Meat Production

Chas Pregnell, beef and pork butcher, Hobart, c 1888 note carcasses hanging in the open air (W.L. Crowther library, SLT)

Meat Production began for local consumption with early British settlement, but developed slowly due to the small population and the concentration on sheep-breeding for wool. By 1850 most well-known British beef strains had been imported (Hereford, Angus, Shorthorn and Devon), notably by the Van Diemen's Land Company and the Cressy Company, and the cattle population of 80,000 met local demand for fresh beef. Exports of live animals for meat picked up during the gold rushes, but profitability declined. In the 1880s expanding mainland markets and demands from west coast mining fields for meat stimulated beef production. Many towns had saleyards, but by 1907 Oatlands held the biggest regular livestock sales. Sheep-breeders resisted introducing the fat-lamb cross-breed, fearing it might dilute the quality of fine-woolled sheep, and before 1914 few fat lambs and pigs were produced. Many abattoirs existed, with the main Hobart Abattoir established at Derwent Park in 1908.

The First World War created a demand for meat, encouraging stock-owners to breed fat lambs. Frozen meat was first exported in 1919. The State Meat Industry Encouragement Act (1925) and a State Meat Advisory Board from 1924 (the State Meat Board 1933–64) helped develop the fat lamb industry. Processing works at Hobart, Somerset and St Leonards prepared lambs for export, and in 1938 Tasmania benefited from a United Kingdom–Australia meat contract. Circular Head and King Island supplied most beef consumed in Tasmania. Butchers had prepared their own sausages but by the 1920s several smallgoods producers were prominent, including Bender's in Launceston, Wignall's and Richardson's Choice Provisions in Hobart, and Maskell's in Zeehan. Master Butchers' Associations were effective lobbyists.

Shipping shortages in the Second World War caused a decline in meat production and exports, but production of beef, veal, mutton, lamb and pigs increased in the 1950s. From the late 1950s performance testing began to isolate improvable genetic factors in poultry, beef cattle and pigs. European breeds of cattle such as Charolais, Simmentel and Limousin appeared. In the 1950s European migrants, notably Joseph Chromy in Burnie (Blue Ribbon) and Albert Metzler and Hans Gfrerer in Glenorchy (Universal Smallgoods, eventually taken over by Blue Ribbon), set up factories making European sausages and other smallgoods, which became increasingly popular generally. Abattoirs at Launceston and Sorell were of a high standard, but in 1978 a new abattoir at Bridgewater replaced the outdated Derwent Park facility. By 2004 the City of Devonport abattoir was the main one in the state.

By the late 1990s beef cattle were one of Tasmania's major primary industries, the main activity of 25 percent of farmers compared with 14 percent for sheep, though most farmers diversify to minimise risk. As the only state to prohibit hormone growth promotants, Tasmania provides a competitive 'clean-green' edge for the beef industry. In 1995–96 Tasmania's 3.8 million sheep were evenly divided around the state, while 521,000 cattle were concentrated in the north-west and north-east. Most were grass-fed, but one feedlot sold grain-fed beef to Japan, Tasmania's most important beef market. In 1994 beef and veal were worth $113 million, lamb $14 million, pork $7 million. Tasmania produced 3 percent of Australia's lamb, and 2 percent of its beef.

Live sheep exports to the Middle East were significant in the 1980s, then declined. Game meat became popular and by 1995–96 Tasmania produced 12 percent of Australia's deer meat. Wallaby, possums and muttonbirds have small market niches. The last two decades of the twentieth century saw increased production of poultry, dominated by Inghams Enterprises Ltd (95 percent of production in 2003), with some competition from local firms such as Nichols Poultry at Sassafras. In 2003 poultry meat was worth $15 million gross annually.

Further reading: J McRae, The Tasmanian Farmers, Stockowners and Orchardists Association 1908–1958, Hobart, 1961; Tasmanian year book, passim; Walch's Tasmanian almanac, passim; R Hartwell, The economic development of Van Diemen's Land, 1820–1850, Melbourne, 1954;

Stefan Petrow