ACROSS the Top End, Indonesia's increasingly tight quota system has stripped pastoralists of their main market for female cattle.
This year, Indonesia will take only 283,000 head of cattle from Australia as it seeks to become self-sufficient in beef supplies by 2014.
That is down from 410,000 last year, 520,000 in 2010, when Indonesia started enforcing a 350kg weight restriction, and 750,000 in 2009.
Most of the cattle being bought by the Indonesians are males, with only a small market remaining for female breeders.
It is leaving pastoralists from the Kimberley to Townsville stuck with excess cattle and often no other option than to truck them to abattoirs or other pastures thousands of kilometres away for no or very little return.
Vicki and Shane Mayne, who manage the Annaburroo station, 120km southeast of Darwin, now send some of their cows and heifers to Wee Waa, NSW, 2650km away.
It costs them about $225 a head, whereas it had cost almost nothing when they sent them to Darwin to be shipped to Indonesia.
They were also caught out by the weight restrictions, when a boat due to take steers to Indonesia was held up and their cattle gained an extra 12kg, taking them over the 350kg limit.
"You're double-handling cattle," Ms Mayne said. "Cattle we've already had in the yards, mustered in.
They're trucked to town and then you've got to truck them back and re-process them through. And send them back out into their paddocks."
Ms Mayne blames their troubles in part on Australia's ban on live animal exports to Indonesia.
"With all the debacle that happened, a lot of people aren't seeing the big picture and now what we're having to go through to send cattle away."
There was both a financial and emotional toll. "We do a lot of thinking about the best way to go," Mr Mayne said.
"But it is quite a struggle and we're very fortunate that we don't own this place, otherwise we'd be in dire straits."
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