AoR 115: Cattle Raising in The Kimberley, Australia, with James & Barbara Camp

Napier Downs is a million-acre cattle station in the Kimberley region of Northwestern Australia. They export Red Brahman yearlings live to Indonesia, 15-20,000 animals per year, raised in a tropical savanna. We discuss the humanitarian importance of this live export market, the love-hate relationship with fire in this part of the world, land tenure arrangements on pastoral leases, and the distinctives that gave Napier Downs cattle a reputation for being the best in NW Australia. James is an Australian native and Barbara is a transplant from Scotland who has found her niche and her voice. Join Tip in his discussion with James & Barbara Camp.



[ Music ]

>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on Rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, Range and Livestock Specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

[ Music ]

I had recently had the privilege of travelling to Northwestern Australia for the Australian Rangeland Society Biannual Meeting in Broome held mid-September of 2023. I was there to represent the International Society for Range Management, and to talk about a grazing decision support tool we just built, called stock smart. Some friends there set up a two-day visit to the Napier Downs Cattle Station about 350 kilometers inland from the Northwest coast. James and Barbara Camp, and their range crew welcomed us and generously agreed to an interview about livestock grazing in that part of the world. This is my interview with James and Barbara, on-site, at the ranch in the staff kitchen. So, it will sound a bit roomy. Here's James and Barbara.

[ Music ]

Welcome back to the Art of Range. I'm actually in western Australia with James and Barbara Camp on the Napier Downs Station, and I'm thrilled to be here. It was good to meet you at [inaudible].

>> Thank you for coming.

>> Now maybe, Barbara, let's start with you. You're Scottish. Were you actually born in Scotland, and you ended up here? How did you end up in the middle of nowhere in western Australia?

>> I have the age-old story. I was born, bred, and raised in Scotland, and was very passionate about horses. I went to university and got a degree in equine science. Then did not want to get a job. So, I went backpacking. The first place that took me was up here to the Kimberley, where I met James at the airport. Picked me up for my first job as a [inaudible] 16 years ago, and we've not got rid of me since.

>> That's not a bad way to go.

>> Yes.

>> And James, you've -- you were born here, right? Not right here, but born in Australia?

>> Yes. Yes, I was born and raised in this area. I've always worked in the Kimberleys.

>> And your family has a cattle station to the south?

>> Yes, yes. So, had a property on the banks of the Fitzroy River. Yes, I'm a -- our third generation camp in the area. We've always been on properties around here, yes.

>> I'm still trying to get my brain around the scale of things here. All of these cattle stations have names like Napier Downs, Kimberley Downs. What's the history of that term as the name of, what I would call a ranch?

>> The Downs, I'm not really sure exactly where the Downs comes from. I think it's just a land system, I suppose. It's like the prairies they have in the U.S. and things like that. It's just an Australian term for flat country as far as--

>> Grassland?

>> -yes, grassland. The Australian grasslands, yes.

>> What is the history of cattle production in this region? This is obviously not a place where cattle are native.

>> Yes, no. So, cattle have been here, I think from 50s -- 50s and 60s. A couple before then, really, but--.

>> Eighteen-fifties or 1950s?

>> Nineteen-fifties.

>> Wow.

>> That brought in -- there was small hogs before that, but it really sort of kicked off in those days. With the [inaudible] up in [inaudible], that was the first ones that really brought a lot of cattle across. They drove them across from I believe Queensland [inaudible]. Check my history on that one. But yes, so cattle have been up here for a long time. You still find a lot of the [inaudible] in the area. That's where they originally come from. They were the first sort of [inaudible] to be brought across from [inaudible]. They drove the short ones across the -- the browns were introduced too, quite a lot later on. They're relatively new to Australia. Yes. So, there's [inaudible] farmed in the hills. They keep coming in the [inaudible]. You try to bring them out, but they're resilient now. They're pretty much adapted to the area when they -- [inaudible], yes. So, Napier's been a station for a very long time. I think there's -- this is the third homestead on Napier. There's two abandoned homesteads before they finally moved here. I'm not sure why the first one was abandoned. The second one used to go underwater, so that was a bit of a design flaw. And they finally moved the homestead to where it is now, which thankfully doesn't go underwater. Well located. Yes, it was destocked back in the, I believe it was the 70s, 90s. The whole community had a, what they call the B-tech program, trying to get rid of [inaudible] and [inaudible]. So, a lot of [inaudible] got destocked [inaudible]. Cattle work, either tested and tested negative or of they came back positive, they were shot, and then what couldn't be [inaudible], it was a massive government program. So, a lot of properties accumulated completely, destocked, you know, [inaudible], and more or less had to start again. So, the previous owner if Napier, he sort of bought it at the end of that period. There would have been very few cattle [inaudible]. [Inaudible] built it up from there to what it is now, I think about 30 years ago, yes.

