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Outback cattle station Clifton Hills, one of the biggest in the world, is up for sale

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It takes five hours to drive from the northern boundary of Clifton Hills Station to its southern boundary.

At about 1,650 square kilometres — or 1.65 million hectares — the property in South Australia's north east, can run up to 22,000 head and is considered to be the second largest cattle station in the world.

It is also one of the hottest.

"Yeah it's pretty hot," managing partner David Harvey said.

"We are right next to the Simpson Desert, I'd say average December, January, February [temperatures] would be 50 degrees most days.

"It's much hotter here than at Alice Springs, if you look at the BOM website and look at the infrared map of Australia every day, this is the hottest spot, around this central area."

Mr Harvey said with low rainfall of about 125 millimetres a year — the property relied on the Cooper Creek, Diamantina River and encompassed a large swamp known as Goyder Lagoon.

"In terms of fattening cattle, the floodwaters are a key thing to make that happen," Mr Harvey said.

"It [the Diamantina River] splits just before our boundary and gives us two significant delta areas that practically merge together and travel in a single channel right through our boundary, through [neighbouring] Cowarie [station] and into Lake Eyre."

Mr Harvey estimated up to 1,500 square kilometres of Clifton Hills recently went under water,when flood waters from central Queensland flowed toward Lake Eyre, which at 15 metres below sea level was considered the lowest point in Australia.

Mr Harvey said the "massive property" meant using aircraft — either fixed wing airplanes or helicopters — when mustering cattle, mostly all of English breeds.

Despite up to 12 people working at Clifton Hills during mustering, cattle work is time consuming.

"We started branding at the end of February, and it's still going [in July]," Mr Harvey said.

Established in 1876, Clifton Hills Station is now for public sale for the first time in more than 100 years.

The agents selling it have described the property, which includes four pastoral leases, as the "Jewel of the Channel Country".

The owners, a partnership of four families of roughly equal share, have offered the property on a walk-in, walk-out basis including up to 18,000 cattle currently on the station.

"We've had a significant number of inspections," Mr Harvey said.

While speculation about the value of Clifton Hills varies from $20 million to $50 million, Mr Harvey would not be drawn on who had inspected the property, or what the highest bidder might be prepared to pay.

'I couldn't tell you … there are widely varying opinions about that a bit, but cattle stations have sold strongly just in the past six months, there has been a tick up of valuations as a result of high cattle prices over the last two years."

New foreign investment rules mean that Clifton Hills Station could not be advertised on foreign markets until 30 days after it was first advertised in Australia, but Mr Harvey did not believe the new rules would influence the sale.

I think overseas people are definitely investing in Australia and Australian agriculture, but I think they see the cattle industry as a little bit of an unknown for them, it is a slightly volatile industry.

"We are seeing overseas investors buying cattle stations in Australia, but you see just as many offloading cattle stations that they bought five or ten years ago … I really don't think it is a vastly increasing thing."

The Clifton Hills sale followed the recent sale of nearby Anna Creek Station, which at more than 23,600 square kilometres is considered the largest cattle station in the world.

In December 2016,Anna Creek, which runs to the shore of Lake Eyre, was sold by Kidman and Co, to the Australian family-owned Williams Cattle Company

Life and logistics at Clifton Hills Station

Clifton Hills, includes airstrips, more than 20 sets of steel cattle yards, six flowing bores and a homestead on the Birdsville Track, less than 200 kilometres south of Birdsville.

Sitting at the homestead's kitchen table, custom built to seat 20, Mr Harvey said if you drove east for long enough, you would eventually arrive at Brisbane.

But the majority of the cattle that come off Clifton Hills were trucked south.

"We send 90 per cent of our cattle south, we have a good relationship with Teys at Naracoorte and send killable cattle to them, and also sell feeder steers [for its Charlton feedlot in Victoria]," Mr Harvey said.

The cattle, which are certified organic, are rested at a set of yards at Lyndhurst.

"They get spelled, the truck driver gets a sleep and the cattle are off the truck for at least 12 hours. If they are going east, they spell at Quilpie."

Mr Harvey said the cost of transporting cattle had increased significantly in recent years.

"I really think it has moved quite a bit, you think the price of everything goes up, but I think the freighting of really heavy cattle — $600 or $700 bullocks — for every one of those you truck out, for us that is roughly $130 per head to get them to an abattoir," Mr Harvey said.

"You could truck two feeder steers in their place.

"If you go back eight years ago, we were getting maybe $1100 — $1200 for heavy bullocks, for the best of them anyway, and you would truck them out for $60, whereas now you're getting a bit more for them, but you're trucking them out for $130."

Mr Harvey said dirt and poor roads could make the transport of cattle difficult.

"We're a long way from bitumen roads, we're 360 kilometres down to Marree and it's still not bitumen there, you've got to get almost to Lyndhurst [before there are bitumen roads].

"If we're trucking cattle and you've got them all ready and it rains, you might have 200 or 300 cattle ready to go and the truck can't get here.

"Or the truck gets here, you load it up, but the truck can't go so you have to jump them all off, whereas if you live closer to bitumen it's a much smaller risk involved in that."

The future of cattle

Prices paid for cattle recently softened following two years of record prices in Australia.

Mr Harvey said he believed the cattle market had stabilised.

"Unless we really get this destabilised global trade as a result of countries like America and China starting to have a bit of a spat about trade and market access … Australia is vulnerable to that, we export an enormous proportion of our beef and we wouldn't want to see a really messy trade war about beef.

"I think that would be unpleasant for Australia."

But Mr Harvey was optimistic about the future of Australian grown beef.

"Everybody needs to be conscious about the cost of production, because you need to be making a margin on every beast you have on the place," he said.

Asked if he'd experienced more good seasons or bad, Mr Harvey said Clifton Hills was "coming out on top".

"The trick is to live within your means … depending on what your rainfall is you can't have too many cattle on for what your season is delivering," he said.

"It's a profitable area to operate in, no doubt about that … I'm still learning, you learn something new every year, but you do need to have a fair idea about what you're doing."

Source of article click here : ABC NEWS

 

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