If you’re spending a few days in country Australia and want something to do that is uniquely rural Australian and won’t cost you anything, find out if the town has livestock sale-yards and which days they operate then head on down for an interesting few hours.
We recently visited the Dalby cattle sales, held on Wednesdays at the saleyards just to the north of the town and just off the Warrego Highway as you exit on the way to Chinchilla. The highway runs out from the edge of Brisbane, the capital of Queensland State, pretty much straight out west past Toowoomba through other communities with equally interesting names including Wallumbilla, Muckadilla, Mungallala and on to Charleville, a distance of over 700 kilometres. Dalby is about 100km past Toowoomba and 200km from Brisbane.
The day actually starts on Tuesday afternoon when the stock arrive, brought in by road train – multiple trailers, usually two but sometimes three, pulled by one head. The cattle are put in pens where they are allocated Lot numbers by which they will be sold on Wednesday.
Come Wednesday morning, the yards are a hive of activity very early as buyers and sellers watch the proceedings anxiously, the buyers hoping for a good price and the sellers hoping to cover their costs with a tidy profit. Some of the buyers will be agents for feedlots buying for fattening, others will be looking for breeders. The saddest pens hold the drought affected stock, not as many this particular day as in times of widespread drought where it may not have rained for many months or even years. As we wandered around the walkways up above the pens, we met and chatted with some of the owners who told us a little about their properties and cattle. I cannot have anything but admiration for the love of the land and their stock displayed by these tenacious people, both men and women.
No-one spoke to the auctioneer. He was busy running the show – rapid fire patter, sale and then recording by his offsiders and off to the next pen. We had a friendly wave from the staff on horses, mostly women, guiding the sold cattle off to the weighing station and then to holding pens for loading on to their trucks. We chatted briefly with the staff in the weighing station, a very efficient system of ‘In gate up, stock in’ weigh the Lot as one, then at the other side ‘Out gate up, stock out’.
The holding pen staff were very happy to chat in between opening and closing the correct gates and thrilled to pose for photos.
Needless to say, we didn’t get much conversation from any of the cattle. The stood mostly quietly in their pens. They had water to drink and there is a high roof providing ventilation and shade. Though there were some milkers, most of the cattle were beef cattle, of various breeds and ages.
If you have children, this is a great way to let them get up close to such animals, something lots of children from urban homes would never see. And not too bad an experience for mum and dad either!