>> Did this region ever have sheep, or--

>> Not up here.

>> -[inaudible] the cows?

>> So, Southern Kimberleys, along the [inaudible] River, there was sheep, but not up here, yes. So, but the sheet lasted a little while and then I think that was [inaudible] bad idea once the bear and the dingoes and the floods and fires got the better of the sheep. Eventually, just ruled them out for the area. Yes.

>> Well, there would be a lot of people listening that have no idea where the Kimberleys are.

>> Yes.

>> I think that I'm more geographically knowledgeable than the average person, but I had no idea. Anything about place names or the geography of northwestern Australia.

>> Yes.

>> Globally, this is inside of the Tropic of Capricorn. I think we're about 18 degrees latitude south of the equator.

>> Yes.

>> How would you describe this part of Australia geographically?

>> Top, left-hand corner of Australia.

>> Yes.

>> Kimberleys actually used to be a part of or joined up with South Africa. [Inaudible] back in [inaudible] land. That's why we get the [inaudible] trees here. You don't get them anywhere else. In Australia, the Kimberley regions is where you get the [inaudible] trees which is pretty all the same as the [inaudible] trees you get in South Africa. So, yes, it's a very old, very sort of minute part of a -- part of Australia.

>> It's flatter than I would have guessed, and of course, many people only have known Australia from a movie like the [inaudible].

>> Yes.

>> And ironically, that looks like one of the only places in Australia where you have those kinds of mountains.

>> Yes.

>> Is that an accurate assessment?

>> Yes, yes. It's true. No, you have this part of the area is very flattened. You might have been wandering around this morning and seeing some hills, but this is actually quite hilly for the area, as well. It gets a lot flatter than this. It's a very flat -- a flat part of the land here.

>> It really captures my imagination that this is Devonian reef. Is that right, James? Is that the right term for it?

>> Yes, yes. So, this, where we are now is -- and the hills behind us here, that's part of what they call the Devonian reef, which is an [inaudible] reef system that used to be underwater. So, limestone range, yes. It's a very ancient part of land, slightly eroded over time.

>> Now, the vegetation's not quite what I would have expected, although I didn't have much basis for an expectation. But I'm -- it's an intriguing mix of small trees, and a lot of grass.

>> Yes.

>> There are quite a lot of trees.

>> Yes.

>> What's the dominant vegetation that's here?

>> We're very lucky here in [inaudible]. We've got a lot of different land systems. So, dominant vegetation is very much depended on the lands. You've got a lot of black soil, red soil. We've got some sandy soils to the north, and then we've got the hills. The black soil's definitely dominated by [inaudible], a really good, large [inaudible] perennial grass. And Bauhinia trees, which are short trees. The red soil's [inaudible] bigger -- much bigger trees. They give [inaudible] big gums, white gums and things like that. So, taller, less palatable grasses. Still good country. And then when you get up into the rocks, you really start to get the shorter, stumpier trees again. [Inaudible] that you got to see yesterday [inaudible]. That's the [inaudible] arid country. [Inaudible] done very -- not very good for cattle to run on, but is a good fallback [inaudible].

>> You know, grasses look like a grass and decide they want to be a cactus.

>> Yes. Yes. No, I don't [inaudible] the cow that has to eat that, but--.

>> The station, I think you said is 450,000 hectares?

>> Yes.

>> That would convert to about a million acres, I think?

>> Yes, yes [inaudible].

>> And you run 20,000 head of cattle?

>> Yes, considerably run that 20,000 head a year.

>> That's the number of other cattle, or that includes everything on the place?

>> That's all adult cattle. Yes, so--

>> Yes.

>> -not including calves, but everything from weaned up, that's approximately 20,000 head. Obviously comes and go with the sales and the time of year when they're [inaudible] in that, but yes. Sort of across the boards between 19 to 20,000 head. Yes.

>> And how does that stocking root determined? Is that a choice you make?

