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From the paddocks and pens to the dinner plate

The country down under is still riding high on the back of its red meat exports

Many Australians continue to live off the land and are taking pride in a red meat industry that delivers top-quality food from the paddock to the plate.

But before it reaches its destination there will be all sorts of processes and rituals it has to go through. In the sales yards in Ballarat, in the southeastern state of Victoria, an auctioneer spits out an endless string of words that brings to mind the rat-a-tat of machine gun fire.

It is unlikely that the casual observer, including the most fluent native speaker of Australian English, would have the slightest clue what he is saying. But then there are the meat buyers who are presumably on top of it all. They arrived early in the morning looking for a good buy.

The auctioneer wastes little time trotting around a labyrinth of wire-fenced pens, each of which holds two or three bulls or cows based on their age, weight and other physical conditions.

He gives a quick albeit passionate rundown on the cattle he is about to sell then calls for the bidding to begin. The buyers follow closely in his steps and keep their eyes on the animals while listening attentively to his words.

Whenever the auctioneer pauses for a second or two the bids flood in, and the bidders have to be quick, because a moment's delay can mean a good deal is lost.

On this day a total of 460 cattle are for sale, and all will be sold, says Eric Egstrein, a contracted officer with Meat and Livestock Australia.

Some are for breeding purposes, some will be fed on grain and brought back for a better price, and the fate of the rest will be to end up on dinner plates.

There are 27 trading yards of various sizes across Victoria, Egstrein says, up to 2,000 cattle a day being sold at the biggest of them.

Victoria accounts for three percent of the total land area in Australia but contributes about 20-30 percent of meat exports, mainly beef and mutton, thanks to good rainfall and a temperate climate.


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