Profile: Frasers Livestock Transport

By: Ricky French

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Having been in the livestock game since 1944, the Fraser family shows no sign of slowing down, Ricky French reports

Ross, Les, Peter and Warwick Fraser
Ross, Les, Peter and Warwick Fraser
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The Queensland sun blazes down on the Frasers Livestock Transport yard in Warwick but, inside the office, temperatures and temperaments are cool.

It’s a gentle hum of activity as staff monitor screens display the location of each of their 50 trucks. They could be anywhere across Queensland to mid-NSW and even down to Bendigo in Victoria, picking up livestock from stations or feedlots and safely conveying them across huge distances. One staff member gets on the phone and gives directions to a driver to guide them to the entrance gate of a vast station, tracking the truck’s progress on the screen. Another is on the phone gently reminding a customer about an outstanding invoice. Desks are awash with paperwork; no surprise given the size and success of the operation.

Led by Ross Fraser and his brothers Les and Peter, plus nephew Warwick, the business began back in 1944 by Charles and Edna Fraser. Charles’ father financed his son’s venture at first, declaring with almost prophetic insight, "One day you will own a fleet of trucks."

From a single Ford truck to today’s fleet of doubles, B-doubles, B-triples and road trains, the family business has grown from strength to strength. Much of that success has been the willingness to grow with the times and embrace new technology, while at the same time sticking to old-fashioned values and stockman skills, taught by their forbears.

 

STOCKMEN FIRST

Ross Fraser says his father had a real affinity with livestock. It’s a passion that carried through to Ross and his brothers.   

Living on the land and growing up around animals, you learn about their behaviour, how to care for them and how to handle them. When it comes to transporting livestock, there’s a lot that can go wrong. "It’s much more challenging than carting pallets around," he chuckles.

The simple fact is you’re dealing with perishable goods of the most delicate kind. Perishable goods that need to be fed and watered, kept calm, kept in good condition and delivered safely. With four depots – Warwick, Goondiwindi, Roma and Rockhampton – a lot of emphasis is put on training drivers in this unique job.

"Years ago, our drivers came from properties and farms, but that doesn’t happen much these days. There are just not a lot of young people on farms."

The priority, according to Ross, is to employ a stockman first, driver second. "We can teach a stockman to drive a truck. It’s pretty difficult to teach a truck driver to be a stockman."

Les Fraser agrees. "Good stockmen are hard to find, and our drivers have to be stockmen. If they’re on a trip and they’ve got some cattle that go down in the crate, the driver needs to have a really strong sense of livestock to be able to get in and get them up and make sure they get to their destination in good care. So they’ve really got to know their livestock."

With one load often carrying up to $500,000 worth of livestock, caring for your freight is essential. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s almost impossible.

 

Unloading into the cattle yards at Warwick
Unloading into the cattle yards at Warwick

MOVING THE STOCK

Ross says one of the biggest positive impacts on farming and livestock transport in the last 20 years has been the advent of feedlots. It’s helped farmers keep their stock alive, by moving them to feedlots in times of drought.

"It’s really opened up the pastoral industry, and completely changed the way our customers do business," he says.

Today, a typical pastoral property will have its breeding country in northern Queensland. From there, the livestock is transported to a backgrounding property where the animals grow their weaners to get enough weight on them to be moved into a feedlot.

Having the feedlots has reduced the number of animals dying in the paddock, and been a good thing for everyone in the industry. Warwick Fraser says consumer tastes have changed, too.

"Everyone’s eating grain-fed beef these days. Southern Queensland has the highest concentration of feedlots in Australia. It allows producers to turn over their money a lot quicker."

Frasers Livestock Transport carts around four million head a year, covering seven million kilometres. The sheep, cattle and pigs all have different requirements in terms of equipment and care. With 4000 pigs transported every week, the potential for disease is high, which means trailers must be regularly cleaned out. The driver is responsible for the loading density of the trailer. The other important aspect is preparation of the stock.

"Get both of those right and you’re on your way," Ross says, adding that, of the four million head the company carts, very few are lost. "It’s due to our care, experience and commitment to animal welfare."  

Peter Fraser says often a driver will ring the office saying they’re having trouble with the stock and will be told to gently nurse them to wherever they’re going. Drivers will regularly stop to check on the animals.

Over the years, the team has completed some memorable jobs. In 1986, it took 6500 pigs from Warwick to Darwin for live export – a huge logistical exercise up the roasting Barkley Highway. It was too hot to stop, so a water truck followed the fleet and filled the water troughs in the trailers as the trucks drove. Out of the 6500, only one pig died en route.