>> Yes, yes. It's a choice I actively make. It's assisted by land systems and land system guides. So, the government AG department go through and do assessments on the land system and say roughly what the stocking rate should be for those land systems. And we go through afterwards then [inaudible] the [inaudible] into the property up into the land -- those land systems. Find out roughly how many cattle each paddock can handle and what we can handle across the property. So, I think last check, we had approximately 23,000 head [inaudible] the lane systems. So, we're conservatively stocked at the moment. A couple thousand underneath. And the country's in very good condition, so we could easily up that stocking, right? But it's a little easier to have less cattle and have more than have too many cattle and can't get rid of them. So, it's--.

>> So, the land is not privately owned. It's government property, and you have a long-term lease and the rights to run cattle on it. Is that how it works?

>> Correct, yes, yes. So we, this is a pastoral lease, and we own the lease for the land. It's under, you know, the government do -- checks on the land every two years. They go through and check all their sites. They have sites across the property to make sure you're not deteriorating the land systems. If you -- if they decide that you are being detrimental to the environment, they can issue you with an order to improve or destock an area or something like that. [Inaudible] we are just tenants on the land, really. So, we are -- everything's from the ground up. So, we [inaudible] a little just on the grass, and we have the large, grown cattle on. Yes, we make improvements. We've put fences in before. [Inaudible] things like that, and we own them, but we really only have the grass to the grass.

>> On the way in, we drove past several places that had not very much grass, at least not much grass left standing at the moment.

>> Yes.

>> Is that a result of what I would call a higher stocking rate? More animals per unit area?

>> Yes, yes. I would say, would be that, yes.

>> Okay.

>> Higher stocking rates, yes.

>> And then what we looked at yesterday on a tour, there was a lot of standing biomass. In some places, you probably feel like it's way too much.

>> Yes.

>> Because it's now a fire risk.

>> Yes, yes.

>> But as a result, you have more forage than you need, right?

>> Yes, yes.

>> Yes.

>> Yes. So, I mean, it's been a very good year to [inaudible]. We've got a lot more grass still standing now than would be in a usual year, but it's still, it's a lot easier to have too much grass. It's a good problem to have, really.

>> Right.

>> It gives us options for our situations like we're currently facing where we've just lost a lot of our grass to fire. We are in a position where we can move cattle to different paddocks, rather than go, "Oh, we can't sell these," which is nice.

>> Yes, and I would be prone to assume, at least in the states, most of the time, you would be able to find a way to sell animals if you needed to destock. That's not always the case, especially if everybody's trying to destock at the same time. But in general, you could usually sell animals. I've heard that there have been some problems with the live export here, but this would be a different situation, too, that I think most people are familiar with. I was not aware that most of the cattle in northern Australia were exported live to Indonesia, which makes sense because it's right there. And there's an awful lot of mouths in Indonesia. And I would have expected that it would be easier to ship boxed beef, but you have said that the live export is probably important to maintain. These are Red Brahman cattle, and they're being exported live to Indonesia which is the main meat market. But describe a bit what that -- what the market for the cattle looks like.

>> Where we're positioned at the moment, we are closer to Indonesia than we would be to send our cattle down south. The climate is more aligned with ours as well. It's also a tropical area near the tropics and the Tropic of Capricorn. So, when we send our cattle over we do so live, and that's not finished weights. What's our average export weight, James?

>> Well, we usually sell them between 280 to 380 kilos is the sort of optimal live export weight.

>> And you've got 600 pounds? Six to seven?

>> Yes, yes. Yes, just under six to seven pounds, yes.

>> When we send these cattle over, we are not just sending them over an instant food source. We're sending them over living for a lot of people. So, they go into feed lots over in Indonesia, often in third world areas, and entire villages are set up according to these feed lots. I was privileged enough to go over a few years ago and meet these amazing people who are there, feeding these animals by hand. No machinery. And looking at these animals, and rearing them up to slaughter weights. We're talking about third world areas, a lot of the time, and they don't have access to refrigeration. So, boxed beef is not an issue. They'll maybe slaughter one or two beasts a week, and the meat will then go straight out into wet markets to feed people around the place. We are very lucky and privileged that we don't sort of live in a world that we can understand, not everyone can have a supply of meat there. And when I was over there, I went to an area where they had a lot of expats from Australia, had some high-end [inaudible]. And they were giving some of their scrap meats to a local orphanage. And in the time they've done that, in the three years they've done that, they had lowered the medical bills by 80% because these kids were getting more protein. And I think it's something that [inaudible] keep going for the benefit of our world, not just for this area.

