Securing a regular supply of gas from Queensland has held up the much-anticipated reopening of the goat and sheep abattoir at North Bourke, but the plant is now expected to start operations on September 19.
Originally constructed by Capra Developments in 2018, supported by $10m in seed funding from the federal government via an agreement with the Bourke Shire Council, the $60m abattoir only operated for three months before drought, water and labour issues forced its closure.
After sitting empty for almost three years, its sale to Thomas Foods was announced in November last year and group operations transformation manager, Bill Adcock said this week that the process of recommissioning it had been taking place since then.
"We've got to make sure everything works properly; we don't want to be restarting now and then restopping in three months when we've got all our workers," he said. "We want the workers to come in and have full time employment."
Acknowledging that a lack of staff had been an issue for the previous owners and would remain a challenge in an isolated location, Mr Adcock said around 30 locals had expressed interest and half a dozen were undertaking training at the company's plants at Tamworth and Lobethal.
They would like to see that grow to 80 employees in the first six months and scale up as market access grows.
Mr Adcock said a 60-bed accommodation facility had been purchased in Bourke to enable them to house workers, adding that they were looking at making use of the Pacific Labour Scheme if needed.
"But our first preference is getting locals, that's been our push all along," he said.
They expect to process 500 goats a day to begin with, growing to 2000 in the first three months.
"We'll double that in time," Mr Adcock said. "We'll start off slow, we'll teach our people properly and grow to be bigger in the future."
Thomas Foods has spent over a million dollars so far in recommissioning the plant, which Mr Adcock said included putting processes in place that work in with the existing business.
The company will be processing skin-on and skin-off carcase and boxed goat and sheep, largely for export markets but some domestic as well, and expects it will take up to eight weeks of trial kills to get its US license.
According to livestock manager Edward Jonson, they were quite confident they would have enough supply.
"Talking to people north and south of the border, (there are) plenty of goats behind wire and with that management model, it gives us confidence moving forward that there's plenty of numbers there for everybody," he said.
"You could draw a circle around this area, a thousand k radius, and you're looking at some serious numbers of goat, and that's without the mutton and lamb on top.
"Some guys are starting to run 30,000 to 40,000 nanny goats."
Mr Jonson said kill space in Australia was hard to secure at present, with most plants booked out a month or more in advance.
"I believe we're already processing goats out of Queensland at our other plants, Lobethal and Stawell," he said. "We've had space where it hasn't been available in Charleville."
Mr Jonson said they would process sheep as well, depending on needs.
"We'll start with some light ones to begin with and then see how things progress, whether we get into boning some heavier mutton, possibly lambs or something down the track," he said.
"This business has a big mixture of what they do.
"Thomas Farms is part of TFI Australia and they supply domestically so we'll be guided by our sales team as to what we do."
The plant has a water allowance from Bourke, a mix of filtered river water and bore water, and a treatment plant for waste water on site.
Once it's been through settling ponds, a 14 to 20-day process, it will be used to irrigate crops such as lucerne and sorghum.
They were expecting a gas tank to be installed shortly, a necessity for heating the four boilers, two steam ones for scalding tanks and two water ones for sterilisation.
"There's potential for solar," Mr Adcock said, "whether we put it in on the ground, or on the roof, but we've the space either way to get one of those initiatives going.
"We'll need to offset our costs, especially when we put a plate freezer in, that'll double the electricity."
He expected the plate freezer, to assist in chilling offal, would be installed in 12 months time.
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