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How beefed up technology helped our new 'cattle queen' take bull by the horns

Statewide

Laptops, not stock whips, are the tools of trade for Elisha Parker, Queensland’s newest rural woman of the year.

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The marketing of Australia’s multibillion-dollar cattle trade is about to take another leap forward thanks to the efforts of a Central Queensland innovator who juggles her time as a lawyer, advocate, digital entrepreneur and mother of two small children.

In the new era of enforced stay-at-home working, Elisha Parker calls her office environment in the town of Clermont ‘business as usual’ even as she takes on more hats and plots the next move to expand a growing digital enterprise.

As the cattlesales.com.au site she co-founded with business partner Annabelle Woods turns four next month, Parker reflects on what she’s able to achieve from home base in her small Central Queensland community: fighting for compensation for sufferers of asbestos-related diseases as a lawyer, educating consumers about the agriculture sector as the founder and director of Qld Food Future Inc. and supervising two pre-school-aged children (one doing distance education).

And then there’s the website. Parker says it only takes about eight hours a week of her’s and Woods’ time these days, paying dividends, she reckons, for what was a difficult birth in May 2016.

She and Woods, both expecting their own babies at the time, launched the website in Rockhampton in front of a tough and discerning group of no-nonsense cattle producers at the World Brahman Congress.

Parker says they expected some resistance “because we were both female and being pregnant didn’t help” but they had confidence in their product – effectively a shop window front where potential buyers of cattle – of all types and descriptions – can see what’s available in the marketplace.

The buying and selling of cattle is a massive multi-billion business, taking place over vast geography almost every day of the week in some corner of Australia. For such a dynamic and complex system, the marketing by comparison remains remarkably unsophisticated.

If the best business ideas come from identifying ways to solve your pain points, it’s not surprising Parker’s and Woods’ digital concept sprang from being stung by their own personal experience.

Shopping around for something like a car can be frustrating enough, but multiply that by 10 if you’re sourcing cattle, nothing short of a painstaking, hair-pulling affair.

Not only are you managing seasonal and price fluctuations, you’re looking to buy lines against specifications such as age, sex, breed, physical type and condition. If your local saleyard doesn’t have what you’re chasing you’re forced to look further afield and then you’re at the mercy of trawling through newspapers, multiple websites of varying quality, social media, cold calling and word of mouth in the hope the hours’ long drive will yield results and cover the freight to get your purchase home over the long distance.

Parker says she and Woods saw this happening all too often. The final straw came when Parker, who was then working on a station outside Clermont, was offering 300 young cattle for sale and another producer she knew through her network drove 14 hours to buy a similar number from a neighbouring property less than 40km away.

“It was only weeks later and we happened to be talking and he believed the line of cattle in our yards was more suited to what he was chasing, but he didn’t know we had them because his agent and our agent weren’t in contact,” Parker says.

More conversations followed and the idea for an online classifieds platform devoted exclusively to cattle was born – even if it took shape nearly two decades after the internet’s wide adoption.

“When the idea came to us it seemed so simple, we thought somebody for sure must have already done it,” Parker says.

“The more we delved into it and the more we discussed it with people we knew they were like ‘why has nobody ever done this before?’

“A few had tried to build a site like this but either through financial constraints, time or the fact it’s such horrendously difficult to build, they gave up.”

Persistence paid off. Employing a design team in Brisbane, the two women constructed a customised site coded to the exacting specifications required for cattle marketing, which means buyers and sellers can input their own data and the site’s algorithm will take care of the rest.

Parker (right) with business partner Annabelle Woods and their children.

“Agents now say to us ‘why would I build my own website when I can just use yours?’,” Parker says.

“The eye-opener for us is the number of people who will view lines of cattle for sale on our site. For better quality mobs it’s not uncommon for us to get views upwards of 2000 in the first 24 hours of listing.

“That’s a big difference if you’re an agent who is used to emailing only a handful of clients in your local area before a sale.”

And if businesses have taken a hit from the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been no such shocks felt so far.

“If anything, we’ve seen more traffic on our site in the last few weeks than we’ve seen any time before,” Parker says.

The next step is developing online sale catalogues, complete with video and other digital-rich enhancements to promote cattle, particularly high-priced stud animals that can often sell into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per animal.

Rural Queensland literally hosts hundreds of such sales, from small on-property auctions to the massive Brahman Week in Rockhampton in October where close to 1000 purebred bulls will sell over three days – the southern hemisphere’s biggest stud bull sale.

Parker and Woods see a big opportunity in taking sale catalogues into the digital realm, replacing thick paperbound catalogues or poor performing online programs that take hours to download and view and are not optimised for mobile phones or tablets.

Parker will use a $10,000 bursary from Westpac as part of her Rural Woman of the Year prize to assist in broadening the scope and reach of cattlesales.com.au

The annual award is sponsored by the Canberra-based agricultural research and development corporation Agrifutures, which has re-made itself in recent years as a major driver of technology adoption in the agriculture sector. The award is also sponsored by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Other Queensland finalists included:

A national Agrifutures Rural Woman of the Year will be announced later this year, although coronavirus distancing measures and travel restrictions have curtailed the networking and leadership development opportunities that Parker should be enjoying this year with the other State winners.

Beyond the development of the sales catalogue, Parker is not ruling out further expansion, either looking at different livestock such as sheep and goats or taking the platform overseas, to the giant markets of the US or South America.

“I’ve had a look at what they’re doing there and I wouldn’t be ruling anything out, although probably not now,” she says.

“I already have my hands pretty full.”

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