>> That's fascinating. Yes, I had no idea. It makes sense that not everybody has a freezer where you can keep 50 kilos of frozen beef on hand. Yes, like us.

>> Right, right. So, what are -- so the cattle are transported on ships. What do the ships look like? Are they regular cargo ships that have shipping containers designed to hold live [inaudible], or are the specifically cattle ships like they used to use to bring animals from Hawaii to the mainland?

>> These are specific cattle carrying ships.

>> Yes.

>> They're for live export, yes. So, they're -- yes, live ships, depending on how long the haul is. How many cattle they can handle. And they're visibly designed to house cattle back and forth from here to Indonesia, down to Vietnam, China. Some go to Russia. Have gone that far. But, yes, there's -- but they're not just cargo ships. Some of them were in the early days. You know, just cargo ships converted to this, but now they really are specifically made for this job. Yes. You know, really [inaudible] water. I haven't actually done a trip on one, but my head stockman, he's an on-board stockperson, so [inaudible] dedicated [inaudible] to keep an eye on all these cattle, all day, every day.

>> Like a floating feed lot.

>> [Inaudible] feed lot. They'll actually put on weight. They've been known to put on weight on the way across. They're fed grain, hay, water, you know, they're regularly monitored. If there's a sick one, they pull out straight way. Put them in the sick bay. Medication. They get intensive care once they're on those ships. And the, I think the mortality rate is less than 0.1% which you would even expect to get that in the paddy. So--.

>> Anything more than 0.4 has to be--

>> Reported.

>> -yes.

>> Yes.

>> Yes.

>> Very stringent.

>> So, they're very [inaudible] to keep as [inaudible] as possible. You know, obviously on a boat, it's a bit of a drama if they do have sick animals, but it's -- they all get checked before they go. The controls that go into ensuring they're fit and healthy, and look after them on the boat is like nothing else, no other industry you could get. You know, if you put them to the yards, put them onto a truck, it's nowhere near the same amount of scrutiny and care that they get. So, yes.

>> This is a topic for a different day but I 've been reading the book, "The Fabled Shore." I believe the author is Robert Hughes about the history of Australia's founding. And the description of the hulks, the ships that they transported convicts in--

>> Yes.

>> -from England. They had much, much higher death rates on those ships than you have on your cattle ships. The cattle are treated much better. Well, you've got enough -- you have enough mother calves here that you're exporting a lot of calves per year. How long does it take? What is -- I assume you're not gathering up 12,000 calves in the space of month and moving them all during that timeframe, but maybe you are. What does it look like to gather the calves and then ship them off? Is that happening year-round, or do you have a season for that?

>> It still happens year-round, depending on what the market is doing. This year's been a bit hit and miss. So, ideally what we do is we go and try and sell them early on. We're lucky enough to have road access [inaudible] to our yards, so we can get the cattle in early before other people, where you want them, where they won't be restricted by road access. So, our general plan is to get rid of our young cattle early on. This year's been a bit hard, so we haven't managed to get rid of everything [inaudible], so we actually recently did another muster. So, you usually look about two or three sales a year till we muster those cattle in. And in between that, that's when we'll do our breeding musters. So, as we sort of try to [inaudible] kind of early on to make up the space, and then we'll muster in our breeders and pull the weaners off. They'll get processed and put out in their cell paddocks, and hopefully, you know, these will all get sold early next year. Maybe late that year.

>> There's a working period of around eight months that we can really -- the rest of the time it's too wet to get around or too hot. So, most of our cattle work is done March until November.

>> And who is the buyer? Is it a middleman who buys them from you? Like a stock agent, and then it's a company that they try to sell them? Or are you selling it to somebody who's a buyer from Indonesia?

>> Exactly. Usually there's an agent. So, or usually there's more than one middleman--

>> Right.

>> -unfortunately. But you'll have the sort of the buyers in Indonesia. You'll have the exporter, and then you've got the buyer in Australia. And then you've us with our agent. So, I mean it is possibly to deal directly with the Indonesians. I know some big companies do it, but there's a lot of risk involved in that, so it's a lot easier for us to very quickly hand it on to our agent, and he will deal with the buyer, and sell it from there. It takes the risk of -- it takes the risk out of our hands. And so, yes, there's multiple sort of people in the line, yes. But very rarely do we -- occasionally we'll have the exporter or the buyer here, buying through our agent, yes. But it's certainly -- usually a process, a few different people in the middle there. They take their little cut, but they also take their little risks as well, so, yes.

