Store cattle may resume at two of Victoria's biggest markets by next week, as operators seek to put new protocols in place.
Victorian Livestock Exchange recently suspended store cattle sales at Leongatha and Pakenham, due to concerns over coronavirus.
Last week's 4000-head cattle sale at Leongatha was cancelled on Wednesday as Ballarat's 3000-head female sale was postponed and is expected to be rescheduled within weeks.
It followed the cancellation of monthly store sales scheduled at Warrnambool and Echuca last week.
VLE managing director Wayne Osborne said prime sales were still operating and going well.
"These are still only for butchers to attend, but everyone's been quite cooperative," Mr Osborne said.
"We're currently working with the agents to come up with a set of protocols so we can reopen store markets.
"Obviously, due to the number of people who wish to attend, it's quite a challenge to develop a system that can reliably maintain social distancing; but we're hopeful of being able to get something in place, so we restart next week."
At Euroa, this weeks' sale was capped at 1000 head of cattle, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Russell Mawson, Nutrien Ag Solutions, said the saleyards was using what he called a "checkerboard" layout, with animals only in every second pen.
"It'll be as good as gold, we have a set of rules to work by, and we will adhere to all those requirements," Mr Mawson said.
"Our key thing is to stay focussed and market our client's livestock."
With rain on the way and feed in the north, there was a high demand for cattle.
Yards already had to abide by occupational health and safety and animal welfare rules and regulations.
"This is just another requirement," he said.
And the Yea monthly store sale, this Friday, will go ahead with strict restrictions, imposed on attendees.
It's expected agent will yard about 1600 head of cattle.
The Yea saleyards committee of management said the sale would proceed, in strict compliance with the recommendations provided by the Australian Livestock Markets Association, relating to COVID-19.
"This is in accordance with the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud's announcement that livestock sale yards and wool auctions are able to continue and that they are an essential part of the broader agriculture supply chain," a council spokeswoman said.
At Yea, the management committee imposed a range of restrictions, including:
- Maintenance of social distancing
- Only genuine buyers, with a real intention to purchase, accredited livestock agents and essential agency staff and saleyards staff and contractors are allowed to attend
- Livestock transport operator to load/unload only - no access to sale
- A single entry point to the Yea Saleyards site will be established for parking.
- Pre-sale viewing will be held up until 10 am.
- Personal hygiene stations must be used before and after entering the selling pen area and the takeaway area of the canteen facility.
But Jamie Quinlan, Elders Yea, said he was concerned about the decision.
"I would have preferred they had postponed the sale, put significant measures in place, and given us a month to sort it out and ensure they are correct," Mr Quinlan said.
He said agents had been given four or five days to prepare, as the coronavirus crisis was spiking.
"We can gather a better understanding of these issues, in a month," he said.
Mr Quinlan said there were plenty of other ways of selling store cattle, including online.
"In the whole scheme of things, going on around the world, a store cattle sale, not a prime cattle sale, is rather insignificant," he said.
But Chris Pollard, Nutrien Ag Solutions, said the crisis could last for four or five months.
"We have to make a go of it," Mr Pollard said.
The Yea saleyards had wide lanes and cattle would only be yarded in every second pen.
"Hopefully we are going to be able to have a live stream in the area, where people sit, and they can bid on the cattle.
"We've been working this out for a fortnight."
Australian Livestock Saleyards Association president Councillor Stuart McLean said most yards, who were members of the organisation, were continuing to operate under strict access protocols.
The ALSA mainly covers council-owned saleyards.
Cr McLean said there were no plans to close yards, at this stage.
"Each yard will make its own decision as to whether or not it wants to remain operational."
He said ALSA was sharing knowledge with its members and agents.
"Yards are taking every step they possibly can, mainly to protect staff - that's the biggest issue," Mr McLean said.
"We have been concentrating on animal welfare, for a long, long while - it's an essential part of our business - but now we are concentrating on human welfare."
The association was also looking at what might happen if there was an outbreak of coronavirus among saleyards staff.
"There are some challenges that we are making preparations around, should there be an issue, and how that will be managed," Cr McLean said.
"The government and health department will guide us - it's not something we can make our own rules about.
'If we were ordered to shut down, that would be what would happen.
"Our main aim, right throughout this process, is to stay ahead of the game and make sure we can do everything we can to ensure the safety of our staff and all the people who work in the industry.
"If we can't do that, we shouldn't be in the industry."
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