Marlborough woman Fiona Baird joined the live export industry between Australia and Asia in the hope of being part of positive change. She writes that she is not shy about kicking people off her ship if they are not treating animals well, or shutting facilities that don't measure up. --------------------
My name is Fiona Baird. I am a live export stock lady, and an Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) compliance officer for a Perth-based exporter.
Raised on a cattle and sheep station in North Canterbury, I spent most of my youth riding horses, swimming in freshwater rivers and scaling the hill country with dad, and a pack of dogs with a younger brother in tow searching for the elusive hereford; all the usual scallywag activities rural kids partook in. We moved to Blenheim when I was a teenager.
I studied and became a makeup artist, working in New Zealand television and still photography. I came to Australia the day Princess Mary married the Danish prince, with hopes of becoming personal assistant to Russell Crowe. Alas, he never offered me a job. Neither did Nicole Kidman
So, I decided to get onto a station and pursue my love of animals and horse riding.
Starting as a cook and eventually getting the chance to get in the camp and have a go, I spent the next six years chasing cattle and branding brahman weaners in some amazing parts of the Top End and the Gulf area of Australia. I clocked up adventures of riding mad station horses and riding in Aboriginal community rodeos where, for first prize in the barrel races, you could take away $20 and a six-pack of rum.
Whether fixing flood fences in croc-infested waterways or enjoying the tremendous sunsets of the Australian outback, it was a great lifestyle.
I started working in live export in Darwin in 2011. I was lucky to start on the B Cruxe transporting cattle throughout Asia, accompanied by some great young Australian stockman and woman. Then I moved on to various ships, including sailing with the wonderful Catherine Marriot, who in a short time showed me the ins and outs of bovine nutrition. I was to be opened up to a whole new and exciting world within the beef industry. I have transported not just cattle, but buffalo and goats through to Malaysia on the odd occasion, often delivering goats and cattle to the Sultan of Brunei.
I've been lucky to make lifelong friendships with amazing people I would have otherwise never met. These include Indonesian wharfies and ringas, girls who sell T-shirts at the wharfs and Muslim woman with a passion for cattle. And for the record, when women of any faith get together, we all talk about the same things….
These days I sail as the sole stocky on board a ship under the Danish flag, carrying up to 1500 head of cattle most voyages, throughout Asia. My job on the ship is predominantly animal health and welfare. My day consists of feed plans and monitoring cattle, working alongside the chief mate and up to 10 Filipino crew. Trips last for up to nine days. The cattle always travel well with the initial shock of transition from land to structure waning within hours. Fodder is a mix of hay pellet and chaff and for those sweet toothed beauties on board, a bit of molasses.
At the other end it's always organised chaos, but I am impressed by the stock handling of the guys in all the countries I deliver cattle to. Depending on the port, the trucks can transport up to 20 head, no road trains over there! Traffic is manic so trucking of cattle is normally carried outside of peak hours.
Most of the cattle are for wet market, refrigeration being a total non-event in some parts. People rise at 3am and head to the local market to buy meat that can be consumed that day. Slaughter of these animals normally starts around 10pm in most abattoirs, to have the meat ready for market early morning, while it is still cool. I observe slaughter through my ESCAS work, and the entire animal will be consumed one way or another. Even the skin is used in soup.
I enjoy the fact I often transport animals from the same cattle stations, so you get to know the habits of the cattle, and what behaviour and eating habits to expect from the cattle during the voyage. It's also my job to report back to the Government and the exporter on day-to-day happenings, to keep all parties up to date with how the voyage is playing out. I am also required to complete an End Of Voyage report with a full rundown from cattle figures and behaviours to how my relationship with the crew was.
In my travels I have experienced the odd wanna-be pirate, even chasing some young fellas overboard with a plastic waddy (stick). Never a dull moment.
During my time I have been lucky to work alongside some of the pioneers of live export. I spend time with the people who introduced and installed the first of the Mark 1 slaughter box in Indonesia, and a Vietnamese woman who got through the war to continue in the beef trade. There are a lot of interesting stories to be heard. I am often humbled by the amount of goodness I have experienced from people.
Visiting feedlots and abattoirs I see first-hand the positive effect live export has on communities. These include jobs for those who would otherwise be living in complete poverty and education for workers. I know of soccer fields being built for communities by feedlot owners. There's always a sense of pride among the people and everyone thrives on learning more.
Live export is inevitable. People have to eat. There are a lot of hard working people doing great things in live export right now. And I'm proud to be a part of it.
- The Marlborough Express