>> Sure. Well, these are -- these are Red Brahman cattle and they, in terms of USDA grading, I'm sure they don't end up with a Choice Yield Grade 2.

>> No.

>> Do you -- what are your -- do you have other options for selling them besides going to Indonesia? Like where does Australian beef come from? What's consumed here?

>> That's certainly more the southern producers. They produce more [inaudible] animals, which are better meat gradings. Yes, the Brahmans, in the, what we call the [inaudible] meat standards Australia, anything with a hump automatically gets deducted quite a few points. The meat quality of Brahmans is not -- isn't very high. [Inaudible] usually gets graded down quite heavily, but the [inaudible] breeds just do not handle the Indonesian weather [inaudible], so they don't want anything to do with [inaudible]. They're not care to be worried about meat quality. They want quantity [inaudible].

>> Yes, right. You mentioned that either you have or will be purchasing some Droughtmaster bulls. What's the plan with that?

>> The plan with that is to throw a little bit of [inaudible] into the breed, to just give it more meat quality, a bit more yield from the animals. It just means that with our current, very good, Red Brahman herd, we can't sell them to southern markets because so, send then down to Perth. It's colder down there. They try and fatten them up. They don't handle bad weather. They handle the tropics. They do not like the cold. So, it's very hard for us to sell them to southern markets. If we don't have any live export, it makes it -- it's a very sort of niche market for us. So, the idea is we're throw a bit of [inaudible] in there, and that should hopefully increase their yield. We'll be able to sell them -- still be able to sell them to Indonesia, but we also got a bit of a market to the south as well. Won't be -- not bring in any top dollar for them, but we'll at least have a market as always a fallback. So, it just makes it a bit more sustainable, a bit more safe for us to operate as a business.

>> I feel like I'm jumping around a bit. That there's so many topics, we could sit here for hours and we don't have hours to visit. You mentioned that you have a [inaudible] now, and driving it across the landscape you see tons of standing dry grass. Do you do active prescribed fire to try to manage that? Are you mostly trying to manage fuel loads with grazing? We were on a tour last week up on the Napier Peninsula. And well, there was quite a lot of you know, really planned out, deliberate, scientifically managed aboriginal burning to avoid catastrophic fire.

>> Yes.

>> How much of that is done here?

>> Quite a lot.

>> Yes?

>> Yes. It's -- yes. You have to do early burns in this last [inaudible] otherwise, you--

>> Before it dries out too much.

>> -before it dries out, otherwise you know, if you don't manage fire, fire will manage you.

>> Right.

>> You need to do something to prevent it. We do a lot of early season burning. This year was a very tricky year for us because we had a very narrow window in which to burn. We had a lot of rain, so we had a lot of green grass, a lot of grass. So, it took a very long time before the grass would burn. But then when it did burn, because it was such large grass. So, I had a then, two- or three-week window which to do my early season burning. And that [inaudible] restricted [inaudible]. But because we don't have enough cattle to really match the grazing, you need to do burning. Sort of every three to four years, you'll be looking at burning a patch. And this also another way to manage your land, you burn these patches that are getting old and more abundant. The cattle go onto those burns. They'll eat that short, [inaudible]. It'll give another area of rest. And you just keep moving around. Mosaic building. Just patches every year. You get the advice guide maps so you can see which sections have been burned, and [inaudible] just by driving around you can see which sections have been burned recently. And you know, any time in the last three years. So, you try and [inaudible] with 3-to-4-year rotation on the burning to keep the grasses, the fuel load low, and to keep green -- green grass coming through for the cattle. And that managed their grading radiuses.

>> Does the tree cover expand in the absence of fire, and does the fire also serve to reduce what we would call the encroachment of woody species?

>> Yes, but -- yes. So, I mean, the more cool season burns you do, the trees do--

>> Right, it doesn't stop.

>> -they tend to increase, yes. So, but that's a slow process and depending on your grass load, like at the moment, we've had quite a few hot fires go through. That will serious affect the -- that'll affect the trees, so we'll lose heavy trees in those areas. So, you know, in a way, that's also managing the trees. There's not -- there's not so many trees here that it's an issue for us at the moment. It's not an [inaudible] land thickening. It's not really a major issue for us at the moment. And yes, like the early season burns, the idea is that they'll go out in the night, so they're still hot enough to [inaudible] and burn the grasses off. So, a lot of it would be wasteful and we'll get burnt out in that as well. Generally, the hot fires you know, come along and they'll kill the trees, and they'll do more damage than -- a lot more damage than a cold front, yes.

