Problems don’t go away until they’re resolved… which is the case with the Kempsey Regional Saleyards.
In an article published in September last year, the Argus quizzed Kempsey Shire Council (the asset owner) on the issue of substandard maintenance and upkeep of the saleyards.
The article also highlighted the animal welfare concerns many cattle producers had around the lack of shelter during summer months or wet weather, and questioned the hygiene standards of the facility.
The Argus was contacted again earlier this week by nearby property owner Vic Rudder who has been concerned about the state of the saleyards for some time.
Mr Rudder insisted I speak to him on-site, which happened to be during a sale, to show me the condition of the saleyards and explain why it should be a concern to all who pass through them.
“The saleyards do not get cleaned often or thoroughly enough, and as a result the condition of the establishment is unacceptable,” Mr Rudder said emphatically.
As we slipped and skidded our way through the yards where livestock were being held prior to sale, it was easy to see the mix of effluent, water run-off from troughs, stock-feed and even litter that created inches of filth covering the concrete paths and holding pens.
Mr Rudder, a retired butcher who has worked in and around saleyards and abattoirs his entire career, explained that the situation created all sorts of hazards for humans and the animals.
“The amount of sludge building-up not only poses an occupational risk to people accessing the saleyards in terms of slips and trips, but it also presents a biological hazard to livestock,” he said.
While speaking with Mr Rudder I was approached by another local farmer who was attending the sale that day. She did not want to be identified, but was as equally impassioned by the state of the saleyards.
As an experienced grazier, the local woman pointed out the poor water quality in the drinking troughs, lifting a layer of slime off the surface of the water (pictured) that cattle had no choice but to drink.
The woman also commented that weaners she had purchased from the saleyards were lame once they arrived at her property. A condition she questioned whether was the result of a bacterial infection or virus contracted from standing knee deep in excrement at the saleyards.
In last year’s article, Kempsey Shire Council cited the 2013 Kempsey Regional Saleyards Business Plan that detailed council’s $2 million investment in upgrade and infrastructure works over the past 12 years.
A council spokeswoman said that the plan ensured the Kempsey Regional Saleyards complied with environmental standards, met OH&S requirements and offered best practice facilities capable of processing more than 2000 head of cattle per day.
However, judging by the angst still felt among cattle producers and the visible evidence available at the saleyards, this statement sits in stark contrast with the current situation.
According to the website, Kempsey Shire Council says it operates the saleyards guided by the following goals:
- To provide a high quality venue for the efficient presentation of livestock for live weight and open auction sale.
- To maximise council's return on the operation of the saleyards.
- To assist in providing employment opportunities and economic growth in the Macleay Valley through retention and promotion of the saleyards.
When questioned about recent concerns expressed, council’s manager of economic sustainability Susannah Smith said there was a dedicated staff member who was responsible for cleaning troughs, picking up rubbish, weed control, mowing, irrigation, plumbing, welding, fixing gates and sweeping at the saleyards.
“The trough cleaning and sweeping are probably the major cleaning duties. Council endeavours to undertake sweeping on a monthly basis however this is not always possible due to the sweeper sometimes being required elsewhere within council,” she said.
Midcoast Rural livestock sales agent Mark Haywood said above and beyond maintenance of the saleyards, which was important for many reasons, having no shade was a much bigger issue needing to be addressed.
“I’ve had experience with abattoirs that won’t accept filthy cattle, so the cleanliness of Kempsey’s saleyards could have an adverse impact on the market in the future,” Mr Haywood said.
“The muck that’s accumulated at the saleyards is also a public liability issue, if someone was to slip and sustain an injury, or not be able to get out of the way of an animal… well, it’s a dangerous situation.”
Mr Haywood acknowledged the good job being done by the council employee who’s tasked to perform cleaning duties at the saleyards, but said there was too much to do for one person.
He also went on to say that in order for the saleyards not to quickly become antiquated and replaced by online selling, a roof over the facility was a critical improvement.
“A roof over the saleyards along with sawdust on the ground provides a better experience for the user, buyer and the animal. It’s better for the welfare of the animal as it prevents heat stress, which could result in death as was the case for three animals last year during an unusually hot day,” Mr Haywood said.
“The saleyards need to be treated as a priority, as they act as a community hub, they bring people from nearby regions into the Macleay Valley during sale days and generate income for local cattle producers.”