Harmony on the Hoof

Report: Mike Wakeham
Pictures: Mogens Johansen
The West Australian, July 22 1998

Many years ago I read somewhere of a city man, an engineer, in the Florida Everglades. He was asked how he was handling the job and he replied he had lost the plot because "it's difficult to remember that I'm here to drain the swamp when I'm up to my ass in alligators".

A not unreasonable reaction, one would think. Surrounded by about 150 big, inquisitive, head-tossing steers at a feedlot at the Top Cattle Company's Eneabba property while farmer Lyndon Brown scarpered back to the farmhouse to get his ghetto-blaster and "moo-sic" CD, I got the same feeling.

The photographer was safe; he's not silly. He was on top of the feedlot roof. But I'm ankle deep in wet, sloppy cow pats and mud - difficult to tell the difference - while the chill factor from Antarctic breezes cut like a knife.

Sudden movement was not a clever option. And I was so happy I wore my new boots; not a pair of wellies in sight. The sludge was oozing over the tops and into the socks. The more you move, the deeper you get - a predicament which left me feeling foolish. If one doesn't get stomped to death, one can drown in it.

Then came The Diesel - tah-dah. The Diesel is a grinning, thick, barrel-chested, low-to-the-ground hound with a bent ear, lots of scar tissue and indeterminate parentage who jumped off the tray of the farm ute and ran in to the feedlot.

That's it, I thought, that bloody dog's done for me. It's all over, lights out, shut the gate. A yapper who's going to nip hocks, create havoc and cause a stampede with moi in the middle of it.

Diesel did none of it. He simply lay down in the ooze while the steers rushed to him and began to lick him to death. This dog is now a major beneficiary of my will.

Let me lay the blame for all this where it rightly belongs, at the feet of Charlie Windsor. His Princeness has a lot to answer for. If he can speak in tongues to his tomatoes and play Mahler to his marrows to make them grow spectacularly at his country estate, Highgrove, then Lyndon Brown surely can play specially commissioned music (biological harmonics) through a big solar-powered boom box, placed strategically in the paddock, to his beef steers at Eneabba.

His Princeness and Brown both seek the same result: good growth and no stress for their particular products. As for the latter, no stress means better, more tender beef meat, hence his aim of producing Wagyu beef (Wag=Japan and yu=beef) for good supermarkets, butchers and the tables of fine restaurants in Oz and overseas.

The Wagyu strain was imported from Japan and it's a heavily marbled meat. The recommended cooking temperature for the end product melts the marble qualities and gives the beef a softly-textured and quite delicious taste. It's not quite Kobe beef where those pampered animals are fed litres of beer and given long massages and the steaks melt in your mouth. When they go to slaughter they're possibly Brahms Lizt and feeling no pain.

It costs an arm and a leg, possibly both, to afford a Kobe steak but if farmer Brown's Wagyu beef get a cloven hoof in the door it will be cheaper than the Kobe variety. He got his breeders from Queensland and has crossed them with a bovine licorice all-sort.

So, Lyndon, how do you know the beefers are listening to the music? "They twitch their ears." Might they not be flicking flies? "In this wind, in this weather?" Quite so.

They might even be nodding their noggins in three-quarter time to the treble clefs; beat-me-daddy-eight-to-the-bar, and all that. Some bovine soft-shoe shuffle is possibly not out of the equation. They might be in seventh heaven listening to blues from Big Momma Blind Lemon Shandy for all I know.

Here, then, is Mr Brown, a passionate student of agriculture and of agronomy and agrology; a man who reads voraciously and who treats his animals as part of the family; with thoughtfulness and com passion.

The kitchen table of his old farm house is overrun with books on animal husbandry and pastoral technology. The authors are from all corners of the globe. Some advice from an American professor of agriculture is being used in an experiment with the Top Cattle Company's hectares.

"Some people say this (Eneabba) is the worst cattle country in WA. Not so. If you can improve the soil you can have green feed all year round," Mr Brown said. "Water is not the problem. Lack of lime, and other trace elements, is. Identify the missing elements and you can fix the problem. The trick is getting the right mix."

Hence the journals, written by authors with impeccable credentials.

One volume he is studying at present identifies why the Great Plains of the US, which run south to north and into Canada, have no forests on them, while either side, east and west, have the trees. It all has to do with the soil and why the buffalo roamed these plains, and why US cattle do so well on them. Closer to his heart is man's attitude to animals.

"It's terrible," he said. "Someone in charge of them must do the best he can for them. Unfortunately not everybody does. We look at animals as a trading commodity. "Stress is the worst thing for animals and animals with nothing to do, or interest them, show a low tolerance for boredom. They need relaxation.
That's why those here get the music at dawn, twice during the day and again at dusk.
"Steers that lay down and chew their cuds, as these do, are animals that are content and stress free. The less stress, the better the meat and the more tender it is when it comes to cooking it. We're thinking of taking a portable music system with them when they finally get to the abattoir; to keep them calm. The music is reassuring to them."

The Brown family has been farming since 1834. It owns Tamala Station at Shark Bay, about the oldest pastoral station in WA. May there continue to be contented lowing in the lush dells at Eneabba as farmer Brown hoes his rows while his beefers chew cuds during their musical interludes - and may the Diesel have a long life.

Lest we forget, kindness to animals is next to godliness.