>> Last week at the Australian Rangelands Society Conference, there was quite a bit of talk about feral animals. Not as much as I would have expected on exotic plants that cause problems, but more with the animals. What kind of feral animals do you have that cause problems?

>> We've got pigs. We've got -- there's -- luckily in Napier we don't have too much problem with some feral animals, but pigs, horses, donkeys, camels, they're probably the main--

>> Dingoes.

>> -yes, no, the dingoes. They're not an exotic animals, but they cause issues with the -- with [inaudible], but donkeys -- donkeys used to have a massive effect on -- can you believe there's more donkeys than cattle in the Kimberleys? They're very hardy animals. They can live in the hills up here, and continue to breed. So, there's been a massive program over the past 40 years to cull out donkeys. Camels can be a major issue. In certain years, they come and they, you know, [inaudible] in the desert but when the desert swamps and [inaudible] dry up, they come into properties, destroy fences, borders, [inaudible] out the country.

>> And they're big animals. Where did they come from?

>> Very big animals.

>> How did they get here?

>> I'm -- they've been in Australia for a long time. They're feral all through.

>> They came over as pack animals.

>> They would have come over as pack animals. You know, just as [inaudible].

>> I believe they're actually trying to buy them back, because in Australia, we now have very pure bloodlines [inaudible]. And so, they've been trying to get our camels back.

>> Oh, over in the Middle East?

>> Yes.

>> Yes. Yes.

>> It's very strange.

>> Yes. So, yes, and pigs as well. [Inaudible] pigs, [inaudible]. They go wild and they can be very destructive to waterways and [inaudible] and things like that. You know, they root up grasses and [inaudible] areas around water waters and swamps and things like that, they do a lot of damage.

>> Obviously, there are disease risks with pigs as well, and that's something everyone's thinking about.

>> [Inaudible] there's a few diseases that they been known to carry. There's regular testing done by the Ag department on feral pigs in the area to make sure they're not carrying any diseases. But pigs across the whole [inaudible] Australia is a major issue.

>> Yes.

>> Especially with foot and mouth. On our doorstep, [inaudible] Indonesia, it's a risk, yes.

>> Driving down the roads there's big billboards that say, "Croc danger is real. Don't take a risk." Do the crops control the pigs at all, or there--

>> No, no.

>> -not enough of them?

>> Not enough of them [inaudible].

>> You'd think it'd be a great snack for a crocodile.

>> Oh, I'm sure, I'm sure the crocs love a little bit of pork in the fork every now and then, but no, there's not. There's the crocodiles, the big crocodiles, they've been sort of only in certain areas and the pigs will graze sort of [inaudible] the swamps and the smaller water holes, and things like that. So, whilst I'm sure the crocs have a good snack every now and then, they -- it's not a major risk. [Inaudible]

>> It's not a primary food source, yes.

>> Yes.

>> This is pretty -- I realize you have a wet season, but in general, it's a low -- it's dry right now.

>> Yes.

>> And in most places, we have got gallons dry, water is a limiting factor to distribution. What is your primary source of stock water? And are all those locations, you know, historical, fixed, or are you always thinking about where else can we put water in order to get better use of the landscape?

>> I'm always thinking about where else I can put waters. You can -- it's a bit like having too much grass. It's not really a problem.

>> Yes.

>> It's a good problem to have if you do. No, I mean, yes, the -- generally there's no way you'll find where it's overwatered. We're lucky here. We've got a lot of natural water sources, but if we have a dry year, they dry up and they come back with the manmade waters. The more waters you can put in, the better. So--.

>> And the water source is a well?

>> Yes, yes. Pump water. Yes, [inaudible] water. We're lucky here. We've got quite a few. It's quite easy to get groundwater from here. Where you can't get ground water, you put in dams. Where you can't get a damn in, you can part water from other water points to there. It's an expensive, expensive, expensive process, but the more waters you can have, the more you can spread out, the more evenly you can have your grain radiuses. It just works out better across the board for everything. I mean, if water is lost, so the more you've got, there it is.

>> With English breeds of [inaudible] cattle I would say that water consumption in the summertime would be around 15 to 20 gallons per day. Do we have any idea of what -- do the Brahmans use less water?

