As we drove out of Roma, Queensland, I noticed an unusual number of parked cars glinting in the early morning sun. Something clicked. It was the Roma Sale Yards. Not something that grabbed my attention when I read about it, suddenly my interest was piqued.
A quick U-Turn
A few years ago, I was a vegetarian for about two years, and still have pangs of conscience about eating meat so I was ambivalent about visiting the largest cattle saleyard in Australia. But I love new experiences and I like a challenge. Going to a country saleyard certainly would be a new experience and would challenge me so the decision was easy. A quick U-turn and we were driving tentatively into the car park, not sure where to go or what was ahead.
If you don’t already know, I am not too good with the unknown. I find it challenging when I find myself in a new situation. So with the adrenalin flowing I got out of the car and tried to work out where to go.
The sales were in full swing and there wasn’t really anyone to ask. Then I noticed a sign. It seems visitors attend the sales regularly and there is even a free tour.
Unfortunately, the tour had started, but I walked towards the action and climbed the stairs to the viewing area – what I now know is called the catwalk.
It was hot and dusty. The sounds of cattle lowing and the not unpleasant smell of livestock filled the air. Still unsure if I was trespassing, I got chatting to someone who looked like he knew what was going on. He, like most men there, wore jeans, work boots, a long-sleeved blue shirt and broad brimmed Akubra style hat.
Being city born and bred, and unsure of the jargon, I tentatively asked him if the cattle were being sold “for breeding or for meat”. I didn’t really want to know that they were going to end up on a plate somewhere, but felt a need to find out. “Well, they’re steers” he said, laughing, “so they’re no use for breeding”.
He then explained how they were being sold to be fattened up before being resold for ‘steaks’. Again I showed my ignorance by asking if he was buying or selling. He turned out to be an auctioneer.
Feeling more comfortable, I wandered around a bit to watch jillaroos herd cattle on and off a weighbridge, singly or in groups depending on the ‘lot’. A digital sign indicated the weight, price per kilogram and average price per head.
Three identically dressed farmers told me that they were window shopping and pointed out a bolt sticking out in the pen below which ‘would tear the hide off a steer’.
An auction was in progress. I made my way down from the catwalk to mix with buyers, cattlemen, agents and visitors in the passages between the pens. The auctioneer and his entourage stood out from the crowd in their pink shirts.
One took notes, others counted the animals. I didn’t understand a word of what the fast talking auctioneer said. It all moved so fast. A man with them, dressed in khaki held a long pole with a sponge on the end in one hand and a can of yellow paint in the other. As cattle were sold he marked them with the paint.
We were lucky to be passing on a Tuesday as Auctions are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:00am. Farmers come from near and far to sell or buy. They catch up with mates. Their sons dress the same way as they do. Even a little toddler on her mother’s hip wore jeans and boots.
I met a single mum who runs her own property. She had three decks of steers for sale. More jargon for me. Like everyone I met, she was happy to chat about her life. With one child in boarding school, she home-schools another.
Apparently it’s much easier these days. Her daughter has three hours each day face to face with the teacher via Skype. If the internet is working.
There has been rain and perhaps things are looking up for farmers, but life on the land is not easy. Farmers are men of few words when it comes to emotions and I was aware that some of those I saw were doing it tough. We bought a coffee for the road from the canteen and left energised by yet another great experience.
Reflecting on the Roma Sale Yards
In the evening while eating my steak at the Lightning Ridge Bowling Club, I couldn’t help thinking of the steers I saw in the saleyards that morning.