Stockyard Beef stalwart creates a grain-fed cattle legacy

Pioneer lot feeders now into third generation

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FAMILY AFFAIR: Stockyard Beef managing director Lachie Hart, left, with his father and founder of the business Robin Hart.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Stockyard Beef managing director Lachie Hart, left, with his father and founder of the business Robin Hart.


Three generations of the Hart family are contributing to the growth of Australia's longest running feedlot under single ownership.


The Hart family's Kerwee Feedlot on the Darling Downs is well known as one of the most modern in Australia and the nation's longest-held cattle feedlot under single ownership.

Robin Hart was a pioneer of Queensland's feedlot sector in the late 1960s, after recognising the enormous potential to supply high quality Australian beef cuts into the lucrative Japanese market.

The founder of the family-owned and run Stockyard Beef - and its Kerwee feedlot - had rare early exposure to Japan when he toured the country as a board member of the Amagraze processing and pastoral company, which was set up by United Kingdom-based Vestey Holdings.

Robin visited Japan, the United Kingdom and other European countries with Amagraze to investigate opportunities to sell beef into these markets.

This kick-started Stockyard Beef's long and continuous relationship-building and associations with Japanese meat importers.

Robin's son Lachie, who is now the managing director of Stockyard Beef, said this trip opened his father's eyes to the potential of marketing beef to a massive population that was focused on consuming top quality products and brands.

"Dad also quickly realised that if he could sell beef to the exacting specifications and standards demanded by the Japanese, he could sell anywhere in the world," he said.

After his travels, Robin and his wife Del commercialised their feedlot at 'Berwick', Jondaryan, and fed consignments of about 200 head of cattle for domestic slaughter and retail butchers.

They also used these facilities to finish their own mostly Santa Gertrudis-based cattle for Australia's first chilled grain-fed beef export products to Japan.

Amagraze was also supplying its cattle into this market, which had been taking grass-fed Australian product for some time but was subject to strict government quotas (which persisted until 1991).

Mr Hart said his father's efforts over several decades had contributed to Japan becoming Australia's biggest chilled grain-fed beef market by volume and value in 2020.

He said from this foundation, his family's company had grown into one of Australia's leading feedlot operators, one of the most modern beef finishing facilities in terms of design and technologies used and the longest-running feedlot under single ownership in Australia.

Stockyard Beef has been a long-time supporter of the peak lot feeding industry body the Australian Lot Feeders' Association (ALFA), and a regular attendee of the Beef Australia event since its inception in 1988.

This year, the company's general manager of feedlot operations will be attending Beef 2021 and supporting ALFA with its presence there for the first time in an "official" capacity.

Mr Hart said it was important to get behind industry initiatives such as Beef Australia, which focused on new trade and export opportunities and exposed all stakeholders in the local supply chain to national and international industry leaders and experts.

The Harts have long had their sights on global opportunities for exporting quality beef and were the first feedlotters in Australia to finish and export Wagyu cattle to Japan.

LEGACY: Today the Kerwee Feedlot is one of the most modern in Australia and the nation's longest-held cattle feedlots under single ownership.

LEGACY: Today the Kerwee Feedlot is one of the most modern in Australia and the nation's longest-held cattle feedlots under single ownership.

The Wagyu stock was sourced from their own breeding herds and through direct supply relationships with other producers along the east coast of Australia.

"Stockyard Beef now has a small purebred Wagyu herd and the plan is to grow this in the next five to 10 years," Mr Hart said.

"In the meantime, we are also getting cattle from several other breeders and backgrounders that we have developed strong relationships with for this range."

In the past five decades, Stockyard Beef has expanded the capacity at its Kerwee Feedlot from 5000 to 20,200-head.

This included a significant investment in 2017 that led to new feed pens and the building of an upgraded, state-of-the-art feed mill.

This was one of the first steam flake mill plants set up in Australia and designed to boost the nutritional value of the cattle ration.

As the second - and now third generation of Harts - became more involved in the family business, its production systems, infrastructure, brands and markets have been further developed and the business focus is now firmly on Wagyu and Angus beef lines.

Stockyard Beef's three major labels are: Stockyard Gold - Angus; Stockyard Black - Wagyu; and Kiwami - premium Wagyu.

Integrated supply chains have been set up from the feedlot to more than 20 major chilled beef export markets in Japan, across Asia, the Middle East, north America, Europe and - increasingly - the United Kingdom following Brexit deals.

Stockyard Beef has a strong reputation for supply of long-fed Wagyu, F1 and mid-fed Angus products - with an emphasis on meat quality and marbling.

