Crocodile Farming - Feral Food Shortage

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Crocodile farms are finding quality feral meat for their reptiles harder to come by. This shortage is due to the rising price and demand for feral buffalo and cattle due to the live export market.

ABC Rural reported  the price pressure has forced pet meat suppliers like Owen 'Bluey' Pugh and his wife Janelle to travel thousands of kilometres to central Australia.

The pair has been negotiating access with cattle stations to shoot the feral camels and horses on their properties for processing into crocodile food.

"We are having to go further and further afield because the buffalo industry has picked up a fair bit and now buffalo is worth a lot of money," Mr Pugh said.

"Pet meat can't compete with the price of human consumption buffalo."

The long distances from their base in Katherine to central Australia mean the Pughs have to spend weeks at a time out in the bush.

"There is a lot of logistical problems storing meat that long, not to mention the fuel that is used, but we feel that it is worth it," Mr Pugh said.

"It has cut down on our margins a bit, but as time progresses if we keep it alive and the season dries up perhaps we will move further northward."

The Pughs can accrue six tonnes of meat on a single shooting trip. 

Upon their return they cut the meat into manageable pieces and assess its quality and freshness.

"If it is a little bit smelly and off then we have to discard it," Ms Pugh said.

"You can't sell rotten meat to anybody, even though they are crocodiles."

For decades the Pughs ran a crocodile farm at Coolibah Station, south-west of Katherine, before they were bought out by French fashion company Louis Vuitton.

Mr Pugh said during his 30 years in the crocodile industry, sourcing fresh, quality red meat for crocodile farms had never been so difficult.

"Crocodile farms use a lot of chicken heads but they come at a cost and they are seasonal. The problem with chicken heads is that they are oily and don't have a lot of protein," he said.

"Lean red meat is definitely the preferred food. It is high in phosphorous and other vitamins, so crocs grow really well on it.

Mr Pugh beleives that removing feral animals benefits everyone but he still needs more properties. 

"There is a greater competition for feed in drier areas. If [cattle stations] are dealing with a couple of hundred less animals then there is a lot more food left for their own stock," he said.

"In some of areas out along the Tanami Road, they are supporting more [feral] horses and camels than they are cattle.

"By reducing their numbers [pastoralists] can fix their fences and they can utilise their waters better."

ne of the places Mr Pugh has been shooting feral animals is at Mt Denison Station, roughly 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.

Owner Dianne Martin said when Mr Pugh got in touch with her about the proposal, she was quick to get on board, as her property has upwards of 600 — 700 feral camels and horses competing with her cattle for feed.

"We have a big horse problem and now a lot of camels are coming in as it's getting drier," Ms Martin said.

"They do so much damage to the trap paddocks and the fencing and things.

"We shoot them, but the meat is wasted, so it's much better for them to be shot, boned out, and the meat used instead of having carcasses around."

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