>> I'm not sure. I'm thinking of that in liters. You know, I, especially this time of the year, like [inaudible] cow, it's between 80 to 100 liters.

>> Yes.

>> A day. So, I think that's about the same as [inaudible]. Yes, yes. A herd -- a bull will drink about 110 to 120 liters per day. So, this time of year also, if you're, you know, if you're putting cattle into the yards, I'd bank on between 80 to 100 liters per head, per day. So, you've sort of got to ration that out and you monitor how long you can hold those [inaudible] in the yards and, you know, have them in the area because your start -- need to move them on, because 100,000 liter tank only has [inaudible]. So, think about it has so many head days in it, so you sort of run a budget [inaudible]. And the more water points you can have around a paddock, you know, you can sort of spread those [inaudible] makes it a lot less -- a lot less of an issue if you have one water point go down, break down, something like that. It's less of an issue. You sort of leave that for a few days until you get time to fix it, rather than spending all day and all night out there getting it done just so your cow can have water.

>> Well, I didn't prep you for the question, but what would you say are the biggest challenges of raising cattle here?

>> The climate.

>> Yes.

>> I'd say waters and managing the pastures. I mean, that probably sounds pretty simplistic, but you know, cattle [inaudible] a certain area with the better grasses first. And you know, trying to manage it so that they spread that grazing out. That's the biggest challenge. How do you do that? Do you do it with fire, water points, with fences, that's sort of the -- a bit of a juggling act. Which one works in which paddock, you know? We've got the big paddocks here. I think the biggest paddock we've got is 50,000 hectares. So, and you know, water's spread out across the paddock, but at the moment, I'd say 60 to 70% of those cattle are watering off of probably two water points. So, how do you get them to move? Do you do it with fire? Do you put into the budget to put a fence in to stop from going into that area? Yes, trying to get the cattle to go where you want them to go through those managing practices, and if it doesn't work, the same in each area, you put the -- and you have to swap and change, depending on the year and depending on the cattle. Yes.

>> What about on the marketing side? Just thinking through the future of the beef industry here, and you're making some plans to try to extend your options for where you could sell cattle.

>> Yes.

>> Do you feel like that's optimistic?

>> I think that's -- I think that's doable. The live export market, I'm always -- I'm sure about, whether it's got a future. I think logically, it does, and should, but there's a lot of pressure from certain groups to abolish live export. So, whether that wins through in the end or not, I'm not sure. But I always fall back on the idea that there's a lot [inaudible] somebody's going to -- they're going to get food one way or the other. So, I think there'll always be a market for Australian cattle. It's just a matter of how we provide it to them.

>> Get it to them.

>> Yes.

>> Yes.

>> Whether we end up going the boxed beef line, whether the live export continues, I'm not sure if that's very much a social licensing more than a market thing.

>> Well, that's truly the same in the states. I mean, there's a lot of work going into various kind of quality assurance programs from animal handling on the ranch to animal handling in transportation, to [inaudible] once they get to a [inaudible].

>> Yes, yes.

>> I think the thing that surprised me the most is that I have not seen as many insects as I expected. And like in the American south, external parasites and insects are pretty significant. It's something we have to think about and plan for and deal with.

>> Yes.

>> Is that here and I'm just not seeing it right now because it's the dry season?

>> Yes, pretty well. Nothing likes the dry season. Even the bugs.

>> Yes?

>> Yes, no, they -- there is external parasites. We've got tick. We've got [inaudible] fly.

>> Yes.

>> That they're all body-sucking insects, and they are -- their time to show on is during the wet season. So, [inaudible] is the best time for the cattle putting on weight, source of [inaudible] to deal with because if the -- all the external parasites, that's when the worms are out as well, so you've got your general parasites. Yes, it is an issue, and it is something you sort of plan for every year, especially at the moment. Indonesia has an issue with [inaudible] skin disease. So, any animal that comes through with fly bites, or any marks on their skin is more -- automatically ruled out of going across sea.

>> Yes.

>> So, [inaudible] flies might not be affecting the animals too much. Any little raised lump will get -- knock it back [inaudible] for another year to -- for it to be sold. So, yes, it's definitely an issue that's always there and it's even more so now, yes.

>> Yes. Well, you two clearly see yourselves as caretakers of the land, caretakers of the animals. A friend of mine in the states, Jamie Rodgers [phonetic] likes to say, "We take care of heartbeats. The people that work here and the animals that work here. The livestock -- I mean the wildlife that live here."

>> Yes.

