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On the Land

8 May, 2022

Jacko calls it a day with Queensland Rural

AFTER many demanding years of marketing far northern cattle, Jacko Shephard of Queensland Rural, Mareeba, decided to hang up his notebook last week to pursue other life goals.

By Sally Turley

Jacko Shephard of Queensland Rural Mareeba

AFTER many demanding years of marketing far northern cattle, Jacko Shephard of Queensland Rural, Mareeba, decided to hang up his notebook last week to pursue other life goals. 

Jacko believes that his entire young life prepared him for the job he has held for over two decades as a cattle buyer, initially with Landmark and then with Queensland Rural for the past 13 years. 

He said growing up on a cattle station in Cape York Peninsula, working an 18-month stint at the Mareeba meatworks and operating his own trucking business carting cattle all over the state, educated him from the ground up in all aspects of the cattle industry. 

Born the second of six children to Fred and Ruth Shephard of “Lilyvale Station”, 440kms north of Mareeba, Jacko said his childhood taught him to value everything in life. “Lilyvale was not a huge place and there was not a lot to go around in a big family,” he said. “But it gave me the foundations I needed, the ability to think, act and talk like a cattleman, which has served me well throughout my life. 

Keen to learn, as soon as I grew up, I went ringing on properties around North Queensland. “Eventually I decided I would take a nice easy job on Queensland's wettest cattle station, ‘King Ranch’ at Tully. It was there I met my future wife Denise, who would stand by me for the next four decades through all of life's challenges.” Jacko said when an opportunity came up at the Mareeba Bacon Factory, he took it and spent 18 months, topping up his knowledge about cuts of meat, and how carcasses are graded. 

“But Dad’s death in 1978 brought us all back home to Lilyvale to take stock and find a new direction as a family,” he said.

“Soon realising we all needed to get back out and do our own thing, at 21 years of age, I began my time as a truck driver. I started carting drum fuel to the Musgrave Roadhouse and before long, property owners in the area began asking if I could cart their cattle down to the Mareeba saleyards on my way to pick up loads of fuel. 

“The more cattle I carted, the more they wanted me to cart. Taking the next step, Denise and I got our first truck in May 1979 and were married in November that year. “Dad always said ‘never let an opportunity pass you by’, so in 1982 we bought a Mercedes and, joined by my brother Bill, we bought the trucks off the family and freighting the Lilyvale cattle became ‘our department’.” He said they carted general livestock and cattle all over the north, from Weipa to anywhere, buying their first Kenworth in 1988 and a second in 1995 carting cattle to live export depots at Darwin and Karumba and doing multiple trips from Springfield, Mt Surprise to the Brisbane Valley.

 “We always reckoned trucking was a young man's game and that I would quit by the time I was 40, but that milestone came and went and I still couldn't afford to stop. In the end, I was no longer driving for love, but just for money to pay the bills,” Jacko said. “I’d had enough and told Denise that if I could just get sufficient money for the business to walk away with ‘two bob’ in my hand I would sell. I was carting six decks of steers to the boat in Karumba in March 1999, when Bradley Hawkins made me an offer and swiftly put an end to my trucking career.

 “Barely a fortnight later, I was offered a position as a livestock buyer with Wesfarmers. I never set out to be an agent. I always considered them to be nothing but scumbags, rogues and liars, so I declined the offer at first, but with school for our young children Tammy and Damien to consider, I thought about it a bit harder. 

“I told Wesfarmers I would take the job on two conditions. I would say it how I saw it and I would not lie to anyone! I started work, buying and selling at the Mareeba saleyards and everything just seemed to fall into place. “Based on the amount of cattle agents were selling each season at that time, I more than doubled that figure in my first year. 

I was enjoying working amongst people I knew from the bush and I was getting results, based on the credo of ‘treat people the way you want to be treated’.” According to Jacko, there is only one good deal as far as he is concerned and that is when the buyer and seller are completely happy. “Some of the agents chased big company business or big names in the cattle industry, but I just appreciated all business that came my way. I figured a lot of smaller vendors added up to equal one big vendor, plus I was dealing with all nice people,” he said. 

After gaining a decade of experience with the corporate owned Wesfarmers, Jacko pulled out to become one of the eight foundation members of the hugely successful, Atherton and Charters Towers based, Queensland Rural Livestock and Property agency.

 “Being able to work amongst a hand-picked team of livestock and property specialists, whilst being able to step away from supporting layers of non-productive top feeders in the corporate world was just brilliant!” he said. “But having almost 99 per cent of my long-term clients follow me across to our new venture was a show of loyalty that I will always be thankful for and will never forget, proving that people deal with people, not companies.”

But 13 years on, and following the harrowing loss of his wife and best friend Denise in July 2020 after a three-year battle with cancer, Jacko made the decision to move on to the next phase of his life. He plans on doing some day work mustering around the district, taking his horses on the northern campdraft circuit to catch up with old friends and spending time on his 180-acre cattle block on the East Palmerston. “I'm not walking away, I will always be available to help draft, sell or auction cattle if I am needed,” Jacko said.

“I bought my place 18 years ago and have been buying mobs of steers out of the paddock and taking them through to heavy bullocks. It’s a beautiful block, but there's a lot of fencing and other jobs there I have been putting off for a long time.” 

When asked for some wise words for his replacement, Luke Hickmott, Jacko said he should “sell every pen of cattle as if they were his own, reaching out to buyers for that last dollar” and above all, “be honest, because people want to know the truth”.

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