Jerky proves to be sil­ver lin­ing for strug­gling prop­erty

The Cameron fam­ily had a stroke of ge­nius which saved their Queens­land farm

The Western Star - - RURAL WEEKLY - Sarah Hud­son [email protected]­ral­weekly.com

IT WAS a dou­ble whammy.

The drought in Queens­land was kick­ing in and live cat­tle ex­ports in north­ern Aus­tralia had been shut down.

Al­most overnight the value of Doug and Rachelle Cameron’s 1300 head of bran­gus–charo­lais cat­tle plum­meted by about $1 mil­lion.

“It hap­pened in about a six-month pe­riod,” Doug re­called of his an­nus hor­ri­bilis about four years ago.

“When the cat­tle mar­ket shut, stock were sent south and sat­u­rated the mar­ket, tak­ing a cow from $850 to $75 af­ter costs.

“To scrape through I was work­ing nine months away from home as a ma­chin­ery con­trac­tor but, with the drought, I couldn’t work as I had to keep the cat­tle alive.

“One day the bank man­ager called to ask about the in­ter­est pay­ments and I just hit the wall.”

What hap­pened next to the Camerons – and their 13,700ha prop­erty in the Au­gathella re­gion of south­west Queens­land – was ei­ther a stroke of ge­nius, or could be de­scribed as a knee-jerk re­ac­tion.

“I like to ex­per­i­ment in the kitchen and was mak­ing jerky at home and I’d gone into a roadhouse where I saw they were sell­ing jerky for $5 a packet,” the 39-year-old said.

“I thought, geez, surely I could get more than 10 pack­ets of jerky out of a cow and make more than what I was get­ting.”

Four years on, Nive Beef Jerky is the sil­ver lin­ing to that dark pe­riod.

“It ticks a lot of boxes for us. Did I re­alise how much work was in­volved in start­ing a busi­ness like this? No. Do I see it as a pos­i­tive for the farm? Most cer­tainly, yes.”

FAIR AP­PETITE

WHILE the jerky busi­ness is grow­ing by about 20% per an­num, it re­mains a small frac­tion of the over­all farm­ing en­ter­prise.

About 40 head of grass-fed cat­tle a year – or about four a month – are pro­cessed, mainly steers above the 550kg bracket.

“They’re out of spec and worth less, and may not oth­er­wise have a mar­ket but, by the time we make the jerky, they’re worth more. The jerky means we clean up cat­tle that wouldn’t have a home.”

They are taken by Doug in a trailer to Au­gathella, butchered into strips and placed in cry­ovac bags.

Doug sells the fatty trim – which can’t be made into jerky – to a Roma butcher, be­fore then trav­el­ling to Toowoomba to a butcher run by the so­cial en­ter­prise En­deav­our Foun­da­tion, a round trip that takes him 16 hours.

The foun­da­tion takes two days to mar­i­nate, then dry the meat – an eight-hour process that loses two-thirds of the meat’s orig­i­nal weight – be­fore pack­ag­ing it and dis­tribut­ing it.

Be­cause jerky can be a high-risk food, Doug sends a sam­ple from each batch to a lab to be tested, in­clud­ing for wa­ter con­tent and such is­sues as e.coli, sal­mo­nella and mi­crobe count.

Doug said the busi­ness had hit its strides this year, thanks to the em­ploy­ment of a mar­ket­ing man­ager in Jan­uary, which had seen the num­ber of re­tail out­lets grow from 34 re­tail­ers in the past

❝ I thought, geez surely I could get more than 10 pack­ets of jerky out of a cow and make more than what I was get­ting.

— Doug Cameron

three years to 120 last year, mainly in NSW and Queens­land, with a fore­cast growth of 300 next year; along­side online re­tail sales.

TASTE TEST

THE jerky is sold in 50g pack­ets in four flavours all cre­ated by Doug – roasted chilli, Thai fu­sion, heated gar­lic, and the orig­i­nal which is in­spired by his grand­mother’s roast beef gravy recipe.

“In the first three years we’ve sold 40,000 pack­ets but, as I’ve learnt, the first three years of a new busi­ness is hell and the fourth year is when you start crack­ing it.”

Doug and Rachelle – both raised on large cat­tle prop­er­ties – moved to the 13,700ha farm in the Au­gathella re­gion in 2004, with the prop­erty part of the his­toric Nive Downs cat­tle run.

The fa­ther of three said pre-drought, the car­ry­ing

ca­pac­ity of the farm was 1300 head but, af­ter five years of drought, they now stocked 880 cows and 200 steers, with fur­ther de­stock­ing ex­pected.

The av­er­age an­nual rain­fall of 530mm is well un­der half, with one of the Camerons’ three weather sta­tions mea­sur­ing 176mm rain­fall to Novem­ber 2018.

This sea­son i Doug said no rain had fallen to al­low hay to nor­mal sum­mer pas­ture growth to carry cat­tle through the win­ter months, with pas­tures nor­mally al­low­ing three graz­ing ro­ta­tions now ac­com­mo­dat­ing just one.

In a nor­mal year they would only buy sup­ple­men­tary feed through win­ter but now they use high en­ergy, high pro­tein dry lick sup­ple­ments year-round.

The soil ranges from black to red loam and buf­fel grass, with four sub-arte­sian bores sup­ply­ing wa­ter needs.

HIGH STEAKS

THE foun­da­tion ge­net­ics for the herd came from a brah­man stud dis­per­sal sale in Lon­greach.

Brah­man cows are crossed with an­gus bulls to cre­ate an F1 demon­strat­ing high fer­til­ity, high growth rates and high in­tra­mus­cu­lar fat.

Bran­gus are then crossed with charo­lais for fur­ther hy­brid vigour, com­bin­ing the charo­lais mus­cle and growth, with the fat trans­ferred from F1 prog­eny.

Pre­vi­ously the Camerons have had bulls with cows year-round but, in the past year, have joined for four months from Novem­ber through to Fe­bru­ary.

Wean­ers are sold at Roma sa­le­yards, while steers are sold to feed­lots at about 500kg liveweight, or up to 21 months of age.

Doug said cre­at­ing Nive Beef Jerky had had many ad­van­tages, one of the best as­pects of which was the prod­uct devel­op­ment.

“From hav­ing the idea to bring­ing it to fruition was a huge task, find­ing a place to make it with a com­mer­cial kitchen, cre­at­ing a web­site, pric­ing, de­liv­ery, food safety and I never thought I’d have to un­der­stand bar­codes.”

PHOTO: JACK TRAN

NEW VEN­TURE: Beef jerky pro­ducer Doug Cameron, from Au­gathella, at the Re­gional Food Fes­ti­val in South­bank with some of his beef prod­ucts.

PHOTO: JACK TRAN

FARM­ING FAM­ILY: Doug Cameron, left, with daugh­ters Grace and Ella, wife Rachelle and son Stir­ling.

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