 

CROSS-LOADING MODULE

Driver Safety has always been a number-one priority for Frasers Livestock Transport. One of the proudest moments for the business came in 2014 when it won Best Solution for an Identified Workplace Health and Safety Issue at the National Safe Work Australia awards.

It was for a cross-loading module, designed and built by fleet manager Mark Collins and fabrication manager Peter Sommerville. The module is bolted to concrete at locations where two trucks need to transfer loads between each other. It provides space and a platform for the loading to occur safely, and can be altered to different levels on the trailer.

In the past, there have been serious accidents involving drivers getting hurt by gates as they hang off the side of their truck trying to herd the beasts onto the new truck. Hands would get jammed and broken arms were common as gates flew about wildly and thousands of tonnes of cattle pushed past.

"It’s always been a huge workplace health and safety issue," Ross says. "This new module totally eliminates the issue of drivers getting hurt. They walk from the catwalk on the trailer across the walkway on the ramp and onto the catwalk of the next trailer. It keeps the driver away from the cattle as much as possible."

Peter adds that the module has other benefits. It allows drivers to drop their dog trailers at the cross-loading module and leave before the other truck arrives. "The receiving truck can then come in and load the cattle onto his truck by himself."

"It was pretty satisfying to win the award," Ross says. "It was identified as a good solution to a serious workplace health and safety problem."

 

EMBRACING MODERN TECHNOLOGY

While Ross is happy to give old-fashioned, good service, he’s learned you have to keep up with the modern world to run a successful trucking business. He says the biggest change has been the introduction of GPS technology. It’s allowed the business to track its trucks across the country at any given time. Warwick says the business was the first livestock transporter in the country to adopt GPS seven years ago.

"At the time, it was a big cost and a big unknown. But it’s really revolutionised our daily planning and made it much easier for our schedulers."

Warwick takes responsibility for the business’s fleet management systems and is proud that the MT Data system used is Australian made. "The system has an integrated phone, GPS tracking, engine management, which we’ve rolled out across our entire fleet."

Being able to see exactly where a truck is means Frasers can relay that information to a customer should they call. He says the engine-management suite is important for performance and safety reasons. The team can now monitor the real-time performance of its fleet – no matter how far away from home.

"A lot of our small country towns have speed zones around schools that are 40km/h. Those zones are all marked on our map here and we’ll get a notification if any of our trucks are speeding through those zones. Notifications are given if a truck takes a corner too fast, all of which encourages drivers to driver more considerately – for the sake of both the public and the truck."

 

A Kenworth truck
It's Kenworth all the way for Frasers Transport

KENWORTH DEVOTEES

There’s no other truck that can offer what a Kenworth does, says Ross, who’s a big fan of the company’s willingness to customise trucks.

"That’s really important for us. We can order the components we want for the truck, which will be different from most other trucks they build."

The resale value of a Kenworth is another attractive factor, Warwick says. "The beauty of a Kenworth is after one and half million kilometres someone still wants them."

Frasers Livestock Transport played a big part in the development of the new Kenworth T610, providing data for Kenworth on the tough, outback road conditions that the new truck would have to put up with.

"Kenworth is largely family-owned, and that comes right down the chain. Business is all about people and Kenworth adopt that philosophy, too. I’d be surprised if 80 per cent of drivers didn’t pick a Kenworth as their preferred truck."

 

IN-HOUSE TRAILER WORK

It’s a hive of activity inside the large maintenance workshop. Trailers are being welded and rebuilt, everything from the chassis up. "We buy them new then we renovate and start again. We pride ourselves on really good equipment."

Some trailers have four decks for sheep, which can be converted to two decks for cattle. Twelve full-time mechanics maintain the fleet. It’s a faster, more-efficient way of doing things, Warwick says. "If someone pulls in with a problem, we can get onto it straight away. If we were to ring a workshop, they would have to book us in. That wouldn’t work for us."

 

The Frasers Livestock Transport depot
Legends in livestock transport - the name says it all

A PROUD FAMILY LEGACY

"We don’t think there’s anyone out there giving a better service than us," Ross says. "We follow our motto: In time, on time."

You don’t stay in business for 70-plus years without doing the basics right. For the Fraser family it’s about staff, customers, livestock, vehicles and values. As Ross says: "You get that right and the rest will flow along."

With the way things have been flowing since 1944, there’s little doubt the Fraser name will remain associated with livestock transport in Australia for generations to come. 

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