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Women in beef business from nose to tail

04 May 2018

OFC Produce Beefweek18

2017 AgriFuturesTM Rural Women’s Award winner for Tasmania, Rebecca Lynd, is challenging the market with her Scottish Highland beef cattle. Story by Julian Leatherdale.

Tasmanian Rebecca Lynd’s grandfather was a butcher and her parents owned a hobby farm, but her decision seven years ago to farm cattle still came as a surprise.

Today, Bec’s enterprise, Big River Highland Beef, is the only commercial Scottish Highland beef producer in Tasmania, and the most successful nationwide.

Leaving Tasmania at 15, Bec pursued a career with the Royal Australian Navy and later as a paramedic. In 2010, she returned home to buy Settler’s Point,
89 hectares with river views in the Derwent Valley, where she could keep ponies and live off-grid while still working full-time in Hobart.

Bec soon realised she would need cattle to manage the property, which is too steep for a tractor and is mostly dry sclerophyll forest, with only 40 per cent being unimproved pasture.

Her research led her to the pure-heritage Scottish Highland breed, which proved to be both low-maintenance and ideally suited to the local landscape and wild weather.

Starting with three cows and a bull, Bec and her partner, Rebecca Tudor, have grown the ‘fold’ to 100 head.

“They’re pretty pest-resistant,” says Bec. “We only need to drench these guys until they’re two or three years old and only selectively after that.”

They are very sure-footed on steep terrain, eat a wide range of grasses and other plants and keep the fire-fuel load down in the forest.

“I call them the goat of the cattle breed,” she says. “They’re really good foragers and browsers. It’s surprising to see how well our cattle look when they come out of the bush.”

A ‘nose-to-tail’ philosophy

Bec’s cattle are run in family groups and not slaughtered until they are at least four years old, allowing them to wax and wane in weight with the natural rotation of the seasons.

“This helps with their worm burden as they seek out certain seasonal plants and self-medicate,” says Bec. “We provide mineral blocks, but we don’t need to supplement their feed.”

Bec believes the depth of flavour in her beef reflects the wide range of plants her cattle eat over a longer period. “That’s four years of grazing grasses whereas conventionally, it’s 12 to 18 months,” she says. This enhanced flavour profile has won her loyal clients in the restaurant trade who are sympathetic to her ‘nose-to-tail’ philosophy of using the whole animal.

There is a 12-month waiting list for the plush, long-haired hides crafted into luxurious heirloom floor rugs by a local tannery. There’s even a market for the heads as ‘skull art’ and the horns as ‘Viking’ drinking cups. Restaurant clients, including Franklin in Hobart and the Agrarian Kitchen Eatery in New Norfolk
(Good Food Guide Regional Restaurant of the Year, 2018), are prepared to take on whole quarters. Big River Highland Beef regularly provides product for special events such as Slow Food Hobart, and was a state winner in the 2016 Delicious Produce Awards.

Looking to the future

With a direct-to-consumer business model that promotes ethically raised cattle, Bec wants to “close the ethical loop” with her own small-scale, low-cost slaughter facility. The long horns of her cattle already pose a challenge for conventional abattoirs.

As a 2017 AgriFutures™ award winner, Bec will use her bursary for a study tour of such facilities in the USA in April, focusing on animal welfare, yard design, energy and waste management, as well as consulting animal-handling expert
Dr Temple Grandin. Given Tasmania’s gourmet tourism market and the strong unmet demand from chefs for boutique beef, Bec knows other cattle farmers will take an interest in her facility.

So should farmers buy Scottish Highland cattle? “Not unless you’re prepared to wait four years to go to market and can access a slaughterhouse that takes horned cattle,” advises Bec. But as a low-maintenance breed suited to marginal country, “they are a good diversification when it comes to the beef market”.