RENOWNED as a pioneering sale of the Australian beef industry, it is perhaps fitting the Big Country Brahman Sale, held each year in Charters Towers, was also the nation’s first auction to adopt live simulcast online selling.
Established by a trio of private agents and a determined group of breeders in 1994, “Big Country” is now a flagship event of Queensland’s north and a fixture of the bull sale calendar. In 2016, its innovative spirit was seen again, when it partnered with Elite Livestock Auctions.
Acclaimed stud stock auctioneer Ken McCaffrey, McCaffrey’s Australian Livestock Marketing, was one of Big Country’s founders who has since passed over the reins of the sale to Queensland Rural. He said the sale strived to provide vendors and buyers a better experience year-on-year, which made Elite Livestock Auctions the perfect match for Big Country when exploring online selling capabilities.
“The Big Country Brahman Sale has never been afraid to be out front and leading the industry,” Mr McCaffrey said.
“The initial sale with Elite exceeded all of our expectations, and there is no doubt it has brought more business to our sales”.
“We have found our online buyers are most active across the commercial side of the market, however, we have also had bids placed on bulls selling for high five-figure prices.”
Since Elite Livestock Auctions partnered with Big Country, 3026 online viewers have watched more than $19 million worth of Brahmans being sold through the ring via the live simulcast of the auctions.
Building Big Country
In the early nineties a small group of Brahman breeders began to call for a multivendor sale in Charters Towers, given the rural community is a central hub for North Queensland’s key production areas.
Mr McCaffrey, along with prominent local agents, Jim Geaney and Bill McCullough, backed the idea and held a meeting in 1993 to discuss how to move forward. It was after that gathering the enduring concept of the sale was born when Mr McCaffrey sent out notes taken at the meeting with the handwritten title ‘Big Country Brahman Sale’.
From inception, Mr McCaffrey said organisers strived to bring a new standard of selling to stud sale auctions.
“From the beginning we implemented a program where every bull was inspected prior to sale before being selected for inclusion,” Mr McCaffrey said.
“Whether they were a stud sire or a herd bull, all lots were held to a high-standard criteria so the buyer could be confident they were making a sound purchase. At the time, this wasn’t a common occurrence, and a high percentage of bulls were getting passed in at auctions.
“Establishing these standards early on provided a signal to the marketplace the Big Country Brahman Sale was building a reputation for quality.”
Doing it their way
The Big Country Brahman Sale also bucked other trends when the organising team opted for a start-of-year sale day.
“We elected to host our sale at the start of the year to not impose ourselves on other auctions, which had established markets, and because producers in the North tend to join their cattle a little later,” Mr McCaffrey said.
The move to step away from the pack paid dividends, as the Big Country Brahman Sale is today considered to be the bellwether auction for the year’s selling season, providing an important opportunity for producers to gauge market trends.
Complementing the sale with Elite Livestock Auction’s simulcast has further fuelled this movement, as viewers from across the country can tune in to watch the bidding unfold.
“The industry looks to our sale as an indicator of what lays ahead,” Mr McCaffrey said.
“Seedstock producers and buyers from across the nation, regardless of which breed they focus on, watch the simulcast as they know when Big Country flies the rest of the season will have strong selling results.”
Partnering with Elite Livestock Auctions was a combination which worked from the very beginning, as Mr McCaffrey reflected Elite’s debut in Charters Towers in 2016 achieved notable results.
In total, more than 25 registered online buyers picked up 6 lots for a top of $20,000 and contributed $65,500 to the overarching sale gross of $1.71 million.
The sale was also one for the record books, with the world’s most expensive herd bull, Kenilworth 4899, a sire bred by Kelvin and Margaret Maloney, Kenilworth Brahman Stud, Mt Coolon, being sold to Brian and Cindy Hughes, Lanes Creek Brahmans, Georgetown, at the selling complex for $96,000 – a mark that still stands today.
Creating buyer options
Mr McCaffrey said Elite Livestock Auctions had expanded the Big Country Brahman Sale’s buying pool, which sprawls across Australia’s thriving northern beef industry and well into key southern markets.
“From the very first sale we could see the increased buyer competition online selling was creating,” Mr McCaffrey said.
“Watching Big Country over the years, I have found it remarkable to see buyers from as far north as the Northern Territory easily secure three of four bulls for their operation via remote bidding.”
Mr McCaffrey said online selling platforms, like StockLive and Elite Livestock Auctions, provided incredible flexibility to all potential buyers, not just those facing the tyranny of distance.
“There are plenty of times where people have the intention of going to a sale, but physically cannot because the windmill breaks down, or they just had two inches of rain and have to travel across kilometres of black soil,” he said.
“Or, for people who are busy, say they are in the middle of branding their calves but have their eye on a bull they like, they can watch the auction when their bull’s lot is close, make their bid, then carry on walking their cattle home to their paddock in the afternoon.
“It’s instances like this the online option is invaluable.
“The Big Country Brahman Sale is extremely proud of its partnership with Elite Livestock Auctions, and we are pleased to have shown industry leadership in online selling.”