Family the focus but industry a passion

Family the focus but industry a passion


Gillian Fennell is known for speaking plainly about what she sees as important, and now she's combining her roles of cattle producer mother and teacher, with Cattle Council board member.

Gillian Fennell with her daughter Eleanor. Photo Credit: Avalind Photography.

Gillian Fennell with her daughter Eleanor. Photo Credit: Avalind Photography.

Newly appointed Cattle Council of Australia board member and central Australian beef producer Gillian Fennell believes good industry representation is about trying to help all producers get ahead.

"I really love my region and we've got some great stuff happening here," she said.

"But I just can't just look in my own backyard if I want my industry to improve.

"I have to help everyone get ahead and I'm more than happy to do that."

Gillian and her husband Mark and his parents, run Lambina Station near Marla in far north South Australia.

When the season is good the nearly 405,000 hectare property runs around 5500 Charbray breeders, providing weaners to the feeder market.

Originally from Hughenden in northwest Queensland, the Fennells bought Lambina 16 years ago and made the move south.

Ms Fennell said they saw more opportunities in large pastoral areas for a family sized operation.

"My husband has a large family and many hands make light work," she said.

"You don't have to rely on staff, you can rely on each other and build something for the next generation.

"The place was quite underdeveloped when we took it on and the potential existed to run a sustainable enterprise that can weather all seasons.

"If you manage your country carefully, in what we call the desert country, you can maintain your core breeders pretty much regardless of rainfall.

"When you spent a lot of time and money investing in cattle, and you're proud of what you produce, maintaining your core breeders makes sense."

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Moving everything

That pride in their cattle meant when the Fennells moved from Queensland they didn't just bring their families, but also their livestock, trucking down 3000 Charbray breeders.

For their new neighbours Charbrays, with their Brahman genetics, were something different, and Ms Fennell was surprised the influence of Bos indicus cattle wasn't already being seen in the region.

"Even up to Alice Springs, because they're producing for southern markets and no one does live export much south of Tennant Creek, they're Herefords and Angus cattle," she said.

"I found it really surprising that they hadn't introduced a bit of Brahman just for survivability. But I guess a lot of people didn't want anything with the hump, large ears or heavy dewlap.

"You just have to be careful about how you breed and select your bulls and you don't get those traits."

Market shock

Ms Fennell said when they first consigned stock to a southern sale they received a shock.

"They were predominantly Angus and Hereford buyers in the saleyards, so our cattle being a bit unusual didn't perform as well as we would've liked," she said.

"We thought we were sending them a premium product, but when we got paid second rate prices we weren't really impressed."

After that they decided to pursue private settlement for sales and Ms Fennell said it has taken time for their stock to find a steady demand.

"It's probably just starting now that we get requests for our cattle," she said.

Fighting the drought

The Fennells have worked hard to keep breeding stock during droughts.

They feed supplements all year round, and during the Millennium drought they were trucking in supplementary feed by the road train from Charters Towers in Queensland, because they couldn't source it in South Australia.

Currently they are preparing for their third summer in a row without decent rainfall.

Feeding time: In the face of a third year of drought the Fennells are feeding supplements to their breeding stock.

Feeding time: In the face of a third year of drought the Fennells are feeding supplements to their breeding stock.

"We've been managing it now for about two years, so as we come into summer we'll be coming into our most urgent and pressing time," she said.

"We've got a little bit of standing feed left, and we're starting to get less fussy when we are weaning and culling cattle.

"We are making a concerted effort to cut off open watering points and put cattle where they can be more easily controlled, and off country before it gets degraded."

Industry roles

In August Ms Fennell was appointed the Livestock SA representative on the Cattle Council of Australia.

It's a commitment she's accepted alongside helping run the property and teaching her two youngest children through the School of Distance Education in Alice Springs.

Right now red meat industry representation is being debated, with the Red Meat Advisory Council recommending that all its member groups, which includes the Cattle Council, be bought together as one body, to be named Red Meat Australia.

The final decision on that has not been made but Ms Fennell believes changes in the role of representatives are inevitable.

"It's not efficient and nothing seems to be synchronised," she said.

"I also think the responsibility for people who do want to be a representatives is to better inform themselves about good governance and how to operate in that space.

"You also have to be able to look at the broader issues and look at the policy directions of government, because once you get involved, you are immediately involved in the politics of the situation whether you want to be or not."

With all those issues on the agenda the Fennells, like most producers stricken by drought continue to look to the sky searching for a cloud, and will keep doing so as the year continues.

"We will be looking for some rain but I don't think we're going to get any," She said.

"So were planning for it to not rain. That means a lot more mustering cattle and we'll keep our heads down and keep working until Christmas. Then take a break for a couple of days, get back into it, and wait for the next lot of rain."

The story Family the focus but industry a passion first appeared on Farm Online.


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