On The Land

25 June, 2022

Wayne shepherds newcomers into jobs

WAYNE Shepherd has worked in the cattle industry most of his life, starting in a Cairns produce business selling cattle direct from properties to the meatworks 49 years ago.

By Sally Turley

Relatively recent starters in the cattle agent game, Kenny Weldon and Luke Hickmott are grateful to have a mentor like Wayne Shepherd to show them the ropes.
Relatively recent starters in the cattle agent game, Kenny Weldon and Luke Hickmott are grateful to have a mentor like Wayne Shepherd to show them the ropes.

Within nine years, he had gone into partnership with Alan Mackenzie to open their own agency, Shepherd and Mackenzie, before later going on to set up Atherton Tableland Agencies (ATA), with John Soutar. 

When ATA was bought out by Wesfarmers Dalgety four years later, it gave Wayne the space, working in partnership with Peter Watkins, to establish probably his greatest professional achievement, the privately-owned agency Queensland Rural in 2009. 

Its two main offices, based in Charters Towers and Atherton, now employs 20 staff and works with producers from Mareeba up to the Peninsula, through the Etheridge Shire and west to Richmond. 

But at 73 years of age, “Shep”, as he is widely known, said his days in the agency business may be numbered and he realises the industry and Queensland Rural need to move into their next phase of operation. 

A lot has changed in the cattle industry in the last couple of years and along with welcoming new team members, Kenny Weldon and Luke Hickmott, Shep believes it is also time for a new approach to how agents do business in the far north. In a bid to widen the outlook of Tableland cattle marketing, Wayne, Ken and Luke believe the focus needs to shift towards increasing their knowledge of the buyers in the marketplace. 

Mareeba saleyards have been experiencing a new phenomenon during the unprecedented beef boom. Southern buyers have consistently targeted the Tablelands' lighter cattle, to the point where it has made restocking extremely difficult and expensive for local producers. 

Not only has this brought Mareeba in line with prices being realised in southern selling centres, it has proven the demand is out there for Tableland product and the Queensland Rural team believe producers should be reaching out to capitalise on that demand. 

Auctions Plus has been around since July 1987, when it began as an Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation initiative, originally known as Computer Aided Livestock Management (CALM), but it hasn't been widely adopted up here yet. 

The beauty of the digital trading platform is that it offers vendors maximum exposure to buyers with minimum cost, effort and risk. 

Cattle are assessed, weighed and pre-treated for tick on-farm and offered to the entire Queensland and New South Wales buying market. 

Vendors can set a reserve price, negotiate on numbers and delay the sale if they choose. If their animals fail to reach the reserve online, the sale is not over, as they have the right to negotiate with the losing bidder post-auction and their cattle don't need to leave the property until vendors are happy with the sale result. 

“There are a lot of good cattle up here with the perfect dentition for the market,” livestock specialist Ken Weldon said. 

“Most people sell their stores through Auction Plus, but cows and calves or semi-finished cattle are also an option. 

“The market is firm at the moment, but the meatworks know that second wave of cattle are still out there and with the uncertainties around interest rates and the change of government, some buyers are a little hesitant to move. 

“It will be interesting to see what happens in the new financial year, but there certainly isn't the demand from re-stockers there was this time last year, making it the ideal time for vendors to add another tool to their marketing kit. 

“In terms of saleyard marketing, we would like to see more information displayed on cattle going through the yards, particularly on good lines of single-vendor cattle. 

Ideally, we could premarket them with photos online to build interest pre-sale.” 

Just over a year in, Mr Weldon said he was really enjoying his role in the agency and is grateful to Wayne Shepherd for all he has taught him. 

“I had plenty of industry experience, growing up on bullock fattening depots around Taroom, before spending 12 years contract mustering in the Cape,” Mr Weldon said. 

“I spent three years looking after Etty Bay property, ‘Bay Downs’, filling 11 or 12 live export boats each year and looking after ‘Ooralat’ Station near Mt Surprise for the Pensini family and two years managing ‘St Ronans’ Station west of Mt Garnet. 

“But it was the people skills and the drafting of cattle to industry specifications that are a lot harder than they look and that was where Wayne took me under his wing, talking to me like a father, teaching me all he could.” 

Mr Shepherd is now sharing that industry experience with new livestock specialist, Luke Hickmott, who grew up on his grandfather's fattening block at Julatten and faces the challenge of filling the big shoes worn by the recently retired, Jacko Shephard. 

After finishing his building apprenticeship in Townsville, Luke worked setting up new construction and supervising plant and machinery operation in mines around Mt Isa and Nebo, before establishing his own bridge building business, in conjunction with the Townsville City Council for the last six years. 

He had moved back to the north to work with Southedge Pastoral when Jacko's position became available.

“It has been a huge challenge taking over Jacko's clients and maintaining the level of service they had been used to, especially as most people don't know me yet,” he said. 

“I have been going out on a few jobs with Shep and starting to get that hands-on experience, while meeting more of the client base. 

I am hoping to help bring the north up to speed with southern markets and the opportunities available in back-grounding steers and heifers for the feedlot job.” 

Growing up trading cattle, Mr Hickmott believes there is still good money to be made adding kilos and turning cattle over. 

“It is certainly going to be more rewarding than leaving that money in the bank. Sell today and buy tomorrow and target your end market to access premium returns,” he said. 

Mr Shepherd said he was dedicated to preparing the next generation of staff and was committed to staying on board until they were confident enough to operate independently and look after the clients who paid their wages.


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