Local economy and animal welfare key topics at recent livestock transport conference

Livestock transport is a tough game at the moment, with animal welfare exposés, rising costs and red tape. However, Mark Talbot, an Executive committee member of the Livestock & Rural Transport Association of Western Australia (LRTAWA), couldn’t be more passionate about the industry.

The owner operator has been running Wedderburn Transport, his livestock and rural transport business, for over 20 years. Based in Brunswick Western Australia , 25 kilometres north west of Bunbury, Mark is a staunch advocate for rural and regional economies and, as a fourth generation beef farmer, a vocal proponent for animal welfare.

“I have a passion for cattle and trucks. I grew up with that passion, so that brings me to where I am. My wife Angela and I have our transport business that specialises in cattle plus a little bit of general freight and hay, and a farming enterprise as well,” said Mark.

Welfare at all levels of the chain, from driver to supplier to animal, took centre stage at the recent LRTAWA annual conference, along with issues including access for permanent vehicles, extra mass issues, animal welfare and attracting a labour force into country areas.

The conference was held in Bunbury in July, with the theme of “driving a healthier industry”. As a farmer and a member of the National Animal Welfare Committee of the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (of which LRTAWA is a subsidiary), it’s not surprising that this theme really resonated with Mark.

“Animal welfare and driver welfare are probably our highest priorities. They’re up there together. I have a passion for livestock, so I care about the cattle. I care about what we do and my staff are the same. We all have that same passion for making sure we do the job right,” he explained.

In fact it’s so important to Mark that 20 years ago he began designing and constructing his own trailers and stock crates.

“I’ve always had an interest in design and building equipment and with a farming background you become a jack of all trades. I started looking at a lot of the equipment that was being used and I could just see the shortfalls in it,” said Mark, who went on to employ a boilermaker to assist with construction while he did the design. Together they built their first stock crate, combining all that they had learnt to create something that suited the business. They went on to build five trailers with a trailer manufacturer in Perth, but continued building their own crates.

“We’re trying to be a bit more innovative and make our trailers easier to use and better for the livestock,” said Mark, adding, “we look at the design of the pens inside, the type of flooring, the ramp set ups. All the little things that add together to make the whole job a little bit easier on the livestock inside the crate.”

“Our crate design has also had us look at driver safety,with safer access to the crates for loading and unloading. Ladders and catwalks have been improved and we now open the bottom pen gates at ground level – no more climbing onto the side of the crate.”

Mark and his team at Wedderburn prioritise keeping the crates clean and washed regularly for benefit to cattle, the business and the public. Ease of washing has been a recent design consideration and they are now running effluent tanks on the trailers.

A smooth ride and internal lighting are also priorities. For that, Mark has worked closely with his local Truckline store in Bunbury.

“The ride of the trailer is fairly important. Truckline recommended a suspension to me in the very, very beginning, which we ran with and we’ve pretty well used that all the way through. That’s mainly so it’s not a harsh ride for the stock,” explained Mark.

“Truckline are good like that. It comes down to everything you need on your trailer. For example, we’ve done a lot of work with internal lighting in the trailers now. It’s more for the drivers but it helps the cattle when we load and unload in the dark. They can see the floor, they can see where they’re walking. There’s lots of things like that which we’ve worked with Truckline on, and as new technology and equipment becomes available we review it to make sure we’re on top of things,” said Mark.

For Mark, keeping on top of things also extends to maintenance. He started his business with a second-hand truck and a lot of determination to get it up to scratch.

“Truckline helped me out with lots of advice in those days and 22 years later here we are. They’ve always had great staff and they’ve been very good as far as teaching me what I need to know,” he said, adding, “Recently the Bunbury Branch conducted a Stemco training day out here in our workshop. We invited local operators along and finished the day of with a BBQ.”

The nature of Mark’s business means much of the fleet, a mix of the European and American brands Kenworth, Scania and Volvo, requires maintenance on the weekend.

“We carry a little bit of parts ourselves, but we rely pretty heavily on Truckline Bunbury – the parts they have out the back since opening their new facility is quite amazing.”

Mark’s loyalty to Truckline, and to all local businesses, is a manifestation of another of his passions – rural and regional communities.

“It’s very important to maintain your local community and keep it healthy. And the one way we can do that is by buying local as much as we can. In many rural areas we see the impact of a small business closing down and the flow on effects on the community. So it’s always been our policy to buy as much of our supplies locally as we can,” said Mark, who adds that the expansion of multinational companies moving into road transport at the expense of small, local operators is a concern for him.

“Multinationals don’t support rural areas. I’ve seen it here in Bunbury. Big companies buy out small companies and the local businesses are the big losers. The companies bring in supplies and even fuel from Perth or from over east, yet we need these companies to support local as well,” said Mark, who stresses that when a local economy isn’t healthy, costs go up for all local businesses.

The LRTAWA is fiercely committed to supporting local industries, with many members sharing Mark’s passions. They’re also committed to supporting LRTAWA sponsors, including Truckline.

“Our sponsors are so important to us. We all know it and so wherever possible members will buy equipment and parts off sponsors. Sponsorships allow the LRTAWA to tackle the issues in the industry and represent rural transport the way we do,” concludes Mark.


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