taper off, and April through October is the dry season. During this time, little or no rain falls, and the vegetation goes dormant. The road also dry out, and cattlemen thin their herds by exporting animals from Darwin to various buyers in Southern Asia. As the creeks and playas dry out, the cattle become dependent on pumped groundwater, and eat the remaining dried standing grass and shrubbery from the wet season. The southern limit of cattle production in Australia is actually set by groundwater salinity- if the groundwater is too salty for cattle, then they can’t be maintained over the dry season and the area can’t be grazed. So the cattle which are trucked to Darwin for export are sent off their stations chiefly because the land is not able to sustain them through the dry season.
What happened this week is that, without any planning or deliberation, the government had decided to suspend exports to Indonesia, as a short-sighted response to a reality TV stunt which filmed the brutal conditions of some Indonesian abattoirs. This move is in itself a cruel thing to do, as it jeopardizes the careers of thousands of people in both Indonesia and Australia without any cost to the moralizing oppressors who demand this action. But to do it in the middle of the dry season without any thought to what do to with the cattle is wasteful.
A planned phase-out of this industry should start in the wet season when transportation is low, and pastoral capacity is high, and would allow for construction in Australia of meat processing facilities and/or the procurement of other export markets. As it is, we have tens of thousands of Brahmin cattle in or en route to Darwin, with a ban on transporting them, no facilities for processing them, insufficient holding facilities for keeping them alive, and no forward plan for letting the pastoralists destock through the dry season. How does this leave any person or cow better off?