Rob White and Ronda Pankhurst travelled from Theodore to sell a mob of pigs at the Warwick Pig and Calf Sale on October 17.
Rob White and Ronda Pankhurst travelled from Theodore to sell a mob of pigs at the Warwick Pig and Calf Sale on October 17. Michael Nolan

Warwick historic saleyards bring in the visitors

FROM the outside, the Warwick Pig and Calf Sale might not look like a big money-making operation but it has the selling power to draw vendors from across southern Queensland.

In early October, Rob White and Rhonda Pankhurst travelled about 600km from Theodore in central Queensland to sell a mob of 18 saddle back and large white pigs.

The Warwick sale was the closest they could find.

"The places to sell are getting few and far between, these pig and calf sales used to be everywhere once, but not any more,” Mr White said.

"We looked online and every agent referred us to Warwick or Toowoomba.”

In the past, the couple bred a small number of pigs to sell as killers to nearby butchers but a recent bumper birth rate prompted a different approach.

"We tried to cut our numbers down, but they breed up anyway, and it cost too much to feed them up the size of those bigger pens,” Mr White said.

"We finished up with 36 pigs within a matter of months, we only have a little block of land.

"What my aim is now is to have three sows and a boar, I'll mate them and bring the majority of the weaners down here.

"I'll keep some to grow out to sell as meat around Theodore.”

There was a big crowd at the Warwick pig and calf sale on August 8.
There was a big crowd at the Warwick pig and calf sale on August 8. Michael Nolan

Mr White is just one of the hundreds of vendors who travel to Warwick for the sale through the year.

It attracts regular buyers and sellers from Ipswich, Toowoomba, Brisbane and the Western Downs.

Stock agency McDougall and Sons owns the site and auctioneer David Maher said the fact it was held by a private company was probably what ensured its long-term survival.

Mr Maher's family has a long association with the yards.

"I had a great-uncle, he was one of Charlie Fraser's first drivers and he used to work for McDougall and Sons,” he said.

"He'd go around the district buying up a few cattle and walk them into the yards.

"Gerard McGee was his name. Those yards have been around a long, long time, I think it could pre-date road transport.”

Plenty of roosters up for grabs at the Warwick Pig and Calf Sale.
Plenty of roosters up for grabs at the Warwick Pig and Calf Sale. Local

As a boy, Mr Maher would attend the weekly sale and see a calf shed overflowing with stock. Though numbers have dropped, he said it was a really special thing to have a combined pig, calf and poultry sale.

"I'm probably going out on the limb here but it would be the only one in the southern half of Queensland,” Mr Maher said.

Back in the day most small towns would have a small selling complex, generally located near the rail line.

This gave meatworks operators an easy place to buy and transport stock, but Mr Maher said improvements in road freight changed the game.

"As road transport got better those smaller centres closed up and merged into the major selling centres you see around the place,” he said.

"Road transport makes it pretty easy to get livestock in and out.” The closure of Queensland's small sale yards tracked closely with the decline of the state's dairy industry.

"A lot of it comes down to throughput and it's declined over the years, even before my time... every dairy would have surplus bull calves they'd sell.”

Mr Maher said at times, up to half the crowd would be tourists who heard about the sale and wanted to visit.

"You'll get people who have some to town to visit family, they'll come to the sale and then you might not see them for six months,” he said.

"The yards have been on just about every weekender show, that's a bit of publicity in itself.”