Kimberley pastoral company faces allegations of mass animal cruelty, unlawful waste disposal

Kimberley pastoral company faces allegations of mass animal cruelty, unlawful waste disposal

A pastoral company has been accused of negligence leading to the death of hundreds of cattle and the dumping of tonnes of abattoir waste in violation of environmental regulations, an ABC investigation has found.  

Key points:

  • More than 400 head of cattle have died in Yeeda Pastoral Company yards in 2022, evidence sighted by the ABC shows
  • Yeeda Pastoral Company’s abattoir is dumping slaughtered animal waste in unfenced piles on Yeeda Station
  • Yeeda Pastoral Company owns and operates two stations in WA’s Kimberley region, plus the state’s only northern abattoir

Evidence seen by the ABC shows Yeeda Pastoral Company — which controls Yeeda Station, Mount Jowlaenga Station, and the Kimberley Meat Company in Western Australia’s north — yarding thousands of scrub bulls for months with multiple sources stating this neglect led to more than 400 animal deaths.

The allegations are further compounded by footage showing the bones of cattle being dumped less than 5 kilometres from the Great Northern Highway in breach of environmental regulations.

The fresh issues come in the wake of revelations last month that Yeeda owed more than $5 million to local family-run businesses.

Neglect leads to cattle deaths

More than 1,000 bulls were delivered to the Kimberley Meat Company holding pens in early 2022, but only a small percentage were slaughtered in the abattoir before the rest were moved to a different set of yards on Yeeda Station. 

These were scrub bulls: uncastrated male feral cattle that are mustered and caught before being sent off to an abattoir for meat. 

As wild animals, the stress and associated injuries of yarding for days and weeks on end can be fatal, making it common practice to process them quickly.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, people who witnessed the bulls dying in Yeeda cattle yards described it as “demoralising”.

“I never thought that something like that could really happen inside this industry,” one person said.

It is common practice to yard scrub bulls for short periods of time before they are processed. (file photo)(ABC News: Kristy O’Brien)

“It was getting to the point where people were starting to question whether they wanted to continue working [for Yeeda].”

Management aware of animal deaths

According to an industry source, the company’s management was aware of the impact holding the bulls was having on the animals’ welfare.

“They were told that it was unacceptable [to hold the bulls for so long] and something needed to be done about it, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears,” they said.

The Kimberley Meat Company is owned and run by Yeeda Pastoral Company.(ABC: Andrew Seabourne)

Another person with knowledge of Yeeda’s internal operations said it would be impossible to process the bulls within a day, even within a week.

“Whoever approved that decision [to bring in thousands at once] clearly wasn’t a cattleman,” they said.

“They were held in yards for months, they were dying daily.”

Cause of bull deaths

Large-animal veterinarian Dave Morrell has worked with Kimberley cattle, including scrub bulls, for more than 40 years.

“You want to get them out of those yards as quick as you can because they’re wild animals,” Mr Morrell said.

Scrub bulls yarded for more than a few days will start to seriously decline in health, he explained.

“They’re bulls, they’re full of testosterone and they start fighting each other, they’re horning each other, and they end up with wounds that go gangrenous,” Mr Morrell said.

“Jamming them up like that in a stressful situation in a yard, the continuous stress leads to secondary diseases like pneumonia and they get an excess of lactic acid that leads to muscle weakness where they can’t get up.”

The Kimberley Meat Company holding yards in 2021.(Supplied: Yeeda Pastoral Company)

In a statement given to the ABC, Yeeda Pastoral Company acknowledged the incident. 

“The company holds animal welfare at the core of its values. In late 2022, an oversupply of cattle was recognised and immediate measures were put in place to address matters,” a Yeeda spokesperson said.

“Over the past 12 months, under new management, the company has made significant changes to its operations and has been working closely with industry and industry participants to ensure best practice and compliance with the new operating structure.”

A spokesperson from WA’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development said they have not received any reports of cattle deaths in Yeeda Pastoral Company holding yards in 2022.

Abattoir waste dumped

Abattoir waste from the Kimberley Meat Company has been dumped in piles on Yeeda Station, ABC drone footage shot this month shows.

In their successful 2016 application for Department of Environmental Regulation approval, Yeeda Pastoral Company wrote, “the plant is designed to process all products [of the slaughtered animal], which are then packed into 20 or 40-foot containers and loaded onto trucks for delivery off-site.”

The piles of waste include the skulls, hooves, and skeletons of cattle processed through the company’s Colourstone Abattoir, and are accessible by livestock in an improperly fenced holding paddock.

“Cattle have access to those piles [of animal waste],” an industry member said.

“There’s also run-off into pits that fill with water that cattle also have access to.”

Regulator to investigate breaches 

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) said in a statement to the ABC, “DWER has initiated an investigation into this matter to determine whether activities are compliant or non-compliant.”

“It would not be appropriate for the department to comment further while the investigation remains active.”

There is no reference to on-site disposal of skeletal remains in the Kimberley Meat Company’s environmental licence.

In a statement, the Yeeda Pastoral Company said it was committed to continuous improvement and strove for best practice.

“The environmental approvals in place are subject to regular audits by the regulator, which includes disposal of waste,” the company said.

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