SPECIALIST livestock rail provider, Watco East West, has announced plans to carry feeder cattle to feedlots – expanding on its original focus on finished cattle for abattoirs.
The company took over the livestock contract for the Quilpie line in 2020 and the Winton line last year. Those lines are set up for sending finished cattle to processors on the east coast.
But Watco has since purchased a set of yards in Dalby, to where it plans to run a “feedlot express” from the Morven Freight Hub, which opened in 2020.
Director Chris Hood said with large numbers of Western Queensland cattle heading to feedlots, the company was giving itself access to a more significant share of the transport market.
“If you look at the numbers that used to go direct-to-works on the rail 20-years-ago it was massive, because feedlots weren’t a big part of the supply chain back then,” Mr Hood said.
“Now they are a major part of supply chain, and we want to participate in it because the numbers of feeder cattle coming into Dalby are mind-boggling.
“We have run the idea past some of the lotfeeders on the Darling Downs and they can see the merit in it too.”
Direct-to-works still viable for rail
Mr Hood said the direct-to-works side of the business had been running well for the past two years, with Oakey Beef being one of the company’s major supporters.
“We sent about 10 trains last year, which is a lot more than the number of trains that have gone on rail in recent times,” he said.
“I was quite pleased with that given the shortage of cattle and inability secure big lines. A lot of the meatworks were focusing on finding cattle rather than focusing on how they were transported – because cattle were so hard to find.”
Mr Hood said feeder cattle were not needed to make the rail viable, but there was a lot to gain by having them as part of the business.
“It’s like owning a pub and only selling beer, whereas if you sell rum and coke you will pick up more of the market,” he said.
“We’re just looking at the numbers and there is a serious opportunity there – even if you picked up five percent of the market it’s still 35,000 head of cattle or 35 trains-a-year. The cattle are smaller too so you would fit more of them on a train.”
Working with trucking companies
With the pick-up points limited to Morven and Dalby, Mr Hood said some concerns had been raised about the logistics of bringing cattle onto rail.
“The main thing people have raised concerns about is the number of times you have to load and unload,” he said.
“But it’s still a reasonable distance and you could have trucks waiting at Dalby to take them to the feedlot.”
Mr Hood said he was keen to work with some of the trucking companies to make the feeder service work.
“When you go east of Charleville the road starts to become busier and after Roma it is hard for trucks,” he said.
“The western line is pretty good, it is never going to take a bullet train, but it takes the coal trains from Ackland which keeps it busy.”
Can you come to Innisfail? There is yards at the line from before, when we had a meatworks in Innisfail. Now they sit and rot. More people have beef cattle now the Tablelands has gone from dairy to beef so there is mobs of cattle going to Townsville and it used to be by rail. Bring it back – less trucks on the roads
Good utilisation and big potential with feeder cattle.
How the wheel turns. What a fantastic initiative.
Early 90’s SA rail built state of the art 2 deck cattle vans for the northern run from Alice Springs 18 months later decommissioned. I wonder where they are. Maybe a good investment.