>> And the people that come to visit. And when I see a pretty similar attitude in how you see your role as caretakers. And over the last week, I've heard the term, "custodian, steward, caretaker."

>> Yes.

>> What words would you use to describe your role as taking care of everything that lives here?

>> I suppose a custodian of the land. That's very -- it's very well used in the area.

>> Yes.

>> Yes.

>> Yes, you know? We're not here for [inaudible].

>> Yes.

>> Which isn't that long. So, [inaudible] do the best we can for the--

>> Yes.

>> -for the time we're here.

>> We really do believe, like if you've got good lands, you've got good animals, if you've got happy people, it all works together. Everything works better when it's well looked after. So, we're trying to look after everything.

>> Yes, I think one of the terms that was used by the aboriginal [inaudible] that provides a welcome to the congress was mother [inaudible].

>> Mother [inaudible].

>> Healthy land?

>> Yes.

>> Yes. And I like the term country, you know, referring to sort of everything that's out there, as opposed to land. Like, I would use the word land or say that people are land stewards. Then it has a broader meaning than just the dirt, obviously. But--

>> Yes.

>> -I like the term country. It just seems to carry up a broader, thicker connotation than just land, as in, "Ahoy, there's land."

>> Yes. Yes.

>> It's nice to land mass. There's a lot that's going on there.

>> Yes.

>> Yes.

>> And the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

>> Yes, yes.

>> And it's hard to communicate that. Would you say that that attitude is common among people that manage these cattle stations, or not so much?

>> It is. It's certainly [inaudible] that [inaudible] the most time [inaudible]. I think I'm you know, if you've been on the station for long enough, you realize you're not just here to grow cattle. It's about the whole part. The land, the earth, what's under the earth, what grows above the earth.

>> There's a history of what went on before us.

>> What's been here before us?

>> What's been here before? What sort of condition the land is, and you know what phase it's going through, whether you're getting rain or not, and then it moves on to the cattle and the people and the infrastructure, and all that kind of stuff. But you know, he's got to get around. I'm just another sort of guy, really.

>> Yes.

>> It's, yes, you've got to go to the grass, the trees, everything. The bear is part of the ecosystem.

>> It seems like a somewhat unforgiving environment, meaning that if you tried to push it very hard for too long, it feels like it would -- something would break.

>> It does, yes.

>> And you couldn't persist. And--

>> Yes.

>> -overusing the land.

>> No, yes. It's a very unforgiving area. You -- it only takes one mistake, and it takes a very long time and a lot of money to--

>> Recover.

>> -to recover. Yes. Yes, every decision you make, has a potential to cost lives, one way or the other. Cattle, all the, you know, the condition of the land, something like that. Yes. There's a lot of native species here, you know? Not just grasses but lots of -- recently I've been seeing lots of little furry creatures.

>> Little [inaudible]. I've seen a white-water rat recently, which is something I haven't seen in a very long time. So, it's heartening to know the country's in really good condition and can sustain those animals. But it's always in the back of your mind that this could be just a phase or I could very quickly make a bad decision and it could -- I could ruin that. So, it's always a bit of a weight on your mind thinking about that.

>> Well, I'll stop interrogating you and let you get on to whatever else you had today, which may include fighting fire, unfortunately. I won't mention that one of my daughters is named after a tall, Scottish woman that we met in Ellensburg, and she became my wife's best friend when she was 95 years old. And her father was a sheep man that came over from Scotland.

>> Yes.

>> And you remind me a bit of her. Yes. She was colorful. She never married, actually. She was a schoolteacher.

>> Yes.

>> But she cut a pretty broad swath where we live in Ellensburg, Washington.

>> Yes.

>> That's nice.

>> Taught a lot of people, and she had many, many figurative children. Yes, so I want to publicly thank you for your hospitality. And I sincerely hope that I can come back sometime.

>> Yes, it's a pleasure to meet you.

>> We're happy to have you here again sometime, too. Thanks for coming.

>> Thank you.

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range Podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. Just search for "Art of Range." If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the Show Notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering range land managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Conner's Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

>> The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own, and does not imply Washington State University's endorsement.

[ Music ]

Mentioned Resources

Wikipedia article on Napier Downs Cattle Station

We want your input

Future podcasting funding depends on listener feedback. Please take a minute of your time to respond to this short survey.

Give Feedback

Taking suggestions

Have a question for us to answer on air, or a topic suggestion for a future episode? Email