"We are concentrating on specialised cuts-based marketing into a range of destinations," Mr Hart said.

"Our brands are globally known for meat eating quality, consistency and food safety.

"We have achieved this through strong vertical integration through the beef supply chain.

"This starts at ground level with beef production - including cattle breeding and raising - and encompasses lot feeding, processing and marketing.

"We use recognised quality assurance systems, such as Meat Standards Australia (MSA), and every step in our supply chain is monitored for quality and safety.

"This ensures Stockyard Beef meets the highest expectations from the world's leading chefs and retailers.

"Our beef production system is wholly Australian owned and managed where we can capitalise on brand 'Australia'.

"This means we can promote our products and production systems as being 'clean and green', without harmful animal diseases and based on high standards for animal and employee welfare."

These strong credentials and established systems will assist the company plan ahead for post-COVID-19 trading across the world, according to Mr Hart.

"The next 12 months are likely to be a bit of a rollercoaster," he said.

"But we have shown over many decades that our business has the ability to pivot quickly and adapt to changing conditions.

"Our feedlot is full and we have overflow, where we are using several other feedlot facilities to finish cattle for our markets.

"This is mostly being driven by increasing demand from the supermarket trade at home and abroad, as more consumers stay home to cook - and we don't expect that trend to slow in 2021."

Mr Hart said 2020 had been challenging for the company due to COVID-19 lockdowns effectively shutting the door - overnight in March - on the restaurant trade in all of its key global markets.

At the same time, there were major disruptions to air freight and shipping services.

But Mr Hart said, fortunately, beef - as an essential food product - had held-up very well compared to many other industries.

"There were positive global mega-trends in play for the beef sector before the pandemic really hit in March last year, and these have persisted to help underpin a continuation of the chilled trade out of Australia," he said.

"This included increasing demand for high quality beef from a rapidly growing middle income-earning sector in Japan, Korea and China - and in other parts of Asia.

"Consumers there are buying more meat-based protein as their wealth rises.

"Despite not being able to go to restaurants for much of this year, they have still been sourcing premium meat cuts from retail butchers, supermarkets and newly created on-line distribution channels."

Mr Hart said branded Stockyard Beef Wagyu and Angus cuts were ideally-placed to meet this market demand.

He praised the Australian government for its response to challenges associated with air-freighting chilled product overseas during COVID-19 lockdowns.

"Its export support mechanisms enabled Stockyard Beef to continue exporting chilled product by air during 2020," he said.

Mr Hart said Stockyard Beef was continuing to progress relationships with its vital Wagyu and Angus background cattle suppliers, which were mostly based in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

"We hold regular open days for our livestock suppliers to discuss the requirements for our quality beef and any production or finishing issues that may arise," he said.

"Our experienced team visits our suppliers' properties and we provide them with valuable feedback so that we can continually advance genetic gains in key meat-eating traits and help lift their productivity.

"Our beef producers are integral to our business success and we work closely with them."

Mr Hart said year-on-year cattle price increases during 2020 had been received well by producers and were a welcome relief and confidence boost in many areas after prolonged drought periods.

But, on the flip-side, he said buyers had needed to dig further and deeper into their pockets and this required good business management planning.

Mr Hart said it was vital all Australian beef operations remained globally competitive.

"Beef demand is strongly related to positive economic growth, so we will be closely watching demand recoveries in key export markets," he said.

"No doubt there will be challenges, but as an industry, we can band together to ensure we all come through the market's likely ebbs and flows."


alfa-stockyard - lachie & robin hart: Stockyard Beef managing director Lachie Hart, left, with his father and founder of the business Robin Hart.

alfa-stockyard - kerwee feedlot -early days: The Kerwee Feedlot was set up on Robin and Del Hart's Kerwee property, near Eidsvold, in the late 1950s and was initially used to finish their Santa Gertrudis-based stock.

alfa -stockyard - robin at kerwee with Santa Gertrudis sign: Robin Hart was an experienced cattleman and started out breeding and then finishing Santa Gertrudis stock.

alfa -stockyard robin with stockyard product in Japan: Robin Hart was a pioneer of exporting grain-fed beef to Japan and regularly visited the country to build relationships with buyers.

alfa-stockyard 1: Del Hart with a bull in the early years of Stockyard Beef operations.

alfa stockyard 2 & 3: Expansion of the Kerwee Feedlot started from the 1960s and continues today, with the next phase to proceed in early 2021.

alfa-stockyard kerwee feedlot 2018: Today the Kerwee Feedlot is one of the most modern in Australia and the nation's longest-held cattle feedlots under single ownership.


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