Cattle raised by FNQ prisoners a stand-out in their field for quiet temperament

Cattle raised by FNQ prisoners a stand-out in their field for quiet temperament

Cattle raised by FNQ prisoners a stand-out in their field for quiet temperament

Updated 7 October 2017, 12:20 AEDT

A far north Queensland prison is gaining a reputation for something other than its inmates: freakishly quiet cattle.

The Lotus Glen Low Custody Community Farm near Mareeba is turning over around $100,000 a year through sales of its highly sought-after cattle.

Prison farm manager Les Elliott said the beef program had developed over the decades and now runs some 330 head, a cross of Brahman and Droughtmaster on the 800-hectare farm.

"The management of the cattle is about engaging with them on a regular basis and the more that you handle the cattle, the quieter they'll be," Mr Elliott said.

"To be able to walk into a paddock of cattle and not have to jump over the fence, that's a pretty good outcome."

The 12 inmates that make up the prison beef gang are in the yards with the cattle at least half a dozen times a day.

It is a program no commercial enterprise could afford.

"They're moving them on foot on a daily basis between the irrigated pastures and back to the supported feeding program where we've got molasses and feed," Mr Elliott said.

Quiet cattle attracting attention at sale

The quiet temperament of the cattle is not going unnoticed.

At the Mareeba Saleyards, there is plenty of interest when the prison cattle are auctioned.

Kate Knowles is the prison farm's selling agent and is swamped when word gets around that Lotus Glen cattle are on offer.

"If people know that the prison cattle are coming in, we get phone calls weeks out," Ms Knowles said.

"This morning we had 20 people walk past here and they've all pulled up and had to look at the prison cattle.

"I personally love them. You can walk through a pen of them and they all want to come up and have a yarn and a scratch and a pat."

At a recent auction at Mareeba, the 50 prison cattle reached 318c/kg — the top price of the day.

Atherton Tablelands grazier Niilo Gobius was happy to pay around $17,000 for a pen of the animals.

He said it is vital cattle are quiet when they arrive in his paddock.

"These are obviously quality cattle and they're quiet, [and] I spend a lot of time working off farm so it's important to me to not have to run around after them," Mr Gobius said.

"That's worth a million bucks to me."

Prison cattle program building skills and changing lives

The aim of the prison's beef cattle program is not just about making money for the prison.

"They get to handle the cattle as part of the day-to-day stuff, but we also provide vocational training programs that include agriculture and horticulture," Mr Elliott said.

"Our focus is about integration and this is the opportunity for them to start that process."

More than four out of five prisoners at Lotus Glen are Indigenous.

Many of the inmates come from families that have a long association with the northern pastoral industry, like prisoner "John".

"When I was growing up on the station, my old man and the rest of the crew came from a mustering camp. First thing we would do is we would be up at the yards," he said.

"I just love working with cattle you know … mainly in the yard. It's a good feeling."

Another member of the beef gang, prisoner "Peter", said he is due for release soon and intends to find work on a cattle station back home on Cape York.

"It reminds me of the bush, I feel happy," he said.

"It makes me feel like I'm at home again, back out there in the bush where I come from."

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